Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on November 18th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 6, The More You Ignore Me

Plotline: Luke Gets Arrested

At the Dunphy household, the night begins with a call from the police.
Phil: Who’s calling at this hour? (Answering phone) Hello? Yes? (Then to Claire) Luke has been arrested!

The next day starts-off like this.
Phil: Well, good morning, Leonard.
Luke: Leonard?
Phil: I know it’s not my well-behaved son, Luke, who’d never take our car out without a license and get arrested.
Luke: I took the car for a good reason. Sarah Fisher’s cat died, and she was devastated, so I thought she might make out with me. I got caught two blocks away from her house. Everyone is having great luck with girls except for me. And I mean everyone.
Claire: You know, we’re gonna have to ground you, and I was thinking that…
Phil: Oh, we’re doing way more than that. Landon has a $300 fine to work off.
Luke: We could fight that – say the cop was racist. Even if we lose, it’ll start a conversation.
Phil: You made a mistake; you pay the consequences, Levon. Your first job is cleaning out the awesome village I built for my ducks.

Later, Phil follows-up – well, sort of.
Phil (leaving a voicemail for Luke): Just reminding you the duck village needs to be clean enough to eat off of. You hear me? You better not have. You’re not allowed to use your phone. Yep, I’m everywhere.

Like Phil, none of us want to think that our teens will break our rules and our trust in them. But teens are hard-wired to take risks. So regardless of how smart or well-adjusted kids are or how effectively they’re parented, at some time during adolescence they are bound to make some mistakes.

Sometimes teens’ worrisome behavior is due to impulsive, spur-of-the-moment decision making. At other times teens actively seek out risks. For years we’ve believed that teens make these deliberate but reckless choices because they think that nothing bad is going to happen to them. We now know that teens are well aware of their vulnerability. In fact, teens tend to overestimate their risks for many negative outcomes.

A growing body of scientific data suggests that teens take these risks not because they think that they’re invulnerable, but because they engage in too much rational calculation when making these decisions. Consider Luke’s decision tonight to drive the family car without permission or a license. To his rational adolescent mind, deliberating on the odds, it must have seemed like a good bet. He likely reasoned that there was only a moderate chance of getting caught or having an accident, and the potential of the immediate reward – particularly in the heat of the moment – seemed to out-weigh the risks.

In contrast, most adults faced with the temptation of driving someone else’s car – without permission or a license – would likely skip the deliberation and go right to the main point: The risks of an accident or an arrest are not worth quantifying, and it doesn’t make sense to weigh these risks against the reward of brief pleasure. Instead of doing mental calculations, adults go with their gut. They immediately generate a visual image of a potential accident or arrest, experience a physical aversion to that image, and evoke a quick “bad idea” response.

Bottom Line
The dangers are real, but they are not unknown to our teens. So bombarding them with frightening facts won’t help them make better decisions. But getting them to see benefits differently – not just risks – can.

Taking risks will have less appeal for teens if they see greater benefit from alternative, safer, more respectful courses of action. And you want to especially highlight the short-term consequences and benefits as these are the most significant to teens.

Previous posts have discussed the advantages of having a few, simple rules: be safe, be respectful, be in contact. (You can read more about these rules here.) Below are some suggestions for winning your teen’s cooperation for following these rules:

Consistently enforce the rules with consequences that fit the infraction and make sense to your teen. Kids need consequences to get them to reflect on what they have done. But don’t overkill. If you make the consequence too severe, your teen will become resentful and miss the opportunity for learning and growth. Especially beware of grounding for special events – like prom or an important game they’re supposed to play in. And be sure to provide light at the end of the tunnel by letting your teen know when the consequences will end.

Give your teen the support needed to learn from their mistake and a way to re-earn your trust. When your teen disappoints you by breaking a rule, it’s important to enforce a consequence to make room for learning to take place. But consequences almost never do the teaching. Your support is needed for that.

