MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on February 23rd, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 15, Fight or Flight

Manny Throws a Punch

The Framework
There is a lot of leaping to conclusions tonight on “Modern Family” with a flight or a fight hot on the heels of most of the leaps. For Manny, the leap was of his own making. But the fight began like this.
Manny: Mom, do I have a fever?
Gloria (kissing Manny’s forehead): Let me check.
Jay: You know we have a thermometer.
Gloria (to Jay): Why do you have to be so white all the time? … He’s pretending to be sick so he doesn’t have to go to his cooking class.
Jay: He has to go! Today is lasagna. I’ve been starving myself all day for that.
Gloria: He doesn’t want to go because there is a boy there who is picking on him.
Jay: At cooking class? You know, we’re running out of places to send him where he can be cool.
Gloria: I know … You have to teach him how to fight.
Jay: The kid is not a fighter. He gets squeamish pounding veal.
Gloria: Just do it!
Jay: Fine. But I’m only doing it for the lasagna.

True to his word (and his rumbling stomach), Jay shows Manny how to punch.
Jay: Really let one go this time. Think about how mad this guy makes you. What’s his name?
Manny: Gideon.
Jay: Oh, geez. All right, think about what he did to you.
Manny: I’d rather not talk about it … I’m done. I’m not fighting anymore. It’s not worth it.
Jay: But you’re doing so good. You just have to turn your shoulder first so you can throw your weight behind your punch … Come on kid! Show ‘em who’s boss.

Later Jay drives Manny to cooking class. And as Manny gets out of the car, there’s this.
Gideon: Hey, Delgado! Manny, I’m talking to you! (Then holding up a pie), you want a piece of this?

With that, Manny punches Gideon just as Jay taught him to do.
Gideon: Ow! What was that for?!
Manny (looking at his fist): Looks like I gave you a piece of this.
Gideon: I was just offering you some apple crumble. I felt bad about teasing you … My therapist said I was acting out because of my parents’ divorce. So I was trying to be nice.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Manny thought the kid in his cooking class was a bully, and his initial response was to skip class. But with some goading and coaching from Gloria and Jay, Manny switched from flight to fight mode.

Fight or flight is an instinct leftover from our cavemen ancestors. Smart cave dwellers figured out that when a big, hungry beast approached, they needed to react right away – by either overwhelming the beast or running for safety. Over millions of years, those with the best fight-or-flight skills survived.

Thanks to the process of natural selection, we’ve all inherited an incredible nervous system that automatically gets our bodies ready to battle or run whenever we feel threatened. In contrast, caring and compassion are learned behaviors. Although research in human development shows that the capacity for kindness is present early in life, kids need help throughout their growing-up years to nurture caring behaviors into full development. And a new study indicates that parents need to do more.

Harvard researchers recently surveyed 10,000 middle and high school students around the country about which of three things they thought their parents cared about most: 1) that they achieve at a high level, 2) that they feel happy most of the time, or 3) that they care for others. Almost 80% of the teens surveyed picked high achievement or happiness as the thing their parents cared about most, while roughly 20% ranked caring for others first.

Teens’ own responses about what matters most were virtually the same as what they believed their parents valued most. The researchers summed things up this way: “Some kids made it quite clear that their self-interest is most important: If you are not happy, life is nothing. After that, you want to do well. And after that expend any excess energy on others.”

At first glance, it doesn’t seem that putting personal happiness and success before caring for others is such a big deal. But there is a downside to it. Teens who are mostly looking out only for themselves – and who view their peers as doing likewise – are at greater risk of harmful behavior, including being cruel and disrespectful.

Jay (as he drops Manny off at cooking class): Now remember, what did I teach you?
Manny: Violence solves everything, and don’t wind my fist up like Popeye.
Jay: It’s not violence. It’s self-defense. Now you walk in there like a bad-ass, and you make the best damn lasagna anybody’s ever seen.

