MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 14th, 2013, 0 Comments

The Dunphy House Rules

Season 4, Episode 11

The Framework

Jay takes all the adults – Gloria, Claire, Phil, Cam, and Mitchell – to a hotel in Palm Springs for New Year’s Eve. The kids are left at home with Haley in charge; Alex is her backup. And as fourteen-year-old Luke’s plans for the evening unfold, it quickly becomes clear that it’s he, and not the much younger Lily, who is going to give his babysitting sisters a run for their money.

Within minutes of Luke’s girlfriend’s arrival, there’s this interchange:

Becca: Can I see your bedroom?
Luke: Well, I didn’t clean it for me.

The two head upstairs to Luke’s bedroom, thrusting his sisters into the uncomfortable role of parent figures as they try to catch-up and handle a situation that is moving way too fast.

Alex: Did you know this was happening?
Haley: I don’t even know what this is…
Alex: They’re going upstairs alone. Is that even allowed?
Haley: I don’t know.
Alex: Should we say something?
Haley: Like what?
Alex: Like it’s not okay.
Haley: Well maybe it is.
Alex: Is it?
Haley: I don’t know.
Alex: I just feel like we’re not doing our job as babysitters.

Eventually, the sisters decide that they must take action.

Alex: They’ve been in there forever. Do something! You’re in-charge! …
Haley: Huhhh! Fine.

And with that, the two girls head upstairs to knock on Luke’s bedroom door, initiating this give-and-take:

Luke: What do you want?!!
Haley: You have to keep your door open.
Luke: Why?
Haley: Well, why do you need it closed?
Luke: Because we’re going to make-out.
Haley: Ohhh… Ummm… Well, you can’t have your door closed.
Luke: Why? Do you want to watch or something?! That’s weird!
Alex: Ewww!
Haley: Of course, we don’t want to watch!
Luke: That’s perfect.

As Luke goes back in his bedroom and closes the door, his sisters are left standing on the other side in disbelief:

Haley: But you can’t… What do you…
Alex: What just happened?

If you were keeping score, you’d definitely have to give that round to Luke. But his sisters aren’t giving up. They climb the stairs again – this time with a plan in mind and a basketful of laundry in-hand:

Alex: So what’s the plan, Haley?
Haley: I’m going in. That’s our baby brother up there. I’m not ready for this: for girls with hormones! It’s gross!
Alex: But we can’t just barge-in…

And they don’t. Haley knocks first. Then, there’s this:

Haley: I’m coming in!
Luke: What are you doing?
Haley: Just putting away some laundry.
Luke: That’s a bra! And a tablecloth!
Becca: Can’t you do this later?
Haley: Excuse me? Does your mother know you’re here?
Becca: Yeah.
Haley: Big pause. No eye contact. I was so much better at this than you. You’re out!
Luke: No she’s not!
Haley: Yes she is! It’s late. You’re thirteen…
Alex: Fourteen.
Haley: Fourteen, and unless Nicole Bitchy here wants me to call her parents and tell them she’s lied…
Becca: I’d better go. Bye, Luke.
Luke: Wait! Why does she have to go?
Haley: Because I said so.
Luke: You’re not the boss!
Alex: Don’t talk back to your sister.
Luke (stomping off): Ohhh! I hate you!!!

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

As I watched Haley and Alex try to fill their parent’s shoes for one night, I found myself comparing their conversations and debates with those you and I might have on any given night – in our heads, with our spouses, or with our kids – as we try to stay ahead of the teen action in our homes. Especially when we’ve not had a chance to clarify our thinking in advance.

Actually, the sisters weren’t that bad as stand-in parents for a younger sib – especially one who unexpectedly invites his girlfriend over and promptly takes her to his room. Truth be told, I’m not sure I would have done much better in my early years of parenting a teen. Since then, though, I’ve learned a few tricks of the parenting trade – things that we (and the Dunphys) can do to make teen entertaining in our households go better all around:

Develop a clear set of rules for teen entertaining. This is particularly true when it comes to their bedrooms because teens tend to think of their bedrooms as their own space. And things get confusing and frustrating for them when it seems that we parents let them have privacy one minute and take it away the next. We can help them feel respected by always knocking before entering their room (Good job Haley and Alex!) and by having a clear set of rules in place about privacy – rules that take into account our values and their maturity.

– Some parents require that bedroom doors be kept open and the lights on when teens have friends over. Others decide to make bedrooms totally off-limits. And yet others require only that the doors remain unlocked. Wherever you draw the line, be sure your teen knows what you expect and that they know the values about sexuality your expectations are based on.

– Without clear knowledge of our values, our teens are on their own with only their peers and the media culture to guide them. So while your teen may still argue and resist the rules, at least they’ll understand the values they are based on and have your caring, adult perspective to draw upon for guidance.

Establish a greeting ritual. Greet your teen’s friends in a way that will make them feel welcome and feel your presence. Make friendly eye contact as they come in the door and greet them with a hug, a pat on the back, or a handshake.

Float in and out of the teen entertainment scene. Doing a chore like laundry that requires occasionally passing through or by the teen scene will work. But delivering intermittent snacks can often work even better as a disguise for your check-ins. With each delivery you can linger briefly to ask a friendly question and assess the scene.

Handle rule breaking with dispassion. If a house rule is broken or if you suspect a rule breaking, it usually works best to pull your teen aside to state your concern and ask some direct questions. And if a transgression has occurred, make the call with as much dispassion as you can muster. If you lose your cool, there’s not much chance that your teen’s reaction will be what you hope for. Because they’re bound to see your actions as an attempt to embarrass them – especially if their girlfriend or boyfriend is witnessing the scene.

The BottomLine

Regardless of how we parent, our teens see their job as figuring out how to get to do what they want. And because getting to do what they want basically boils down to dealing with us, we are at our best as a parent when we have clarified our thinking in advance. Staying ahead of the teen action in our homes means that we have thought through our values and have clear rules in place based on those values. We can then be prepared to monitor and follow through with appropriate consequences if the rules are broken.

But sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we’re forced to play catch-up, our reactions are slowed-up, and we end-up confused and feeling totally inadequate as a parent. These are the times when our teens are likely to respond as Luke did – stomping out and shouting that they hate us.

And I’ve learned the hard way, that these are the times when it’s best to let them have the last word. The times when it’s best to say silently to ourselves – what Haley said aloud, what she has undoubtedly heard her mother Claire say on more than one occasion: You hate me now, but someday you’ll thank me.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• Have you come up with any strategies that work particularly well for monitoring teen entertainment in your home?

• Do you thinking dating teens should be allowed to entertain in their bedrooms? Does age matter?

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