MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 12th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 22, Message Received

Message Received – But Was It What They Really Wanted to Convey?

The Framework
In tonight’s episode the characters confront things outside their comfort zones, reminding just how uncomfortable that can be – for adults and kids alike.

Mitch and Cam confront the fact that the budget for their upcoming wedding has ballooned out of control, causing Cam to venture: Maybe we can send un-invitations … is that a thing? But the conversations that held my attention tonight happen in the other two households.

Over at the Dunphys, the kids find Phil’s old answering machine from his college days. To their delight, they find a message from their mom mixed in with the other recordings. But as they and Claire listen to her message, the mood in the room shifts from happy to horrified.
Claire (recorded): Phil, hey. It’s Claire. Umm… I need to tell you something, and I don’t want it to be on your machine. It’s really important – you know like life and death important … Not death. Just life. I mean it’s … Oh hell. I’m pregnant. Don’t worry; you don’t have to marry me or anything. Let’s talk as soon as you can. Why weren’t we more careful?! Stupid Duran Duran concert.

Meanwhile at the Pritchett household, family members press each other to face something they fear: the unpleasantness of eating a pickle, rubbing the dog’s belly, a bite of blood sausage. But Mitch presses Jay to confront a much bigger fear – his discomfort with the upcoming wedding.
Jay: Can I ask you a question? Why are you having such a big thing anyway?
Mitch: Well, because we’re only getting married once.
Jay: I’m just saying, why do you need to make it into a spectacle?
Mitch: Ssspectacle?!!
Jay: I don’t think I’m out of line suggesting my friends don’t want to see a father-son dance at a big gay wedding. I’m just saying I don’t how this stuff plays out with my guys from the club.
Mitch: This isn’t about them. This is about you.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Tonight we saw the Dunphy kids’ horror at the images they conjured up as they listened to Claire’s message recorded years ago and then again as they stood outside their parents’ bedroom and heard the door being locked.
Kids (in unison): Door lock! Run!! Ugh! Ugh! Run!!

Tonight we also saw Jay struggle to come to terms with his gay son’s sexuality. It seems that Jay has accepted the fact that Mitch is gay on a conceptual level, but now the upcoming wedding is forcing him to confront what that means on a practical level.

Most teens are like the Dunphy kids – they don’t want to think about their parents having sex. And to be honest, many of us parents are a bit like Jay: It makes many of us uncomfortable to imagine our kids as sexual – even if what we’re imagining is a heterosexual relationship.

BottomLine
Jay: Fine. I admit it; this whole wedding thing is weird to me … I didn’t choose to be uncomfortable. I was born this way.
Mitch: You know, Dad, if it really makes you that uncomfortable, then don’t come to the wedding.

Later as Jay holds his cell phone waiting for Mitch to call, I’m rooting for Jay to initiate the call. As tough as it might be for Jay, it’s his job as a parent to get his thoughts and feelings under control and begin the conversation that will let him reconnect with Mitch.

And as tough as it might be for us to talk with our kids about sex as well other things that make us uncomfortable to think about our kids engaging in – like bullying, drinking and drugs, it’s our job to do it. Because when we hold these conversations, we’re sending our kids three powerful messages. First we’re telling them that we recognize that they’re growing up and beginning to make more decisions for themselves. Second we’re showing them that our commitment to them and our concern for their wellbeing gives us the courage to initiate these uncomfortable conversations. And third we’re letting them know that that we’re always open to talking about these tough topics and that we’ll continue to bring up the subject in the future in case they have questions but are unable to ask.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Don’t wait for your teen to come to you with questions. Tough topics are too scary for most teens to bring up with their parents.

Here are some tips to help you hold tough conversations in a way that will leave you more connected with your teen than you were before you talked.

Come up with a list. Begin by making a list of all the things you’d really like to know. Here are some questions to get your thinking started: Are you getting pressure from your girlfriend/boyfriend to have sex? If you’re having sex, are you using protection? Are you part of the bullying that has been going on at school? Are you drinking when you’re hanging out with your friends? Are you and your friends getting high after school?

