MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on November 17th, 2014, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 7, Queer Eyes, Full Hearts

Alex Keeps on Going and Going…

The Framework
There are queer eyes, wide eyes, and eyeballs that are too tired to move tonight on Modern Family. But more than anything, tonight’s show is about dogged persistence.

Andy (the manny now calling himself a bro pair) defines this type of persistence when selling Phil on giving him a job.
Andy: I will never, ever …. Uhhh … I’m blanking on the verb …
Phil: Quit?
Andy: I had to ask because I don’t know the meaning of the word.

But it’s Alex who truly epitomizes the term.
Phil (to Alex who’s walking while reading a textbook): Hey, honey.
Alex (not looking up from her book): Oh, hey.
Phil: Still studying for that test?
Alex: I can’t; I have to study.
Phil: What time did you get to bed?
Alex (bumping into a wall as she walks away): Sure thing.

Phil: Claire, I think something’s up with Alex.
Claire (lost in thought): I don’t know. Some kind of chicken.
Phil: Why is no one listening to me? Come here (taking Claire by the arm and leading her to the hallway where Alex continues to stare at the book in her hands and walk into the wall). I don’t think she’s getting enough sleep. Look at her. She’s like a human roomba.
Claire: Alex will be fine. This (pointing to Haley who’s sitting on the couch flipping through magazines) is our real problem.
Phil: She’s 20; she’s finding herself.
Claire: How hard can it be? She hasn’t moved.

Later there’s this.
Phil: Honey, I’m getting worried about Alex. I don’t think she slept again last night. It’s like the third night in a row.
Claire: I thought you were going to set your alarm and check on her.
Phil: Stupid thing never went off.

A flashback shows us why. As Phil’s alarm goes off, Alex (still carrying a textbook – now with a reading light attached) walks into her parents’ bedroom to turn it off.

Claire: I’m sure Alex slept.
Phil: I don’t know. She’s sitting at her desk too tired to move her eyeballs. She’s reading her book like this (mimes moving a book back-and-forth in front of his face).
Claire: Alex is going to be fine. [Haley] is the one I’m worried about.

And at the end of the episode there’s this.
Alex (still holding textbook, looking totally exhausted): Claire, the words on the page are vibrating. And I can’t make them stop. I forgot how to read.
Claire: Alex, oh my God!
Alex (handing Claire the opened book): Read it to me, Mommy.
Claire (closing the book): Baby, you’re exhausted. And you have to go to sleep right now. Come with me (putting her arms around Alex and leading her towards bed).

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Most of us remember being tired as teens. But not as tired as Alex. And not as tired as most of today’s teens.

Some teens, like Alex, get behind on sleep because of heavy homework loads and high stakes exams. But over scheduling of activities, after school jobs as well as screens and phones in their bedrooms are also culprits.

They can’t do it all. Something has to go. And often it’s sleep that gets cut.

Even when teens go to bed at a decent hour, they often have trouble falling asleep. They’re drowsy when they wake in the morning, and they’re exhausted in midafternoon. But they then perk up at night – even if they have not had a nap.

Not long ago, researchers examining young adolescents’ sleep patterns found out why. For centuries it was thought that the longer people are awake, the sleepier they become and the greater the pressure to fall asleep. But these researchers found that after 12 hours of being awake, the teens were less sleepy than they had been earlier in the same day. What’s more, after 14 hours, the teens were even less sleepy. This lead to the discovery of the “biological clock” – a clock that keeps people awake even when they are very tired at certain times of the day and at certain ages.

It turns out, that just before puberty begins (around age 10) kids’ biological clocks shift forward to help them stay alert at night about two hours longer than when they were younger. This resetting of their internal clocks creates a no-sleep zone around 9:00 to 11:00 PM – just when they should be getting sleepy. Unfortunately, our internal clocks have shifted back – making it tough for us to stay awake just when our teens are most alert.

Mitch: I wish I knew where your off-switch was.

Many of us obsessed about our kids’ sleep when they were babies. But as our kids get older, their sleep falls off our list of priorities. Like Claire, we focus on what they’re doing (or not doing) when they’re awake.

