MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting a Modern Family

Posted on November 12th, 2012, 0 Comments

Haley Goes to Jail

Season 4, Episode 7

The Framework

The episode opens with the kind of call every parent dreads – a middle-of-the-night call from the police:

Claire: Hello. Yes, this is she … Oh, God! Haley has been arrested!

Immediately, Claire jumps onto a roller coaster of bad feelings. And while on that emotional ride full of confusion and panic, and well before she has all the facts, she begins putting together a plan to solve Haley’s problem.

Early the next morning Claire, Phil, and Mitch (enlisted to lend his legal expertise) head to Haley’s campus to rescue her from what they believed were underage drinking charges. En route, with some time to reflect, Claire seems to realize that Haley needs to share some of the worry about what she has done:

Claire: My daughter’s been arrested for drinking. I would like her to sit in jail and think about that. As a matter of fact I might stop and do a little outlet shopping. Who wants a pair of last year’s sunglasses, eh?

Upon their arrival, however, they find that things are even worse than they’d thought: The charges are more serious than they’d assumed and, after only a matter of weeks at college, Haley is in danger of suspension. The parents bail Haley out of jail, and once again begin to take charge of the problem. Surprisingly, it’s Phil – generally more of a likeable friend than a father figure – who puts his foot down. He scolds Haley for being reckless and making excuses instead of taking responsibility for her actions and gives her specific instructions on how to dress and act at the upcoming suspension hearing. But just when it seems that Phil is going to completely takeover the rescue mission and leave little or none of the worry or work for Haley to deal with, Claire steps in to hand some of the responsibility back to Haley:

Haley: Where are you going?
Claire: To get [your dad] a waffle.

At the hearing Haley admits to her wrongdoing and some other unrelated acts as well. Suffice it to say that the sum of her confessions gets her kicked out of school. And as Claire and Phil help Haley pack-up her belongings, it’s tempting to wonder if perhaps the parents got the problem sharing balance wrong. Perhaps they should not have gone off for waffles, leaving Haley to prepare for her hearing alone. But when the dorm room is empty except for the furniture and it’s time to depart for home, there’s this exchange:

Phil: Where are the keys?
Haley: There right there on the makeup table.
Claire: Oh, honey, that’s a desk.

So perhaps things did turnout for the best after all.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Tonight Claire and Phil faced the unsettling fact that while they’re still responsible for Haley (the police called them), they’re not in charge – at least not totally. This is not unique to the Dunphys. Virtually all parents of teens face this fact sooner or later. And their dialogue as they approached the police station depicts the ambivalence we parents typically feel when our teens mess up:

Phil: We’re going to walk in there as a family and show we support her no matter what.
Claire: We may be supporting her for the rest of her life.

Phil’s right. Of course, we don’t want to be too hands-off when our teens mess up and leave them with only their own inadequate judgment to guide them. But Claire has a point too. If we expect our teens to eventually become self-reliant, we can’t let our fears about what the mess up might do to their future cause us to become too hands-on either.

When we takeover our teen’s problems, they miss out on the chance to develop the important life skills of decision-making and problem solving. And not letting our teens experience any of the negative consequences of their actions, means that they miss out on key feedback that can motivate them to learn from their mistakes. Plus if our actions tell our teens that we’ll do all the necessary worrying, they’ll come to see this as our job. They’ll come to believe that we have to figure out how to get them out of their problems –that that’s what parent are for – and that they have absolutely nothing to worry about.

The BottomLine

Haley: I don’t know what the policy is… but I think I broke it – twice.

When our teens mess-up (and they’re bound to), it’s important that we strike the right balance. Of course, we don’t want to abandon them just when they need our sturdy presence more than ever. But it’s not in their best interest for us to take total control of the situation either. Instead, our teens need us to be a guide worth following – someone with the authority to set limits and make and enforce rules as well as someone they can look to for direction and back up.

And our teens are counting on us to get the balance of support right. Because when we find appropriate ways to influence and guide them, their bad decisions can become some of their best opportunities to gradually learn self-reliance and develop their own inner voice, which will remind them of their values and help them make better decisions.

Flipping the Frame: From My Life as a Parent

This episode brought back memories of my son’s eighth grade sneak out. Like Claire, I got a middle-of-the-night call from the police along with the feel-bad roller coaster ride of emotions. That night it dawned on me that I was no longer totally in charge. I realized that I was going to have to change the way I thought about my role as a parent. Successfully parenting my son – now that he’d become a teen – would require his cooperation. And getting his cooperation would depend a lot on me.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• Did this episode bring back memories of the time you came face to face with the fact that you were no longer totally in-charge of your teen? If so, what happened?

• How did you handle the situation? Did your hyper-vision about the future cause you to jump in and take control of the situation? If you had it to do over, would you do anything differently?

• How did the incident change your relationship with your teen – in terms of your trust, your expectations, your monitoring of your teen’s behavior and how you held your teen accountable?

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