Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 23rd, 2016, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 11, Spread Your Wings


Plotline: Alex Spreads Her Wings

Tonight Phil goes to visit Alex at Caltech just before her first semester away at college wraps-up. He is beyond excited to have been invited.
Phil: I’m going to see Alex! I’m a little nervous because she’s been pulling away lately. Calls don’t get returned. I don’t get asked to visit as much.

But shortly after Phil arrives on campus, Alex opens up to him.
Alex: I want to move back home and commute to school next semester.
Phil: Wow. Really? Did something happen?
Alex: No, it’s just the people here are all so immature. They are always banging on your door with a beaker full of margaritas, and the nerd noise is deafening. Did you bring those noise-canceling headphones I asked mom for?

As Phil is promising to pick-up some headphones and drop them by her dorm room, a co-ed dressed in a ball gown comes up the street behind them.
Co-ed: (handing Alex a flier): Cannon Ball tonight. Don’t miss it!
Phil: What’s that about?
Alex: Oh, it’s just some stupid tradition where, at the end of the semester, all the freshmen jump off a high dive in cheesy prom dresses.
Phil: That could be fun.
Alex: It definitely won’t be.
Phil: Well, maybe if you give it a chance…
Alex: No. You know what, Dad? I did. I’ve already been to like 10 parties, and they’re all lame. Everyone just talks to their own dorm mate.
Phil: Sweetie, sometimes it takes a while to warm up to people.
Alex: What is this about? Do you not want me to come home? Is that what this is?! Because, fine, I’ll just go get an apartment off campus!
Phil: Alex, don’t get mad.
Alex: Well, I am mad! Because I’m actually smart enough to know what’s working for me and what isn’t! And this isn’t! I have to go to class.

It’s part of a teen’s agenda to separate from their parents – especially as they spread their wings and takeoff for college. And as Phil learns tonight, we parents have to honor our teen’s agenda to maintain our relationship with them.

Yet being a parent means that we’ve had enough experience to have some wisdom worth sharing with our teens. Phil is a good case in point. This father, who has spent most of his life trying to fit in, realizes that his daughter is feeling left out at college, that she longs to be a part of it all but doesn’t know how. And his years of experience have taught him that fitting in requires that you put yourself out there and give others a chance to let you in.

Phil’s first go at sharing his wisdom sounds a lot like a lecture. And Alex rejects his advice out of hand. That’s no big surprise. When kids are younger, lectures often work well for sharing our wisdom. Even if they’re in trouble for misbehaving, they listen to what we have to say. But lecturing doesn’t work as well for imparting advice to teens. To take our advice makes our teens feel dependent on us just when they’re trying to get us to see them as independent.

After Alex stomps off to class, Phil decides to change course. Later we see him go to Alex’s dorm room and tell her that if she is sure that she has given living on campus her best shot, he believes her. That she can move back home. Then as he leaves he hands her a gift bag, supposedly containing the noise-cancelling headphones she’d asked for. But when Alex looks inside the bag, she finds a cheesy prom dress and goggles – the two things she needs to participate in the Freshman Cannon Ball.

The point is that when his initial advice gets rejected out of hand, Phil doesn’t continue to lecture. He doesn’t try to control by refusing to let Alex move back home or threaten to cut off financial support if she doesn’t take his advice. Instead, he simply makes it easier for her to do what he wants her to do, what his own years of experience of trying to fit in convince him is the right thing for her to do: To give living on campus a little more time.

At the end of the show there are a couple heartwarming moments as Alex in prom dress and goggles jumps into the swimming pool and later as she makes a late-night call to Phil just to chat. This turnaround isn’t just a feel-good (but unrealistic) ending to a TV show. It’s quite plausible when viewed from a teen’s point of view. Because as illogical as it may seem, by allowing herself to be insulted by Phil’s attempts to control her life and by rejecting these attempts out of hand, it freed Alex up so that later she could discover the usefulness of his advice.

Connecting Lines:
Like Alex, our teens need to push for their independence and make some mistakes of their own. They’re biologically set to do this. But as they are extending away from us, they need our input more than ever. Because from our teen’s perspective, our silence on an issue can translate into implied approval.

As we saw tonight, lecturing isn’t usually the best way to impart advice to our teens. At least not on an everyday basis. Instead we can follow Phil’s example. We can look for ways to make it easier for our teens to do the right thing.
– We do this when we have a few simple, clear rules and then pay attention.
– We do this when we regularly stay up to make sure they get home safe, sound, and on time.
– We do this when we make a point of calling before they go to a party to ensure that a parent will be present and that alcohol and drugs will not be allowed.

What other things do you do to make it easier for your teen to make good decisions and more difficult for them to make poor choices?

Sources and Resources: Photo courtesy of ABC, Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, PhD

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Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on November 23rd, 2015, 0 Comments

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

Plotline: Luke Gets Arrested: Take 2
The first take on this episode dealt with why teens make risky choices and the ways we parents can help our kids make better, safer decisions. But regardless of how well we’ve parented them, kids sometimes do dangerous or foolish things.

As we saw with Luke tonight, occasionally the reckless things kids do end-up in 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 we learn what Luke did.
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.

There’s nothing that can make a parent more anxious than a phone call from the police, letting them know that their kid has been arrested. Changing police tactics and more school-based police have made the possibility more likely. In fact, nearly one in three young people will be arrested by the time they turn 23 according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics.

