MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 27th, 2013, 0 Comments

Grandma Gracie’s Theory About Rules

Season 4, Episode 24

The Framework

Tonight on Modern Family’s season finale the three households travel to a retirement village in Florida to mourn the death of Phil’s mother. The episode, though, is as much about rules and rule breaking as it is about saying goodbye to Gracie. In fact, it turns out Gracie had her own theory about rules.

Upon their arrival the family is greeted by a bossy security guard who warns, “We run a tight ship here at Leisure Park,” and rides around on a Segway enforcing pointless rules. She lights into Phil for having breadcrumbs in his pocket (how did she know?) because there’s no duck feeding allowed, and Haley and Alex get kicked out of an empty pool because it’s for residence only. The girls respond in character: Alex as a rule follower; Haley not so much.

Cam charms a bunch of mahjong-playing senior women and then calls one of them out for taking the winning tile out of her pocket and another for swiping a whole plate of cookies into her purse. He’s right; they’re wrong. But what’s the point of stirring things up among the players? Just stir the punch, Cam.

Meanwhile Alex is miffed to find that Grandma Gracie, who she felt so close to, left her only an old lighter. Later, though, after finding the note and learning the meaning behind the gift, she uses the lighter to set-off fireworks at the funeral. She’s sure her grandmother would approve – even if it does break with traditional memorial service protocol.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Almost all of us break rules sometimes. Teens are especially prone to doing so. In the past we blamed teen rule breaking on peer pressure and rebellion – wanting to do things their parents don’t do just because they don’t do them. We now know that rapid changes taking place inside the teen brain also play a big role.

One way to think about the brain is to think of it as a balance between two different systems: an emotional pleasure seeking system that pushes us to seek rewards and go for excitement and novelty and a rational system that plans ahead and puts the brakes on impulses. These two systems are changing during adolescence, and the changes are uneven. While the rational system (in charge of braking) takes its time to mature, the emotional system gets a kick-start in early adolescence and goes into overdrive. Researchers have likened this to having an unskilled, thrill seeking driver at the wheel of a car with a high-powered engine and brakes that barely work.

This means that one of the most protective things we can do for our teens is to help with the braking action. But because our teens are making more and more decisions without our supervision, we cannot be their protector as we were when they were younger. Instead we provide protection by clearly drawing lines between right and wrong so our teens will know where the boundaries are.

It’s up to our teens, though, to decide whether or not to stay on the right side of the line. So we need to win our teens’ cooperation if our rules are to offer any protection. And we have the best chance of selling our teens on the rules if we keep things simple.

We need a few simple rules about the things we’re most concerned about – each with a purpose that’s easy for us to explain and for our teens to understand. Here are three rules that fit the bill:

• Be safe. Most teens underestimate bad consequences. Their still developing brains are like a magnet for trouble. So Be safe is about helping our teens stay away from things that could hurt them – things like smoking, drinking, drugs, driving while under the influence or riding with someone who is, getting arrested, and unsafe sex.

• Be respectful. We often find ourselves arguing with our teens, and one of our biggest areas of disagreement is respect. So be respectful is about helping our teens act respectfully towards other people, other people’s property, and to themselves. This rule addresses concerns such as acting rude, avoiding schoolwork, breaking curfew, neglecting home chores, lying, arguing with siblings or us, cheating, and stealing.

Be in contact. There are now things our teens would rather we not know. Because they fear that we’ll interfere with their fun. And because they want to protect us from what they think is needless worry. So be in contact is about helping weed out our teens’ bad decisions and reinforce their good ones. This rule is about our teens keeping us informed about who they’re with, what they’re doing, where they are, and where they’re going – especially if their plans change. And it’s about our teens letting us know when something unexpected happens and how they plan to deal with it.

Any issue can be matched to one or more of these three ways to be. Plus these rules give us a ready reason when they ask why: Because you need to be safe. You need to be respectful. You need to be in contact. Over time, we’ll float more information about each of these rules by them – always keeping our messages simple and brief.

Resources: “7 Things Your Teenager Won’t Tell You” by J. M. Lippincott & R. M. Deutsch

The BottomLine

Grandma Gracie (in note left for Alex): Alex, who I love so dearly, who’s probably too much like me for her own good, don’t be afraid to break the rules.

At the end of the day our teens must decide for themselves how to act. Whether we like it or not, it will always be our teen’s choice whether or not to abide by our rules. And, frankly, most teens are more like Haley than Alex; they’re not afraid to break the rules – particularly rules that don’t make sense.

So we should expect our teens to test our limits. But we can help tip the balance back in the right direction by making and enforcing rules that our teens can understand and respect. We can link our discussions and actions back to three simple rules: Be safe. Be respectful. Be in contact.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• What are your rules for your teen? Has your teen tested the limits you’ve set? What do the discussions with your teen about rules sound like?



I'd love to have you become a regular reader. Join my mailing list to be notified by email of new blog posts here. And if you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it on Facebook below.
Tags: , , , , , ,

No comments

Leave a Reply

© 2018 Roxane Lehmann, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.