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?

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 22nd, 2013, 0 Comments

Reframe: Manny Vies with Luke for the Phantom Lead

Season 4, Episode 14 (Rebroadcast from 2/6/13)

The Framework

Tonight on “Modern Family” Luke and Manny are involved in a play – a middle school production of “Phantom of the Opera.” And both take some risks and stretch their comfort zones as the lead changes from one to the other.

When the student star gets mono, Manny initially lands the lead.

Cam: I’ll need a “phantom” for this rehearsal.
Manny: I guess I could help.

Then we learn that Luke, who’s been painting sets, can sing better. And Manny, determined to keep the lead, plays on Luke’s peer fears:

Manny: Look at the bright side. What if you don’t screw up, humiliate yourself, and get mocked forever.
Luke: Get mocked?
Manny: Only by the cool kids. But who needs them. You’re one of us now: the theatre geeks.

With that, Luke refuses to sing. In the end, however, he does take the lead. And, as Cam puts it, he sings like a nightingale.

(Click here to see the original post.)

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Teens are biologically set to seek out thrills and take risks. In fact, brain changes tracked by neuroscientists suggest that teens’ reward systems (unlike those of younger children or adults) seem to bias their choices and decisions towards the thrill even if there is risk involved. (You can read more about the teen brain here. These brain changes evolved to spur this age group to leave a safe home and increase their range of experiences so that they’d learn new skills and make new discoveries about themselves. Which is all well and good.

But there is a potential downside. Our teens’ developmentally driven craving for trying new things can lead to boredom. And there’s a growing consensus that dangerous risk taking increases when teens are bored. For example, researchers have found that kids ages 12 to 17 who are often bored, are 50% more likely to use drugs and alcohol. Add a wad of cash ($25 or more a week of spending money) and those bored kids become 3 times more likely to use.

The good news is that the risks our teens are hardwired to take don’t have to be destructive ones. And that’s where we come in. We can stay connected to our teens and redouble our efforts to encourage them to try new things and test their limits in constructive ways. We can help them take…
Life risks that include social ones like joining a club, emotional ones like asking someone new on a date, and physical ones like rock climbing or skateboarding.

School risks that include academic ones such as taking an AP course or learning a new language, athletic ones such as going out for a sports team, and extracurricular ones such as trying out for a play (like Manny and Luke did) or running for student council.

Community risks, for example volunteering to help the homeless, mentoring a younger child, and leading by starting a small business or charity.

Teens say that their parents have more influence than anyone else when it comes to their decisions to challenge themselves with the right kind of risks. And when we help our teens find meaningful opportunities to push their bodies, expand their minds, and nurture their spirits, we are helping to satisfy their craving for trying new things that test their limits. In the process we’ll deepen our connection with our teens and reduce the chances that they’ll get into trouble with destructive risks like drugs and alcohol.

Sources: (CASA, 2003; Teens Today, 2004)

Flipping the Frame: From My Life as a Parent

My son was a thrill seeker. He was hooked on the adrenaline rush that comes from a close call. I saw this aspect in him early on. When he was in elementary school I’d sometimes watch him play basketball in our driveway with a neighborhood buddy. And if he got too far ahead as they went one-on-one, I’d see him sit back a bit and let his opponent catch-up. Now don’t get me wrong. My son liked to win, but he liked the thrill of a close game better.

He sought out close calls off the court too. At age 12 he’d saved enough of his birthday money and allowance to buy a mountain bike (and the mom required helmet). After that he spent a part of most weekends riding down the steep trails and jumping the logs that crossed his path in the North Carolina woods near where we lived.

Then we moved. Of course we brought his bike with us. But there were no steep trails near enough for regular riding.

It would be awhile before I’d realize how important those steep hills had been to him…

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• I’m really glad that Phil ended up attending Luke’s performance. And I was delighted when his grandfather also showed up. Showing up is one way to encourage our teens to take positive risks. What other ways have you found to support your teen’s participation in these activities?

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