Most parents say that raising children who care about others is a top priority. Moreover, when surveyed, parents rank caring for others as more important than their children’s achievement. But our kids aren’t getting the message. In fact, in the Harvard survey, teens were three times more likely to agree than disagree with this statement: “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”

Most of us aren’t as literal as Gloria and Jay about encouraging our kids to fight for their own self-interest. Still it seems that our focus on our kids’ happiness and our daily messaging to them about achievement are drowning out our messages about being concerned about others and caring for them.

And here’s the ironic thing: Recent research indicates that parents’ focus on happiness and their intense pressure for high achievement doesn’t appear to increase their kids’ happiness or their achievement. At least not in affluent communities. Plus parents who try to ensure their kids’ immediate happiness by constantly protecting them from any kind of struggle can prevent them from developing coping skills that are crucial for long-term happiness.

What’s a Mom to Do
Below are some guidelines and tips for raising caring, respectful kids from Harvard’s “Making Caring Common Project.”

Work to develop caring relationships with your kids. Our kids learn to be kind when they are treated that way. When they feel loved, they become connected to us and that connection makes them more receptive to our values.
Spend regular time together. Consider building one-on-one time with each of your kids into your monthly schedule rather than leaving it to chance.

Make your conversations meaningful. Take advantage of the time you have with your kids to talk about things that bring out thoughts and feelings. Try asking (and sharing your answers) to questions such as, “What was something you learned today – in school or out – that surprised you?” or “What’s something nice someone did for you today?” or “What’s something nice you did?”

Make caring for others a priority. A big part of this is holding high expectations for our kids when it comes to honoring their commitments, doing the right thing (even when it’s hard), and insisting that they are respectful (even when other kids aren’t acting that way).
Send a clear message. Consider your daily messaging to your kids about the importance of caring. Instead of saying, “The most important thing is that you’re happy,” or “The most important thing is that you work hard,” you might add caring about others to the front of your message saying, “The most important thing is that you’re kind and …

Prioritize caring when you talk with your kids’ teachers and coaches. When you ask about your kid’s skills, grades, or performance, also ask about whether they are a good class member or team player.

Encourage your kids to “work it out.” If your child wants to quit a team or other group activity, encourage them to consider their obligation to the group and to try to work out problems before throwing in the towel.

Give your kids opportunities to practice being caring and grateful. Developing these traits is a lot like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition – whether it’s being nice to a new student in their class or helping their friend with homework or regularly reflecting on what they appreciate – will help build our kids’ capacity to be caring and grateful and make these attributes second nature.
Praise uncommon acts of kindness. Expect your kids to routinely help with home chores, and save your praise for uncommon acts of kindness. When routine responsibilities are simply expected and not spotlighted or rewarded, they are more likely to become ingrained.

Express thanks. Encourage your kids to express gratitude to family members, teachers, coaches and others who contribute to their lives. Consider making expressing gratitude a daily ritual – perhaps at the dinner table or at bedtime.

At the end of tonight’s episode there’s this as Jay and Manny return home.
Gloria: Manny, why are you home so early? (Then turning to Jay), did you let him skip school?
Manny: No, Mom. I was kicked out for punching a really misunderstood kid – thanks to you …

I wonder if Gloria would have handled things differently tonight if she knew that being more mindful of others could actually make Manny happier and more successful.

Many of us tend to think that being caring, happy, and a high achiever are at odds with each other. But that is not necessarily so. In fact, research in positive psychology emphasizes that authentic happiness comes from connections with others – not just pursuing self-interest. What’s more, empathy has been shown to improve collaboration skills – which are on the shortlist of “21st century literacies,” suggesting that being able to get along with others is necessary for achievement in today’s world.

Your Parenting Experiences
What do you think your kids would say you care about most:
– That they achieve at a high level
– That they feel happy most of the time, or
– That they care for others?

Sources and Resources: Making Caring Common Project. (To read the full report, click here.)

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