MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on July 29th, 2013, 0 Comments

Season 4, Episode 6, Yard Sale

Claire Got It Wrong – On So Many Levels

The Framework
Where else but at a “Modern Family” yard sale could you see a man wearing a $10,000 watch, haggling over 15 cents? Where else could Phil be seen on both a streetstrider and a Harley and then admitting, I know I looked super cool [on the Harley] on the outside, but on the inside, I was terrified. And where else could there be this exchange between two men and a dog.
Man: You selling that potbellied pig?
Jay (to his dog): You’re not a pig. You’re Daddy’s little girl.

Yard Sale’s takeaway lesson seems to be about how things aren’t always what they look like on the surface. Two additional storylines remind that sometimes what’s seen on the surface can override everything else.

When a suitcase from Columbia that’s been stored in the attic turns out to have a puppet inside, Gloria is pressured to tell about her talent act as a ventriloquist years ago in a beauty pageant. In short, she froze and went totally silent during her act, but still won the competition. Imagine this when I was 18, she explains, pointing to her chest.

But it was the storyline that began with this exchange that caught and held my attention.
Cameron: Well, well, well. What is this all about? Is there a new man in Alex’s life?
Claire: Well, she certainly thinks so. Is there any way that boy is straight?
Mitchell: Ooh, what’s going on? Who are we looking at?
Claire: Uh, it’s Alex’s new “boyfriend” Michael.
Mitchell: What’s up with the air quotes?
Cameron: She thinks he’s gay.
Claire: Look, I like Michael. I really do. I just don’t want her to get her heart broken. When it comes to boys, her self-esteem is low enough as it is.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
If Michael is gay, he’s not claiming it. And, even if her intentions were to save Alex from heartbreak, it was wrong – on so many levels – for Claire to try to pigeonhole him that way.

For starters, there is no formulaic way to determine if someone is gay or not. Just as straight folks don’t all act the same way, neither do people who are gay. Although Alex’s boyfriend was depicted with many of the traits we’ve come to think of as “gay,” the signals people send about their sexual orientation are often mixed and complex. This is especially true with teens who are still figuring out who they are.

Beyond that, as Mitchel pointed out, [Alex] is fourteen. No matter who that boy is, he’s not gonna last. Mitch is right. Almost all teen relationships will end in a breakup. Knowing this, it’s still usually wise to step back, remaining watchful but letting the process unfold. Because even though our teens may experience some emotional bumps and bruises along the way, when we interfere like Claire did, our teens are likely to reject our advice, and they’ll almost certainly resent our interference.

What’s a Mom to Do
Like other aspects of our teens’ social worlds, there are limits to what we can do when it comes to their romantic lives. Most of their social issues are best addressed by our teens learning gradually how to manage them for themselves.

We can help this process most by focusing on our own relationships with our teens rather than on meddling or making demands. Here are a few tips for staying connected and optimizing your influence by taking a collaborative approach before, during, and after a teen romance.

Share your values before their first romance. Even though some values may differ from one family to the next, most of us want our children to hold many of the same values when it comes to their romantic lives and sexual behavior. In her book “The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense About Sex,“ Deborah Roffman suggests the following guiding principles about sexual behavior: It should be meaningful, it should occur in the context of a caring relationship, it should be freely chosen, it should be responsible, it should be private.

In addition, many parents don’t approve of teens having sexual intercourse, believing that it should be in the context of a deeply committed adult relationship. If this is your position, it’s critical that you say so. But remember, saying “no” is no guarantee that it won’t happen. So as Dr. Ruth Westheimer said years ago, “We need to teach kids everything and then encourage them to wait.”

Whatever our values, it’s important that we share them with our teens in ongoing conversations. Although it’s never too late, ideally these discussions begin before our teens start dating so that they will have our caring adult voice and perspective to guide their earliest actions and decisions. Because without them, our teens will have only their peers and the media to draw upon for guidance.

Beware of trying to control your teen’s romance. If you (like Claire) are tempted to step-in and interfere in your teen’s love life, remind yourself of what your teen may be getting out of the relationship. All romances offer some level of friendship and acceptance. Given all the changes of adolescence, this added security can be a real advantage for any teen, and for a more introverted teen like Alex it can be especially so.

If you’re worried about the intensity of your teen’s relationship, say so. But it’s wise to keep your comments focused on the changes you’ve noticed in your teen. For example, “You seem more tired than usual.” or “You missed your curfew again; that’s not like you.” or “I haven’t seen much of your other friends lately.” Float these observations by your teen with as much dispassion as you can muster. Because nothing cements a romantic relationship like a parent’s controlling rants.