Your support will enable your teen to understand why they did what they did and to realize that there were other choices that they could have and should have made. And your support will enable your teen to regain your trust (and with it their privileges). It works best if you explain precisely how they can go about re-earning your trust. “When you show me that …” If you have a strong relationship with your teen, the more you express confidence in their capability of regaining your trust, the harder they’ll work to re-earn it and keep it.

Gradually let go. This means granting your teen more privileges and freedoms as they earn them by behaving responsibly – choice by choice, decision by decision, action by action.

Connecting Lines:
Our peace of mind is largely based on being able to trust our teens. Because despite Phil’s claim tonight that he’s everywhere, he can’t be. And, of course, neither can we. So we need to do all that we can to encourage our teens to follow our rules.

Appealing to your teen’s self-interest is another way to encourage rule adherence.
Below is a script to give you an idea of what that conversation might sound like.

You: There are only three rules that describe my expectations for your behavior: Be safe, be respectful, and be in contact. I expect you to follow these. Their purpose is to allow me (your parent) to sleep at night.
Them: What do the rules have to do with your sleep?
You: They help keep me from worrying. Parents worry. That’s part of what we do.
Them (rolling their eyes): That’s ridiculous. But if you want to stay up worrying about me, that’s your problem. Not mine.
You: Actually not. When I worry about you, it does affect you. Because when I worry, I don’t sleep as well. And when I’m tired, I’m cranky and more likely to say “No.” So it’s in your own best interest to minimize the things I worry about. That way I’ll sleep better, and you’ll have a better chance of getting to do what you want.

Sources and Resources: Adolescents and Risk: Helping Young People Make Better Choices by Eric Wargo (citing research by Valerie Renya, Ph.D.); Things Your Teenager Won’t Tell You by J. Lippincott and Robin Deutsch, Ph.D.; Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, Ph.D.

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 28th, 2013, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 6, The Help

The Dunphy Daughters Call to Claire for Help

The Framework
“Help” (some helpful, some not so much, and some way too much) is what tied the plotlines together tonight. Gloria hires a too-good-to-be-true nanny to help out around the house even though Jay and Manny seem dead-set against it. Mitch and Cam hire Pepper to help plan their dream wedding, but Pepper’s dreams are way over-the-top. And over at the Dunphy house, Phil’s recently widowed dad Frank has come for a visit because he’s a bit down-in-the-dumps. But when Phil and Jay try to help cheer him up with a night out on the town, Frank ends up hiring a hooker – by accident.

Meanwhile, Claire is looking for something that’ll help cut down the fighting between the girls.
Claire: Tension between Haley and Alex has been getting pretty high. So our solution was to move Haley down to the basement – which we were just about to do.
Phil: When my dad came out for a weekend visit.
Claire: Two weekends ago.

Claire is right to be concerned. Anger between the sisters is spilling out of their shared bedroom into the rest of the house. It overflows into the kitchen where the rest of the family is trying to enjoy breakfast.
Alex: You’re ruining my life!
Phil: These eggs are delicious.
Haley: What life?! Get out of my room!!
Claire: I put milk in them.
Alex: It’s not your room anymore!!
Luke: Well they sure are fluffy.
Haley: Mom!!!
Claire: I’m just going to go stand out in the yard.
Haley: Seriously, get out!!!
Alex: I told you it’s not your room.

Later the girl’s outbursts continue with this.
Haley: Gross!!! Those are my socks!!
Alex: They are not! Mom!!
Claire: I’m just going to pop outside.
Phil: I should get her a rake.

And this.
Haley: Mom! I’m going to throw-up! Alex’s hair smells like cheese.
Alex: It is not cheese!!! It is cruelty free, organic shampoo with traces of churned goats’ milk!
Haley: So cheese! (taking a whiff and then holding her nose) Ugh!!! I need a bucket!!!

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
It’s a given. Siblings will fight with each other. That’s just what they do.

The best way to keep brothers and sisters from fighting is to space them at least four years a part. Obviously, there’s nothing that can be done about this now, but it’s true. Siblings close in age (like Haley and Alex) fight more, and the fights seem to intensify as soon as the youngest becomes a teen. This is so for a gazillion reasons – competition, jealousy, differences in temperament all lead to clashes.

