MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on March 10th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 16, Spring-A-Ding-Fling

Claire “Broke” Luke’s Date

The Framework
Tonight’s show begins with Phil dressed to the nines.
Phil: Hey, guys! For my opening number… Be honest – does it look like I have anything on under this?
Phil is set to be the first three-time host in the history of SCARB – THE annual banquet for Southern Cal realtors. And he’s got five, planned, real-time, hit-performance wardrobe changes underneath that tux.

Meanwhile it’s Mitch’s first day on the job at a legal aid firm, working for Wendy (a friend from law school). The day begins with Wendy dressing down her intern for the outfit he’d picked out for her.

Over at Jay and Gloria’s house there’s an argument about who knows how to get what they want out of people best. The dispute begins like this.
Jay: I do love it in leather.
Gloria: Well learn to love it in silk. It’s too hot to be wearing leather.
Jay: I was talking about this car… Oh by the way, I do the negotiating today at the dealership.
Jay claims that his business experience gives him the edge. But Gloria is certain that her curves and cleavage make her better at working people – and she has Jay’s fancy watch, a pair of designer shoes, plus a huge diamond bauble to prove it.

And tonight Cam is in-charge of the high school’s Spring-A-Ding-Fling (the “A-Ding” is Cam’s addition). He turned this two-bit dance into the event of the year, and he dresses-up for the occasion.
Fellow teacher: Fancy shirt, Coach Tucker.
Cam: Oh, thank you. You know what I like to say – I might be a coach but I travel first class.

Suffice it to say, there is a lot of focus on appearance and clothes in tonight’s episode. But it wasn’t until there was more of the same back at the Dunphy household that my attention got caught.

Luke and his date for the Fling are tussling on the front lawn as Claire arrives home.
Claire (to Luke): Honey, it’s getting close to time for the dance. Shouldn’t you go in and get changed?
Luke: I did already. The guys are coming by. We’re going to ride from here.
Claire: What about you, Rhonda? Do you wanna go in and get cleaned up?
Rhonda: I’m good.
Claire (waving Rhonda inside): Luke you wait here. Ride with your friends. I’ll bring Rhonda [when I come to help chaperone the dance].

Later at the dance there’s this.
Luke: What did you do to Rhonda?
Claire: I cleaned her up.
Luke: No! You broke her! I hate her like this.
Claire: She looks fantastic!
Luke: To you!!

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
As our teens work to figure out who they are and who they want to become, they try on new looks and new ways of dressing. In fact, their choice of clothes and accessories is often one of the first ways that teens determine and express their individuality. Some teens experiment with new looks on a weekly basis.

So how do we deal with this in a way that lets us be respectful of our teens’ new expressions of who they are? How can we guide them as they search for their own image – rather than forcing them to grow into our image of what looks good (as Claire did with Rhonda tonight)?

And how do we guide their search without using up all the emotional capital in our goodwill relationship account with them? Imagine if we each had just $1 a day to spend from that goodwill account. Some mornings we might spend most of it dealing with what they’re wearing before they’re even out the door, leaving us little for the rest of the day and night.

End of show voiceover: We all want people to think the best of us …

And we all want people to think the best of our kids.

In order to build their own identity, our teens have to differentiate themselves from us. The changes they make in their appearance and how they dress are part of that process. And we need to honor that. But we also need to stay involved enough to let them know that we care and that it is our responsibility to help shape the image that they project and help them understand how they might be viewed.

What’s a Mom to Do
Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind the next time your teen is trying on new looks and ways of dressing.

Look for and reinforce the aspects of their wardrobe choices that you like. As they flit by in the fifth outfit of the morning, causing you to wonder just how many times they’re going to change, it’s tempting to ask, “What was wrong with the first one?” Instead, you might try something like: “Nice choice. You look great in that color!”

Sometimes it’s better to say nothing. If your teen wants to dye their hair blue, paint their fingernails black, or wear funky clothes, think hard before you object. You don’t want to squander your goodwill account trying to remake your teen with inflexible demands about their looks. It may make you cringe, but if it’s a harmless, non-permanent change, and if it doesn’t cross your limit of respectability, then consider letting your teen conform to their own idea of what’s right.

If your teen’s appearance doesn’t meet your standards for decency, say so. There are bound to be some looks that will cross over the line into what you consider disrespectful. It will probably be “too” something – too tight, too teeny, too low, too short, or too graphic. When this happens, you’ll want to tell them that while you know it’s a look for some kids, it’s part of your job as their mom to let them know when what they’re wearing doesn’t meet your family’s standard for respectability. If it makes you uncomfortable to see so much (bare skin, underwear, whatever it is) tell them that. Add that if it makes you this uncomfortable, you feel certain that it’s going to make other people uncomfortable too. Or if you’re concerned that they’ll make a poor impression or attract the wrong attention, say that.

Then negotiate with them to come up with a compromise that will work for both of you. It might be that they can wear it around the house but not to school. Or maybe they can add something to the outfit to make it acceptable.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that your teen won’t change again before they arrive at school. But at least they’ll have heard your point of view and the values that your view is based on.