Don’t shrug off the hurt of a breakup. Breakups can be harder on teens than for adults because teens don’t have the perspective or the fully developed identity that help adults manage the sadness, pain, and confusion of a breakup. So when teens are in a relationship that fails, they can feel devastated – even if the relationship lasted only a few months or a matter of weeks. This is true for boys as well as girls.

Although it can be difficult to watch our teens endure pain, experiences like these can help them gain perspective, learn about themselves, and build resilience. So it’s important that we don’t try to takeover their problems in an attempt to minimize their pain or preserve their self-esteem. But when they’re going through a breakup, they can use our quiet presence more than ever.

We can do small things to show that we care – such as making their favorite foods and making it easier for them to spend time with their friends. We can make a point of being around more and available to talk. And we can offer to take them out for coffee or ice cream so that we can be a sounding board as they process what they learned and how this shapes their future thinking. Remember, though, to only offer advice if you’re asked.

Claire interferes in Alex’s love life – and even gets Mitch and Cam to help – because she fears Alex can’t take the hurt of a breakup. As Claire put it, [Alex] is just sarcastic on the outside. Inside, she’s just a fragile little girl. But later, after the meddling, there’s this.
Alex: Well, I hope you’re both happy. Michael is not gay. Now he hates me. Thanks a lot.

In reality, dating can cause disconnect between our teens and us. It can even cause our teens to rebel. Or it can be an experience that helps our teens grow – strengthening their identity and adding to their wisdom for dealing with more serious relationships down the road. By staying involved without becoming controlling, we can minimize the chances for rebellion while boosting their chances for growth.

What are your thoughts?

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on July 8th, 2013, 0 Comments

How to Deal with Your Teen’s “Bad News” Friends

With one quick snip of the electric clippers Claire made Alex’s friend Skylar disappear. And by that same afternoon Alex’s initial fury at her mom had morphed into gratitude. If only real life were so straightforward.

But, it’s not. In fact, the clearest finding from last week’s polling suggests that our real life teens are totally unpredictable when it comes to how they might respond if we interfere with their friendships. Yet “their friends” are often at the top of the list of things we moms worry about. If we’re not worrying that they’re being harmed by undesirable friends, than we’re worrying that they’re being left out and don’t have friends.

We worry for a reason: Our teens’ friends are important. In truth, friends are important to kids of all ages. But teens see being accepted and liked by their peers as a matter of survival. Their sense that they’re okay, hinges on how well they feel that they fit in with other kids their own age. So when we can’t imagine why our teens might choose to hang out with certain kids, it can help to remind ourselves of the benefits those kids may be providing our teens.

Still when our teens have friends that we don’t like, it’s tempting to tell them plainly that we don’t like these friends (like Claire did) and even forbid them from being together. But such controlling tactics often backfire with teens. In fact, prohibiting a friendship is more likely to push our teens into a closer friendship than it is to end it.

Saying nothing about our worries and observations, though, can make us feel like we’re abandoning our responsibility as a parent. And even if we’re careful to say nothing, our teens take in our body language and are bound to know how we feel about their friends.

Thus, we’re at our best when we take a collaborative approach – reassuring our teens that they have a right to choose their own friends while finding a way to keep the conversations going and to reinforce our family values.

Make time to be available and just listen. Listening conveys your interest in your teen and their perspective while giving you a chance to learn more about them and their social lives. By quietly listening, you’re also giving your teen a chance to use you as a sounding board – so that they can learn more about their own feelings.

Do some careful probing. Ask questions that show your interest in learning more about your teen’s friends without being judgmental or trying to control their relationships. For example, you might ask what kind of activities the friend enjoys doing or what your teen enjoys doing with the friend. This type of questioning can help you get a clearer picture of your teen’s perspective and how they see things.

Make your points. When it’s your turn to talk, share observations about things you’ve noticed – especially the things you’ve noticed that are different about your teen since they’ve been hanging out with a new friend or group of friends. For example, if your teen doesn’t seem as happy or respectful or as interested in former activities or to care as much about school, mention that. And remind your teen of your family’s values and the rules based on those values. (Click here to read more about rules.)

Hold-off on giving uninvited suggestions. We have only a small window into their social lives and our teens know that. So they’re likely to see our unsolicited advice as unhelpful and any response is likely to be of the “Just forget it, Mom,” variety. Instead it’s wiser to make your points – your observations about them and your reminders about your family values. Then be patient, and let your teen connect the points for themselves – like they’d connect the dots of a dot-to-dot puzzle. This can sometimes take weeks even months. But if you let your teen connect the dots for themselves, they’re more likely to take your input into account and to stay connected with you.

And while you give your teen time to connect the dots, consider opening your home (or better yet a small space in it) to their friends. Yes, this will mean more work for you, but it will give you a chance to get to know their friends and see the effect of their influence on your teen first hand. Plus you’ll get the peace of mind that comes from knowing where your teen is and what they’re doing.

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