Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 23rd, 2016, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 11, Spread Your Wings

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Plotline: Alex Spreads Her Wings

Tonight Phil goes to visit Alex at Caltech just before her first semester away at college wraps-up. He is beyond excited to have been invited.
Phil: I’m going to see Alex! I’m a little nervous because she’s been pulling away lately. Calls don’t get returned. I don’t get asked to visit as much.

But shortly after Phil arrives on campus, Alex opens up to him.
Alex: I want to move back home and commute to school next semester.
Phil: Wow. Really? Did something happen?
Alex: No, it’s just the people here are all so immature. They are always banging on your door with a beaker full of margaritas, and the nerd noise is deafening. Did you bring those noise-canceling headphones I asked mom for?

As Phil is promising to pick-up some headphones and drop them by her dorm room, a co-ed dressed in a ball gown comes up the street behind them.
Co-ed: (handing Alex a flier): Cannon Ball tonight. Don’t miss it!
Phil: What’s that about?
Alex: Oh, it’s just some stupid tradition where, at the end of the semester, all the freshmen jump off a high dive in cheesy prom dresses.
Phil: That could be fun.
Alex: It definitely won’t be.
Phil: Well, maybe if you give it a chance…
Alex: No. You know what, Dad? I did. I’ve already been to like 10 parties, and they’re all lame. Everyone just talks to their own dorm mate.
Phil: Sweetie, sometimes it takes a while to warm up to people.
Alex: What is this about? Do you not want me to come home? Is that what this is?! Because, fine, I’ll just go get an apartment off campus!
Phil: Alex, don’t get mad.
Alex: Well, I am mad! Because I’m actually smart enough to know what’s working for me and what isn’t! And this isn’t! I have to go to class.

Guidelines:
It’s part of a teen’s agenda to separate from their parents – especially as they spread their wings and takeoff for college. And as Phil learns tonight, we parents have to honor our teen’s agenda to maintain our relationship with them.

Yet being a parent means that we’ve had enough experience to have some wisdom worth sharing with our teens. Phil is a good case in point. This father, who has spent most of his life trying to fit in, realizes that his daughter is feeling left out at college, that she longs to be a part of it all but doesn’t know how. And his years of experience have taught him that fitting in requires that you put yourself out there and give others a chance to let you in.

Phil’s first go at sharing his wisdom sounds a lot like a lecture. And Alex rejects his advice out of hand. That’s no big surprise. When kids are younger, lectures often work well for sharing our wisdom. Even if they’re in trouble for misbehaving, they listen to what we have to say. But lecturing doesn’t work as well for imparting advice to teens. To take our advice makes our teens feel dependent on us just when they’re trying to get us to see them as independent.

After Alex stomps off to class, Phil decides to change course. Later we see him go to Alex’s dorm room and tell her that if she is sure that she has given living on campus her best shot, he believes her. That she can move back home. Then as he leaves he hands her a gift bag, supposedly containing the noise-cancelling headphones she’d asked for. But when Alex looks inside the bag, she finds a cheesy prom dress and goggles – the two things she needs to participate in the Freshman Cannon Ball.

The point is that when his initial advice gets rejected out of hand, Phil doesn’t continue to lecture. He doesn’t try to control by refusing to let Alex move back home or threaten to cut off financial support if she doesn’t take his advice. Instead, he simply makes it easier for her to do what he wants her to do, what his own years of experience of trying to fit in convince him is the right thing for her to do: To give living on campus a little more time.

At the end of the show there are a couple heartwarming moments as Alex in prom dress and goggles jumps into the swimming pool and later as she makes a late-night call to Phil just to chat. This turnaround isn’t just a feel-good (but unrealistic) ending to a TV show. It’s quite plausible when viewed from a teen’s point of view. Because as illogical as it may seem, by allowing herself to be insulted by Phil’s attempts to control her life and by rejecting these attempts out of hand, it freed Alex up so that later she could discover the usefulness of his advice.

Connecting Lines:
Like Alex, our teens need to push for their independence and make some mistakes of their own. They’re biologically set to do this. But as they are extending away from us, they need our input more than ever. Because from our teen’s perspective, our silence on an issue can translate into implied approval.

As we saw tonight, lecturing isn’t usually the best way to impart advice to our teens. At least not on an everyday basis. Instead we can follow Phil’s example. We can look for ways to make it easier for our teens to do the right thing.
– We do this when we have a few simple, clear rules and then pay attention.
– We do this when we regularly stay up to make sure they get home safe, sound, and on time.
– We do this when we make a point of calling before they go to a party to ensure that a parent will be present and that alcohol and drugs will not be allowed.

What other things do you do to make it easier for your teen to make good decisions and more difficult for them to make poor choices?

Sources and Resources: Photo courtesy of ABC, Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, PhD



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