Then use everyday situations to spark your conversations. To help you initiate good conversations on these topics keep an eye out for news stories, young adult books, or movies and TV shows that bring up sensitive topics. Share them with your teen, and then ask what they know about the topic and whether they have any opinions or questions on the subject before sharing your own.

Begin in way that is comfortable for both of you. Talk when the two of you are alone. Riding in the car, hiking, playing one-on-one basketball, or doing a household chore together are all particularly good places to begin because they don’t require your teen to make eye contact. And if you’re more comfortable putting your ideas in writing first, start that way.

Try to put yourself in their shoes. When your teen talks, really listen to understand rather than to make a judgment call. Even when you disagree, give more positive nonverbal cues than negative ones – nod to show you’re interested, lean towards them, and smile when it’s appropriate. And don’t be afraid to touch your teen. Although some teens may prefer to be asked first, our touch conveys our unconditional love for our teens.

Be approachable. Make sure your teen knows that they can ask you anything. And when they do ask about a specific topic, find out what they already know about the subject. And then clarify what they are really asking so that you can answer their questions in a way that is detailed enough to make them feel comfortable asking additional questions but doesn’t overwhelming them.

Think carefully about what you disclose. Many parents struggle with whether or not to share their adolescent exploits with their teens. Some believe that their kids will be more likely to heed their advice if it’s based on real-life experience. On the other hand, kids can become confused when we parents present them with information and a model that contradicts what we expect of them. Plus times have changed. What may have been only somewhat risky when we were their age, may now be far more dangerous. You can be honest about sharing personal things without going into details that wouldn’t be appropriate. Remember, once you share something you can’t take it back.

Let your teen set the pace. Most kids do better with shorter bursts. So instead of thinking about it as “having the talk” and getting it done in one fell swoop, think of it as an ongoing conversation. As you talk, watch for signs that tell you your teen has had enough for now. When they signal they’re shutting down or pushing you away, it’s best to change the subject and come back to the topic another time.

We can’t assume our teens understand our family values just because they live under the same roof. We have to communicate the things we believe are important and why we have these values. As uncomfortable as holding these conversations with our kids can be, if we don’t continue to bring them up, they may never happen – or at least not in the way we want them to take place.

Your Parenting Experiences
Some of my readers have told me that they’re watching Modern Family with their teens and letting the show be the spark for conversations. How do you bring up sensitive topics with your teen?



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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 15th, 2013, 0 Comments

Haley and the Champagne Flute

Season 4, Episode 20

The Framework

Tonight on “Modern Family” a couple former storylines get picked up right where they left off. The house that Claire and Cam have been renovating gets put on the market and sold. While over at the Pritchett house Gloria gets mad when Manny’s father visits again, bringing Trish – another one of his girlfriends – with him. And Gloria gets even madder when it turns out that this one is not a bimbo but an art expert with a fancy degree and a job to match.

These storylines were full of laughs like these:

Haley: He went to college at a place called “mit.”
Alex: It’s MIT.
Haley: I know how to spell it.

Gloria: This is not even garbage. They wouldn’t take it. It’s too big for the can.

Trish (to Gloria): You know what I had for lunch?! I had half a granola bar. And I can’t even button my pants.

But as the families celebrate the completed renovation, there were a couple sobering lines as well:

Phil: I would like to propose a toast.
Haley (emptying her glass of bubbly and holding it out for more): Missed me. And before the second toast: Still empty.
Alex: You know you’re my ride.
Haley (pinging the champagne flute with her finger): They say it’s bad luck to toast with an empty glass.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Does Haley have a drinking problem? She did chug down that glass of champagne. And there was that night of bizarre behavior that got her kicked out of college – a night that began with drinking. But how would we know if she had a problem? Come to think of it, how would we know if one of our kids had a problem with alcohol?

