MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 8th, 2013, 0 Comments

The “C” in Claire Stands for Control

Season 4, Episode 19

The Framework

When parents worry, they respond. That’s what knotted the storylines on “Modern Family” together tonight. Mitch and Cam worry that Lily doesn’t have a female role model. And Gloria worries that Manny is losing his cultural heritage. But the storyline that best captured parental worry (and response) was the one that took place in the Dunphy household.

The morning started with Claire in full-on control.

Claire: Luke, please stop taking appliances apart.
Luke: I’m making something.
Claire: You’re unmaking something!

Haley: I’m giving my notice today.
Claire: Wait. What? … What do you mean that you’re quitting?! Your manager just started letting you open and close the store.
Haley: It’s boring…
Claire: Honey, you need to learn to stick with things. And you just got the big keys.

Alex: I need caffeine today.
Claire: How late were you at that party last night?
Haley: She snuck in at 10:00 and spent all night reading under the covers with a flashlight.
Claire: Alex, what have I told you about staying out after your curfew?
Alex: I need to do it more often.
Claire: Exactly! You need to learn to have some fun. You’re going on that spring break trip with Nicole.
Alex: No! I can’t! I have to study for the PSATs.

And that’s when Claire turns to Phil for backup. Instead she got this:

Phil: All right, everybody, listen up. Haley, you’re not quitting; you’re resigning. It sounds better. Alex, you have all of spring break to lock yourself in your room and study. And, Luke, “coffeebots” is a nonstarter. But I do like the idea of popcorn kernels in pancake batter so they self-flip.

Perhaps Claire’s over-the-top efforts to control were due to her fears about the angiogram she had scheduled for later that day. When worried, we moms instinctually tend to hold on to our kids tighter.

Though, as it turns out, Claire’s worries were just beginning. Because while she and Phil are at the hospital waiting for Claire to be wheeled away for the procedure, the older fellow in the bed next to Claire gets a visit from his three kids who look like grown-up versions of the Dunphy brood. And Claire and Phil do not like what they see.

With this unsettling vision of their future kids dancing in their heads, they switch parenting roles – each taking the typical style of the other in phone calls made to their kids.

Claire: Haley, I love you. If you don’t want to work in that store, I’ll help you find something you like better. Alex, you don’t have to go on that trip with Nicole. You can study as much as you want. Just know that I love you.

Phil: Haley, you’re not quitting your job. … Listen to me. You are dangerously close to getting on a path that you can’t get off of. Alex, book down. Run a brush through your hair. You’re going on that trip with your friend.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

So much of parenting teens is about control. And Claire and Phil are at opposite ends of the control spectrum.

Claire is hands-on. She believes she owns the controls. Under this micromanaging regime, teens often superficially comply with their parents’ demands and then dedicate much of their energy to sneaking and lying in order to do what they want.

Phil is hand-off. He often relinquishes control entirely. This permissive parenting style gives most teens less structure than they need and more freedom than they’re ready for.

The sweet spot for parenting teens is in the middle of the control spectrum. From this spot, parents believe it’s their job to help manage the controls – neither owning the controls nor relinquishing them completely. Below is a short list of tips that will help you get to this spot:

Think of control as a swinging pendulum. We’re at our most influential when the pendulum is at the midpoint – when we’re guiding our teens rather than being too hands-on or too hands-off. Parenting from this midpoint means striking the right balance between restrictiveness and autonomy.

Help your teen explore both sides of the situation. Rather than giving ultimatums like Claire and Phil did (You’re not quitting your job!), it’s better to encourage teens to explore both sides of the situation. For example, “Haley, I’d like to hear what’s going on with your job. Please help me understand what’s working for you and what’s not.” Then listen.

Don’t push your point of view. How we say what we say can make a huge difference. So when it’s your turn to share your ideas, don’t make the mistake that Claire and Phil made when they pushed their point of view on Haley: Honey, you need to learn to stick with things. … You are dangerously close to getting on a path that you can’t get off of. Statements like these can force teens to take the other side.

You’ll have a much better chance of getting your ideas across if you think of it as floating them by your teen and if you can offer some information that your teen might not know. For example, Claire and Phil might have gently but firmly reminded Haley that while she’s not in college, she needs a job to cover rent and other personal expenses. And they might have encouraged her to consider securing a new job before quitting her current one, relaying that it’s almost always easier to get a new job when you already have one.

Know where the line is. Know where “guiding” is on the control spectrum and be ready to step back over the line if you find yourself going too far in one direction or the other.

Even when our teens don’t immediately respond as we’d hoped, they are listening. And if we respect their right to have an opinion different than ours and give them some time and space to think about the situation, they’re more likely to see us as someone who can be trusted, to be open to our influence, and to seek us out when they need help.

The BottomLine

Phil: Look, all we can do is give Haley time to find out who she is.
Claire: Or I can save that time, and I can tell her who she is.

We’re determined to do what is right for our kids. But often our deepest desire to do what is right causes us to act like Claire and Phil and lean too far in one direction or the other.

Yet the evidence overwhelmingly links parenting from the midpoint of the control spectrum with healthy adolescent development. By staying connected with our teens and helping to manage the controls, we are:
• Giving our teens self-assurance and adding to their ability to withstand stress and negative influences.
• Helping them develop reasoning skills.
• Making them more open to our influence and more likely to have similar values and attitudes.

So instead of thinking of control as something we say or do to teens or giving up on them (hoping that time will do what we can’t), we’re at our best when we look for ways to stay connected and work with our teens.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

Think of the various topics you communicate with your teen about – topics such as grades, curfew, clothes, friends, attitude, alcohol, drugs, music, chores, sex, and driving.
• Where do you think you are on the control spectrum (controlling, guiding, hands-off) for each of these topics?
• Where do you think your teen would say you are?
• Are you purposefully more hands-on about some things and more hands-off about others?

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