But it’s not just that sleep matters. It’s how and how much it matters. Inadequate sleep can have negative effects on just about every aspect of teens’ lives – their stress level, their grades, their health, their sports performance, their ability to get along with friends and family, their growth, their mood, their emotional stability, their concentration and memory, their energy level, their ability to think clearly, their risk of injury, their skin condition, their weight, and their use of drugs and alcohol.

And most teens aren’t getting nearly enough sleep. A recent National Sleep Foundation poll found that 59% of middle schoolers and 87% of high schoolers were getting about 1½ hours less than the recommended 8½ to 9½ hours of sleep on school nights.

Like Mitch, many of us find ourselves wishing for an off-switch. Because when it comes to our teens’ sleep habits, we’re not totally in charge. We can set a bedtime, take the TV out of their room, and confiscate their phone and computer. But we cannot make them sleep.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Rather than giving up on them, we need to monitor how much sleep they’re getting and look for ways to work with them to make sleep more of a priority. Here are some things you can do to try to help.

Provide them with a model. (Click here for more on how our sleep habits affect those of our kids.)

Offer a convincing argument for more sleep. Pick and choose among the list of researched negative effects of inadequate sleep listed above to fit your family’s values and what your teen values. For teens like Alex the research on how sleep affects learning and memory found here may be particularly convincing.

Keep things calm at bedtime. Help create a calm atmosphere in your home around bedtime, and encourage your teen to have a regular routine to help them unwind before sleep. Doing the same calming things every night before sleeping will signal their body that it’s time for sleep and help them fall asleep faster. So encourage taking a warm shower or bath, reading a book, listening to music, or other relaxing activities.

Urge them to plan naps right. If your teen is drowsy in the afternoon, a nap can be revitalizing, but it should be short (less than an hour) and not too close to bedtime – otherwise naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night.

Help make their room a sanctuary for sleep. Cool, quiet, dark rooms are better for sleeping. Some teens may benefit from eyeshades or blackout curtains.

Adjust the lighting. Bright lights stop the body from producing melatonin – a hormone that responds to light and helps determine whether we feel sleepy or not. So to reduce the risk of sleep disruption, urge your teen to keep the lights dim near bedtime. This includes turning down the brightness of their phones, tablets, and computers. And in the morning, open curtains and blinds to let the bright light in and signal their body to wake-up.

Help them establish a bed and wake time that they can stick with. Teens tend to have irregular sleep patterns across the week – staying up later and getting up later on weekends. Encourage your teen to keep weekday and weekend bedtimes and wake times within a couple hours of each other. And if they need to sleep in to catch-up on missed sleep during the week, they shouldn’t sleep more than two hours later than they normally do on a weekday. Sleeping longer will disrupt their internal body clock – hurting the quality of their sleep, making it even harder for them to wake up on Monday.

Tonight Claire yells at Haley: Get off the couch! Do something with your life! Yet she says nothing as Alex keeps on going and going. It’s tempting to come down hard on Claire. But sometimes highly motivated teens keep up a daily brutal grind because they can. They think they should if they can, and it’s tough to convince them otherwise.

In truth, it can be more difficult to help a go-getter kid decide what is most important and what may need to be cut back than it is to motivate a less ambitious one. Yet when Alex was totally overwhelmed tonight, she came to Claire for help, reminding that even our most self-regulated teens are counting on us to be there to guide them.

Your Parenting Experiences
Different teens value different things. Which of the negative effects of too little sleep would be the most convincing to your teen? Would it be their stress level, their grades, their health, their sports performance, their ability to get along with friends and family, their growth, their mood, their emotional stability, their concentration and memory, their energy level, their ability to think clearly, their risk of injury, their skin condition, their weight, or the risk from drugs and alcohol?

Sources and Resources: “Teens and Sleep” by the National Sleep Foundation; Snooze… Or Lose by Helene Emsellem, MD & Carol Whitely; “Sleep and Teens” by UCLA Sleep Disorder Center; “What You Can Do to Promote Better Teen Sleep’ by Mayo Clinic; “Adolescents and Sleep” by Sarah Spinks

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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.

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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