Here are some warning signs:
• Mood changes – flare-ups of temper, irritability, and defensiveness
• School problems – poor attendance, low grades, or recent disciplinary action
• Rebelling against family rules
• Switching friends along with reluctance to have you get to know their friends
• A “nothing matters” attitude, sloppy appearance, a lack of involvement in former interests, and general low energy
• Finding alcohol in your child’s bedroom or backpack, or smelling alcohol on their breath
• Physical or mental problems – bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, slurred speech, memory lapses, poor concentration
(Source: NIAAA)

Some of the things on this list may be no more than normal teen growing pains. But if your teen shows several of the signs at the same time, if they occur suddenly, and if they are more extreme, it’s probably time to get some help. A good place to start is to call your teen’s doctor – just as we would if our teens had any other serious medical need.

None of us want our teens to use alcohol – much less to develop a drinking problem. But no teen is immune. So we need to keep our radar up and quietly monitor for signs of use. Because no one will ever be more concerned than we are. And no one can be more watchful than we can be.

If your teen casually mentions that some of their friends are drinking or that some of their friends’ parents let their kids drink, it’s a signal that they may be doing some experimenting or at least considering it. Putting up these trial balloons lets teens test our response. And as the balloons float by, we get a natural chance to reinforce our rule that no use is acceptable and to remind them of the consequences for missing the mark.

If you suspect experimentation but only have your suspicions, voice your concerns as objectively (and unemotionally) as possible. Tell your teen what it is that you’ve noticed that has you worried. And tell them that you love them too much not to worry and care too much not to fight them over drinking or drug use. By saying this we let our teens know that we’re paying attention, and it lets us gradually build a case if their worrisome behavior continues. So say this, and then quietly monitor their behavior.

And if you find evidence of one occasion of use, try not to view it as the end of the world. Yes, it’s disappointing. And to send a message that you won’t tolerate drinking, you’ll have to take away some of their privileges (things like driving, sleepovers, and extended curfews) until they’ve re-earned your trust. But there is also reason to be grateful. Because when our teens make a mistake and we find out about it, we get one of our best opportunities to help them make better decisions down the road.

The BottomLine

Jay (to Trish): Now, I’m not an art expert like you, but I did acquire this piece in a gallery in one of those finer Vegas casinos. What do you think?
Trish: It does say something. … What is it Thoreau said: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

Some parents will take a look at the teen scene and decide that teens will drink and that there is little they can do about it. And to be honest, the research indicates that parenting doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of effect on whether kids decide to try alcohol. But if you take a closer look at the data, you’ll see that parenting attitudes and actions can make a big difference in how much and how often teens drink – and this is where the greatest risks to their safety and their brains lie.

Researchers have found that the kids least likely to do heavy drinking have parents who are highly supportive and highly demanding. These parents are warm and caring. They know where their kids are and who they are with. They send a clear message that no drinking is acceptable. And they hold their kids accountable. On the other hand, having a permissive parent who is warm and caring but low on accountability (I’m talking to you, Phil) can triple the risk of a teen taking part in heavy drinking. And a controlling parent who is high on accountability but low on warmth (Claire, I’m talking to you now) can more than double their teen’s risk of heavy drinking.

So it’s true that as our teens get older, we have less influence and their peers have more. But it’s also true that our actions and attitudes can go a long way in minimizing the effect of peer encouragement to drink.

Flipping the Frame: From My Life as a Parent

A decade ago when my son was a teen, many parents viewed teen drinking as a rite of passage. Some parents today still may feel relieved that their teen is “only” drinking. But in truth, what we’ve learned over the last several years underscores the dangers of underage drinking:

• It’s a major cause of death from injuries among teens.
• It plays a role in risky sexual behavior and violent crime.
• And there is growing evidence that the teen brain, which is still forming, is more vulnerable than the adult brain to the damaging effects of alcohol.

Some adolescent experts used to advise letting teens do their experimenting before they left home for college so that parents could keep watch and monitor their use. Nobody is suggesting this any more. We now know that the best thing we parents can do is to delay the age at which our kids start drinking for as long as possible. Because the earlier teens start drinking, the more likely they are to become a heavy drinker and to have problems with school, jobs, and relationships.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• I’m pretty sure that Haley is not yet 21. Why do you think she got champagne for toasting while Alex and Luke got juice? She’s almost 21. And it’s just one glass. So does it matter?



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