MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on February 25th, 2013, 0 Comments

Will Luke Be the Last Man Standing?

Season 4, Episode 16

The Framework

The verb “fall” and its various forms like “fell,” “falling,” and “falls” help shape the storylines of tonight’s episode. Claire heads to her college reunion and runs into the professor she fell for years ago. Phil, who’s supposed to be in charge while she’s away, keeps falling down. To be fair, he’s trying out some new frictionless shoes in anticipation of subbing on Jay’s bowling team for a tournament. Manny sings about falling flat on his face and picking himself back up. And Gloria falls and tweaks her ankle while reaching for a boa – something Mitch wants to borrow for the Oscar party he and Cam are planning.

Meanwhile, Cam is doing a movie-theme photo shoot so he can decorate their place for the party. Lily and baby Joe are his models. All goes fine until Lily glues a wig to Joe’s head because as she explains it: the “ Jane” Crawford wig kept falling off him. Mitch and Cam eventually cut the wig off – and with it much of Joe’s hair. Now they’ve got another problem: Who’s going to take the fall and tell Gloria?

Woven into tonight’s storylines about falling there’s a string of con artistry – all orchestrated by Luke. Both his sisters and Manny fall for one of his cons before the night is over. And with perfect sitcom logic, Jay becomes the fall guy for baby Joe’s haircut when Luke blackmails him by revealing that he’s on to how Jay’s team won the bowling tournament: They broke league rules by subbing in a pro.

As it turns out, Luke also knows a thing or two about breaking rules:

Luke (to camera): I have to get [a] letter signed because I failed my assignment on the Revolutionary War. I recreated the Battle of Bunker Hill using one of my old science projects. Seemed re-revolutionary to me…

Like all con artists, Luke has a good sense of timing. He has a knack for asking for things when his parents are busy or preoccupied. For instance, just as Claire is set to leave for her college reunion there’s this:

Luke: Hey, Mom before you go, you have to sign this for school. You don’t have to read it. It’s all boilerplate.

Claire: Honey, I’m running really late. Ask your dad.

And as a con artist, Luke can read people. He knows what makes his dad tick:

Luke: Hey, handsome. Can you sign this? Uhhh… You don’t need to read it. (He winks and nonchalantly points to the spot on the page where a parent’s signature is required.)

Phil: Never dooo… (As he grabs a pen and prepares to sign but doesn’t. Because just then the phone rings with bad news: Jay has found a better bowler to sub for the tournament.)

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

There’s no doubt about it. Luke is a good con artist. Most teens are. By the time kids become teens they can think abstractly, and they use their new, sharper thinking skills to their advantage. They can now understand the subtle nuances of interactions, so they can read people better and adjust their timing and their behavior to get what they want. And they can now articulate their ideas better, so they can manipulate the truth to talk us into things and lure us into thinking that we can trust them.

Teens can con us into thinking that they’re thinking like we do. But they’re not. Luke and his age peers lack experience. And they lack some of the brain development that allows adults to make wise decisions. Plus they don’t foresee consequences like we adults do. That’s why our teens need us to be their safety net – providing structure, monitoring, and guidance, as well as some explicit teaching to let them know what they need to do and why it’s important. And this explicit teaching is often best done through teachable moments.

Claire and Phil missed a teachable moment tonight when they failed to look at Luke’s fail notice. They missed a great opportunity to do some nudging and to rethink some of their parenting tactics.

But what if they had taken a look? How could they have responded in a way that might make a difference in the way Luke thinks about school and his schoolwork?

Here are a few ideas that the Dunphys (and the rest of us) might want to consider:

Be there when they fall. We have to be willing to sometimes let our teens make bad decisions if they’re going to learn how to make good ones. But we need to be paying attention so that we’re there as a safety net when they fall – to comfort them if they need it and to reassure them that they can indeed bounce back. Being a safety net also means holding them accountable. When our teens make mistakes (and they’re bound to), we need to help them take an honest look at where things went wrong, how they contributed to the problem, and what they need to do differently next time.

Allow natural consequences. Even though the Dunphy’s (I’m talking especially to you, Phil) might be tempted to call the teacher and get Luke off the hook, it’s generally better not to. To be honest, it’s not just Phil. Many of us tend to think our job is to do everything we can to shield our kids from adversity. Yet when we over-protect our teens from hardship, they don’t get a chance to develop the ability to overcome failure. If we want them to have long-term success, we need be willing to let them do some struggling. A rescue will just make our teens dependent on us in a way that neither they nor we want. And the natural consequences will teach our teens a lot about organizing and prioritizing.

Strike a balance between monitoring and autonomy. When our kids reach Luke’s age, many of us parents become more demanding about grades and test scores. At the same time we become dramatically more reluctant to make and enforce all kinds of rules, including rules about studying and doing homework. This drop in parental involvement and monitoring is probably due to our recognition of our teen’s need for autonomy. However, the drop is probably too much for many young teens – including Luke.

Coax teens to look into the future. Luke and other young teens can benefit from thinking about what they might want to do for a career someday. One way to encourage this kind of teen thinking is to ask them to make lists of the things they like to do, the things they like to learn, and the things they value, as well as the things they’re good at – perhaps even better at than most kids their age. And then talk with them about how their combination of interests and strengths might be used in a career eventually.

Our teens may change their minds and head in a different direction more than once. But teens who can articulate where they think they’re heading (at least for now) tend to work hard at school and to take hobbies and other activities seriously.

The BottomLine

Tonight, just after falling and tweaking her ankle, Gloria proclaims: I am now the new mother – the “I don’t know how she does it lady.”

All of us moms are that kind of lady. We’re plenty busy. And, believe it or not, the messages we send our kids about our work affects how our kids think about their work. In fact, our day-to-day modeling is our highest form of influence in our teens’ lives.

If we regularly come home from work downbeat and crabby, we’re modeling that work is something to be avoided. And because school is our kids’ workplace, we’re likely to see similar behavior from them. So at the end of the day, it pays off to try to summon whatever energy we have left and share the highlights of our day with our teens.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• Why do you think the writers for the show had Luke fall at the very end of the show? Was it a comment about karma catching up with him? Or did it represent one of those inevitable teen missteps?

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