MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on March 3rd, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 15, The Feud

Phil Revises His Advice

The Framework
Tonight there was lots of cause for head scratching. Lily brought head lice home from school and Claire catches the head pets. (Cam’s delicate wording)

But there was a lot of the “go figure” kind of head scratching in tonight’s episode too. Alex and Haley get stuck in the basement with a possum. Manny obsesses over what the other kids will think about his squeaky shoes but still saves self-conscious Gloria from some catty moms. Meanwhile, Luke faces Gil Thorpe’s son in a wrestling match, causing Phil’s ongoing rivalry to become a multigenerational feud.

It was the conversations that lead up to Luke’s match that caught and held my attention.
Luke: My match is coming up. Got any “dadvice”?
Phil (smiling): Starting to sound natural, right? … You know what, just get out there and enjoy yourself. You show character trying a new sport. No matter what happens, I couldn’t be prouder. Go get ’em.

But then just before the match begins, the fatherly advice morphs into this.
Phil: I’d like to revise what I said to you in the car about biting…
Luke: But the important thing is I have fun out there, right?
Phil: Okay, let’s go over this again because I feel like you’re not listening.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Phil is overcome with his loathing and fear of the obnoxious Gil. His darkest thoughts and deepest worries are reflected in his revised advice to Luke. Though the situation was far-fetched, the fear Phil felt and his urge to help Luke hit a bit closer to home.

When our kids ask for our advice about something unfinished and messy, our minds start churning. We’ve gone through enough to have a good idea of what’s going to happen next. We can anticipate twists and turns full of additional troubles that our kids are totally oblivious to. We feel we must intervene and make sure they don’t get it wrong. It’s our job to protect them.

At a restaurant following the match…
Luke (setting his pop down on the table): Dang it!
Jay: We don’t want you to beat yourself up because you lost.
Luke: I’m not. I just started wrestling. Sure it would have been nice to win. But I tried my best. I just said “dang it” because I forgot my straw…
Phil: Son of a gun! He’s absolutely okay.

Sometimes what has us worried is not a problem for our teen. Sometimes they’ll already have a solution. At other times, though, they’ll need a bit more from us. But be careful. If you offer advice too readily, expect some rejection. After all, it’s their job to prove to us (and to themselves) that they don’t need our advice anymore. To them, taking our advice – even if they ask for it – feels like a setback.

What’s a Mom to Do
Instead of beginning by giving our teens advice, we might start by offering our presence. Because even when they ask for our advice, often what they really want is our quiet attention and reassurance.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind the next time your teen asks for your advice.

Acknowledge that it’s a tough issue. Even if the solution seems clear-cut to you, realize that from your teen’s perspective things often seem much muddier. And if you don’t acknowledge the difficulty, they’re likely to feel put-down, less capable, and angry at you for making them feel this way.

Be a sounding board. Restating the key parts of the issue in a calm, neutral voice as if you’re lining up the dots in a dot-to-dot puzzle can guide your teen to new insights and a higher level of thinking.

Ask for their ideas about how to handle the situation. Asking open-ended questions like What have you already tried? What seemed to help? Who else might you talk with? can get your teen thinking and talking about a way forward.

Wait. If they don’t answer your questions right away, don’t rush to fill the silence. Instead stay with your teen and give them your silent support. Sometimes it can help to give them time to go away and connect the dots before providing more guidance.

Underscore their strengths. Like adults, when teens struggle with a problem, they become experts on the problem. Focusing on the difficulty can cause them to lose confidence and avoid doing anything. We can help them switch gears (and calm ourselves) by keeping their strengths and past successes at the forefront of our mind. By reminding them of what they’re good at doing and how they’ve used their expertise in solving problems in the past, we can model for our teens how to refocus and become an expert on the solution.

By supporting our teens as they solve a problem rather than doing it for them, we’re helping them develop wisdom. It’s frustrating, though, not to just come right out and tell our teens what to do. After all we’ve lived long enough to have some wisdom worth sharing. But wisdom is like a college degree – it can’t simply be handed down.

Your Parenting Experiences
Phil (to camera): That might be the best part about being a parent: Whatever is going on in your personal life, when your kid is happy, you’re happy. A happy kid is like an antidepressant.

Is Phil onto something here? If so, might the antidepressant effect of a happy kid further complicate the issue of giving advice? What do you think?

Resource: Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera

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