Hopefully, you’ll never get such a phone call, but knowing how to respond is the best way to minimize a crisis. So here are a few things you need to know – just in case:

Even good kids sometimes do reckless things. Teens’ desire to try new things and fit-in, their lack of experience, daring friends, and too much free time can nudge even good kids over the line and get them arrested.

The police are not on your side. The job of the police is to enforce the law, so they shouldn’t be on anyone’s side. They respond to what they see and to complaints they receive. They may try to arrest only those who have committed a crime, but that isn’t always how it works out. And the fact is, many kids did the things they are arrested for doing.

Stay curious about what happened. If you get a call from the police, informing you that your teen has been arrested, it’s bound to be traumatic. You’ll likely be shocked, worried, and angry. After all, this is your kid who has messed-up. But don’t jump to conclusions or rush to judgment about your child or the arresting police officer. Instead try to stay curious about what happened. This will help you remain calm so that you can deal with the situation as effectively as possible.

If your child is in custody, you need to quickly go to where your child is being held. But know that your rights as a parent may be limited. Your child has a federal right to have a lawyer (but not a parent) present. Some states require conferring with parents before questioning. And many departments will allow parents to be present, but that is up to the investigating officer or their supervisor to decide.

If the police intend to charge your child with a crime, hire a lawyer who specializes in juvenile law. If your child was questioned, you need to find out if they are under investigation for a crime. Sometimes police will tell parents this, but often they won’t. Instead of asking about this yourself, have a lawyer contact the investigating officer to ask.

Whatever the case, don’t act as a lawyer. Hiring a lawyer who is experienced in dealing with teens will help you work towards a solution that is in the best interest of your child. This is important because criminal law tends to focus more on punishment. And any criminal record that remains can have a big impact on your child’s future.

It’s almost always best if you say nothing to the police until a lawyer is present. Well-intentioned parents often inadvertently hurt their child’s case. For example, parents are likely to persuade their child to tell the truth – which could cause the teen to say something incriminating. Or parents may allow an unrequired search of their home to please the police. None of this helps your child, regardless of whether or not your child did what the police suspect.

The best way to find a lawyer is by referral. Ask trusted friends and colleagues as well as your state’s bar association for names of attorneys who specialize in juvenile law. Consider calling-up a few lawyers now, before you need one, so you ‘ll have one at the ready. You’ll want to ask them about their philosophy on teens’ rights and the law, about who would handle the work, and what the cost would be.

Connecting Lines:
Good kids can find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. A party they’re at could get big and go bad. They might bring something to school that they shouldn’t have. Or they might do something because they don’t understand the rules the same way we adults do. (For instance, a teen who thinks driving in the parking lot with their friends doesn’t count as driving.) Any of these could get a teen arrested.

So it’s important that teens know how to handle an arrest. And the best time to talk with your teen about this is now, when you think (and hope and pray) they’ll never need this know-how. Below are some talking points to support that conversation.

Start by relaying how much you hope your teen will never be arrested. But also assure them that you won’t desert them if they do. Tell them that you will be upset, disappointed, and angry if they mess-up. Tell them it will probably take them a long time to earn your trust again. But also make sure that they know that you will still love them and that you will support them in putting things right and learning from the experience.

And then cover these basics with your teen:

– Be polite and courteous. Above all, your teen needs to know that respect goes a long way when interacting with the police. They should not mouth-off or insult the police. Luke’s response to his arrest: We could fight it – say the cop was racist. Even if we lose, it’ll start a conversation, is exactly the kind of attitude your teen needs to avoid.

– Stay calm. Being arrested is a difficult experience. Your teen needs to know that it’s normal to feel scared and uncertain. But it won’t help for your teen to jump to conclusions, trying to convince themselves that their situation is worse than it actually is.

– Answer only the following questions:
· If they’re asked for identification – their name, their address, or their parents’ phone numbers – they should provide it. They don’t have a right to remain anonymous. Plus you’ll want the police to know how to contact you.

· If they’re driving and are asked for a description of the vehicle, they should provide it. They don’t have any right to keep this information from the police.

· If they’re a bystander to an accident – not involved in any way – and are asked for information about something, they should describe what they saw. But they should not add what they think about what they saw.

Before talking with the police about anything else, ask to speak to a lawyer. Anything the teen says can be used against them. And teens need to know that in situations like this police can be intimidating. They may try to convince a teen to talk by saying that they just want to help or that the teen has nothing to be afraid of. Or they may try to get a teen to open-up by saying that refusing to talk makes the teen look like they’re guilty. Sometimes the police think all of this is true. But many times it isn’t. So if the conversation takes a turn and questions start to be about your teen’s involvement, your teen should end the conversation.

Here’s how Stephen Sheppard, Dean of St. Mary’s University School of Law, suggests that teens end the conversation: The teen can politely ask the officer if they’re free to go. If the answer is “Yes,” then your teen should leave. The officer may ask to make a copy of their license or other identification before letting them leave. But if your teen is asked for any other information, they should respectfully say, “I’m very sorry, but my parents have told me if I am questioned by the police, I am to say nothing but my name. I want to get a lawyer. I will not answer any more questions. Please call my parents.” Your teen should then say nothing more.

Consider role-playing this interaction with your teen. Because the lines above will likely be very hard for your teen to say and respectfully saying those lines is the most important thing your teen can do.

Sources and Resources: 8 Handholding Tips If Your Child Gets In trouble with the Law by Stephen Sheppard; Parenting Advice: When Your Child Gets Arrested by Merle Huerta; Why Parents of Teens Should Have a Criminal Lawyer on Speed Dial by Kelly Wallace

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