It drives us crazy to hear two kids we love acting so hateful to each other. So we often wade into the middle of the fight to try to stop it with something like this: “Each of you tell me, one at a time, what happened.” The problem is that the minute we step in, the issue totally changes. No matter what the original battle was about, it now becomes a competition to see who can win us to their side. And if we begin to arbitrate like a judge, we promote case pleading on both sides that can be endless. Plus the more often we step in, the more likely our kids are to call for our help – just like Haley and Alex did tonight in each of their squabbles.

What’s a Mom to Do
Usually our kids can resolve their issues in their own way. Their screaming might drive us crazy, but as long as there’s no threat of physical violence or emotional abuse, we can often facilitate this best by staying out of the way. (Claire, thanks for modeling this for us tonight. You were wise to step outside instead of stepping into your daughters’ fights.)

Sometimes, though, the fighting intensifies to the point that we have to step in. Below are some tips for stepping into the fray when you can’t ignore it.

Separate them. Send the fighters to their own corners for a cooling off period – their own bedrooms or opposite corners of the house will do. Sometimes the space and time apart seems to be all that is needed. But separating them teaches them nothing, so if we want lasting results, we’ll often need to do more.
Reconvene with them. When things have calmed down, direct the warring parties to another neutral place – for example, the kitchen table. Sit down with them, and listen to both sides without trying to judge who’s right and who’s wrong. Try instead to clarify the problem: “It sounds like you’re mad at Alex because you think she took your socks.” Ask both kids to offer a solution that might work for everybody involved. If they can’t come up with any ideas, suggest a solution. For example, if the teens are fighting over whose clothes belong to whom, you might suggest that they keep their things separate by always hanging them up or putting them in drawers when they’re not being worn. Each might also be responsible for doing their own laundry to further minimize the mix-up.
Reinforce the family rules. Before you all get up from the table, remind your teens of the rules for fighting fairly. For starters, this should include that nothing physical is allowed – no hitting, pushing, shoving, or hair pulling. No damaging each other’s things. And no name-calling. This is also a good opportunity to ask for your teens’ input on these rules and how they’re enforced.

The BottomLine:
Claire (to the hooker she mistakes for a therapist): I’m just at my wit’s end with these two. (Hopeful) I don’t expect you have any experience with teenagers?

It’s not always the intensity of our kids’ fights that drives us crazy. Sometimes it’s the sheer number of the clashes that give us battle fatigue.

To reduce future fighting…
Try to be evenhanded. Teens are especially quick to pick-up on preferential treatment. Although our teens may protest whenever they feel slighted, we’re wise not to try to prove them wrong. Because we can’t. In almost every family there’s going to be one child who needs more of something – our time, or attention, or resources. So rather than trying to treat our kids all the same, it’s better to assure our kids that we’ll try to always do our best to give them each what they need.
Hold family meetings. Get together once a week as a family to give everyone a chance to air grievances and work out solutions together. This is also a good time to praise any negotiating or compromising you’ve noticed during the week. Reinforcing their positive behavior – perhaps even with a tangible reward sometimes – can help with future battles.
Make time for one-on-ones. It’s never easy to find time alone with each child – and it can be especially difficult in large families. But our kids tend to resent each other less (and squabble less) when they feel that we value them as individuals. When we regularly make time to give each child our undivided attention – with special excursions or a few minutes on a daily bases – we are valuing their individuality and letting them know how important each relationship is to us.
Model fair fights. Our highest form of influence in our kids’ lives is our day-to-day modeling. And our kids learn a lot about how to deal with disputes by watching and listening to us resolve issues with our spouse. So it’s important that we get it right. (Click here to read more about this in last week’s post. Claire, you too!)

Your Parenting Experiences
Some fights are easier than others for our kids to resolve on their own. What issues tend to require you to step in when your teens squabble?

Sources: Get Out of My Life by Anthony Wolf and

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