MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 7th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 19, Grill Interrupted

Gloria Uses Blackmail

The Framework
It’s Jay’s birthday, and Phil is ecstatic about giving him a fancy, new grill. As Phil exclaims: If God wants a hamburger, this is what she cooks it on. But despite the title and Phil’s excitement, tonight’s episode is less about a grill and more about the power of expectations. To begin with, Jay pulls up in a brand new Thunderbird, making it obvious that the excitement about the grill is going to be all one-way.

Alex’s excitement about a college acceptance is also tempered by expectations as she worries about living up to her parents’ hopes and dreams.
Alex (looking up from her computer and smiling big): I got in to Caltech!
Claire: You did?!
Phil: That is incredible! We’re gonna have a famous scientist in the family!
Claire: Super-smart kid, super-smart school.

Later Claire piles on more.
Claire (raising her glass and looking a bit tipsy): Okay, everybody, I want to make a toast!
Mitch: Oh, any excuse.
Claire: To my brilliant daughter who worked for twelve years to get into Caltech, the most prestigious college in the nation.

Gloria too has expectations tonight.
Jay (watching as Gloria pours tequila into a decanter): Little early for tequila, isn’t it?
Gloria: It’s for Luke.
Jay: Not sure that’s better.
Gloria: The last time he was here, he was eyeing this bottle the same way you look at me when I wear that strappy sundress.
Jay: I do like that dress.
Gloria: I am going to catch him red-handed. I am going to teach him a lesson. But first I’m going to refill this with water in case he gets past me.

And after Manny swipes the bottle Gloria refilled, there’s yet more evidence of the power of expectations.
Luke (whispering): Did you get it?
Manny (flashing the bottle): Yep.
Luke: Sweet Mexican treasure.
Manny: I was born in Florida, but thank you … (Then looking at computer) If I’m reading this properly, I’m supposed to put a lime in your mouth, salt on your stomach, and drink it out of your bellybutton.
Luke (removing cork): You wish. (Then taking a swig and exhaling loudly) That’ll get you there.
Manny (coughing): Oh. Whoa, Nellie!

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Tonight’s episode underscores two of the biggest risk factors for underage drinking.

The biggest risk comes from having friends who drink. This has to do with peer pressure as well as the self-imposed pressure of wanting to fit-in. It also has to do with supply. After all, you have to be able to get alcohol if you’re going to drink it. And having friends who drink makes getting alcohol easier.

The second biggest risk factor to underage drinking is having a family member with high-risk drinking behavior. (Listen up, Claire!) This doesn’t just mean full-blown alcoholism – although there is a strong genetic component to alcoholism. This also means any unhealthy or risky drinking behavior – especially when your kids are around to witness it.

Manny (handing Luke bottle of tequila): Hey, pace yourself! This stuff is strong.
Luke: I’ll know when I’ve had enough.

Of course, Luke is wrong about this. You know that. But you might be surprised about why. It has to do with two major misconceptions that most of us have about the harms of underage drinking.

First of all, we tend to think that teens can’t handle the immediate physiological effects of alcohol as well as adults because teens’ young bodies and brains are not as mature as those of adults. However, it turns out that teens’ still developing brains are much better at handling the sedative effects of alcohol than adults’ brains are. Because of some differences in key brain structures, the drowsiness and impaired coordination associated with the immediate effects of drinking and even the hangover effects are less of a problem for teens than for adults. Unfortunately, this can prevent teens from knowing when they’ve had enough.

The second misconception has to do with the long-term effects of drinking. We tend to think that because they’re younger, teens will bounce back from the ill effects of drinking more fully than adults. But more and more studies are turning up evidence indicating that this is far from the truth. Attention deficit, memory problems, depression, and anxiety have all been linked to teen alcohol abuse. In addition, recent research indicates that alcohol impairs the brain’s ability to turn short-term memories into long-term memories (a process required for learning) much more easily in teens than adults.

What’s more, there is growing evidence that the effect of alcohol abuse on a teen’s still maturing prefrontal cortex increases the desire for more alcohol. In fact, kids who have their first drink (a whole drink, not just sips) before the age of fifteen are four times more likely to develop alcoholism compared to those who begin drinking at age 21.

What’s a Mom to Do
Even though teens often dis their parents, they do listen to us when it comes to drinking – particularly if our messages are consistent and relayed in a caring but firm way. In fact, studies have shown that while only 26% of teens think their parents should influence the clothes they wear and only 19% of teens think their parents should have a say when it comes to the music they listen to, almost 80% of teens think their parents should have a say when it comes to whether they drink alcohol.

Have your say. One of the most consistent risk factors for underage drinking is a teen’s perception that their parents don’t care if they drink. On the other hand, teens who don’t drink cite not wanting to disappoint their parents as one of the main reasons.

Your teen expects you to have a say. So make sure your message is consistent and that your kids are clear about your position. For example you might say, “We will not tolerate any underage drinking. It’s not healthy or safe, it’s illegal, and it’s against our family rules. Once you’re 21 it’s fine to enjoy a drink with friends. But it’s never okay to drink to solve problems.”

Say more than “Don’t drink.” But don’t make it a lecture either. Both are conversation stoppers. Instead aim for a give-and-take dialogue that includes listening to your teen’s concerns and feelings.

The fact that their growing brains are more vulnerable to alcohol is a health message that seems to resonate with teens. So share the latest research about alcohol’s effects on their brain. And make sure they know that your position on underage drinking is based on your love for them and your commitment to their health and safety – including protecting their brains.

Teach by example. Research shows that when it comes to drinking alcohol, kids are likely to model their parents’ behavior – both healthy and unhealthy. Drinking in excess around our kids increases the likelihood that they’ll develop an alcohol problem. So does letting our kids see us use alcohol as a way to cope with a rough day.

Our expectations matter. Our example does too. And teens are particularly good at picking up on the hypocritical “Do as I say, not as I do” messaging. Study after study confirms that when parents have consistent and clear rules against underage drinking and also drink responsibly themselves, teens have a much greater chance of making it through their teen years with only a few scrapes.

Your Parenting Experiences
At the end of tonight’s episode, Gloria snaps a picture of Manny and Luke hugging each other in an ice bath. She then warns them: If I ever catch you drinking again, your whole school is going to see this picture.

What do you think of Gloria’s technique? What would your teen say?

Sources and Resources: The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientists Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults by Frances E. Jensen, M.D.; “Parenting to Prevent Childhood Alcohol Use” an NIH Publication; “4 Ways Parents Can Prevent Underage Drinking” by Claire McCarthy, M.D. in Huff Post for Parents; “But You and Dad Drink” by Jodi Dworkin for the U of MN Extension Service

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