Your Parenting Experiences
Alex and her date are dressed and ready with time to fill before the Fling. Their conversation also focuses on appearance.
Date: My dad has three tattoos. I’m like, “Why? You’re a dad.”
Alex: Ew! It’s so sad when parents try. My mom doubled pierced one of her ears, and I’m like, “Hello! You’re 50!” It’s so old – like ancient to have an ear piercing when you’re 50.

Do you think it pushes teens to be more extreme as they try on new looks when parents accessorize or dress like the young crowd? This could be an interesting topic to discuss with your teen. And if you do, I’d love to hear what you learn.

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on March 3rd, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 15, The Feud

Phil Revises His Advice

The Framework
Tonight there was lots of cause for head scratching. Lily brought head lice home from school and Claire catches the head pets. (Cam’s delicate wording)

But there was a lot of the “go figure” kind of head scratching in tonight’s episode too. Alex and Haley get stuck in the basement with a possum. Manny obsesses over what the other kids will think about his squeaky shoes but still saves self-conscious Gloria from some catty moms. Meanwhile, Luke faces Gil Thorpe’s son in a wrestling match, causing Phil’s ongoing rivalry to become a multigenerational feud.

It was the conversations that lead up to Luke’s match that caught and held my attention.
Luke: My match is coming up. Got any “dadvice”?
Phil (smiling): Starting to sound natural, right? … You know what, just get out there and enjoy yourself. You show character trying a new sport. No matter what happens, I couldn’t be prouder. Go get ’em.

But then just before the match begins, the fatherly advice morphs into this.
Phil: I’d like to revise what I said to you in the car about biting…
Luke: But the important thing is I have fun out there, right?
Phil: Okay, let’s go over this again because I feel like you’re not listening.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Phil is overcome with his loathing and fear of the obnoxious Gil. His darkest thoughts and deepest worries are reflected in his revised advice to Luke. Though the situation was far-fetched, the fear Phil felt and his urge to help Luke hit a bit closer to home.

When our kids ask for our advice about something unfinished and messy, our minds start churning. We’ve gone through enough to have a good idea of what’s going to happen next. We can anticipate twists and turns full of additional troubles that our kids are totally oblivious to. We feel we must intervene and make sure they don’t get it wrong. It’s our job to protect them.

At a restaurant following the match…
Luke (setting his pop down on the table): Dang it!
Jay: We don’t want you to beat yourself up because you lost.
Luke: I’m not. I just started wrestling. Sure it would have been nice to win. But I tried my best. I just said “dang it” because I forgot my straw…
Phil: Son of a gun! He’s absolutely okay.

Sometimes what has us worried is not a problem for our teen. Sometimes they’ll already have a solution. At other times, though, they’ll need a bit more from us. But be careful. If you offer advice too readily, expect some rejection. After all, it’s their job to prove to us (and to themselves) that they don’t need our advice anymore. To them, taking our advice – even if they ask for it – feels like a setback.

What’s a Mom to Do
Instead of beginning by giving our teens advice, we might start by offering our presence. Because even when they ask for our advice, often what they really want is our quiet attention and reassurance.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind the next time your teen asks for your advice.

Acknowledge that it’s a tough issue. Even if the solution seems clear-cut to you, realize that from your teen’s perspective things often seem much muddier. And if you don’t acknowledge the difficulty, they’re likely to feel put-down, less capable, and angry at you for making them feel this way.

Be a sounding board. Restating the key parts of the issue in a calm, neutral voice as if you’re lining up the dots in a dot-to-dot puzzle can guide your teen to new insights and a higher level of thinking.

Ask for their ideas about how to handle the situation. Asking open-ended questions like What have you already tried? What seemed to help? Who else might you talk with? can get your teen thinking and talking about a way forward.

Wait. If they don’t answer your questions right away, don’t rush to fill the silence. Instead stay with your teen and give them your silent support. Sometimes it can help to give them time to go away and connect the dots before providing more guidance.

Underscore their strengths. Like adults, when teens struggle with a problem, they become experts on the problem. Focusing on the difficulty can cause them to lose confidence and avoid doing anything. We can help them switch gears (and calm ourselves) by keeping their strengths and past successes at the forefront of our mind. By reminding them of what they’re good at doing and how they’ve used their expertise in solving problems in the past, we can model for our teens how to refocus and become an expert on the solution.

By supporting our teens as they solve a problem rather than doing it for them, we’re helping them develop wisdom. It’s frustrating, though, not to just come right out and tell our teens what to do. After all we’ve lived long enough to have some wisdom worth sharing. But wisdom is like a college degree – it can’t simply be handed down.

Your Parenting Experiences
Phil (to camera): That might be the best part about being a parent: Whatever is going on in your personal life, when your kid is happy, you’re happy. A happy kid is like an antidepressant.

Is Phil onto something here? If so, might the antidepressant effect of a happy kid further complicate the issue of giving advice? What do you think?

Resource: Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera

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