Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on December 13th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 8, Clean Out Your Junk Drawer

Alex & Haley S 7 E 8

Plotline: Two Sisters, Two Troubling Relationships

Gloria won a seminar on emotional intimacy in a raffle. So thanks to Gloria, all the adults are gathered in the Dunphy’s living room tonight, trying to get in touch with their emotional sides and make their marriages healthier.

Haley, having been kicked out of the house for the seminar, heads to Caltech to visit Alex. As soon as she arrives, the two sisters start talking about their troubles. It quickly becomes apparent that, like the adults, the girls too are in relationships that are short on emotional intimacy.

The sisters’ chat begins like this.
Haley: So, how’s school?
Alex: Well, in my Newtonian mechanics class we’re learning how to calculate the velocity of free falling objects in a… School’s hard.
Haley: So, anyways, umm… I sort of did something and I need your advice. But I don’t want a lot of judgment and criticism.
Alex: And you came to me?
Haley: Yeah, you’ve always had such a strong sense of what’s right and wrong. You always know what…
Alex: I have a high-school boy toy.
Haley: What?! Who?
Alex: It’s Luke’s dorky friend Reuben.
Haley: Ugh.
Alex: I feel so ashamed.
Haley: Oh, my god. You should be. Isn’t he, like 8?
Alex: No, he’s 16 and 3/4, and he has to shave almost every two weeks.
Haley: How did you let this happen? You go to Caltech. You’re surrounded by age-appropriate dorks.
Alex: I know, but I was home and still feeling sad about Sanjay breaking up with me, and it’s overwhelming here. There are so many brilliant people, and Reuben idolizes me. I guess I just kind of needed that, so I let him kiss me. Oh, and a little bit of this (indicating her chest). I’m so weak. I can’t imagine anything worse.

It turns out that Haley can.
Haley: I hooked up with Andy.
Alex: What?!
Haley (nodding her head): Mm-hmm.
Alex: Engaged Andy?
Haley (again, nodding her head): I know. [But] I I feel like if Andy weren’t engaged, we’d have a chance.
Alex: And if Reuben were just a little bit older and didn’t wear prescription shoes… It’d still be gross.

Most of us use the term “intimate relationship” to refer to being physically intimate in a romantic relationship. But, in fact, any individuals who are emotionally close and connected can be said to be in an intimate relationship. These could, for example, be friends, siblings, or coworkers. Emotionally intimate relationships are characterized by mutual respect, trust, caring, and commitment.

Healthy sexual relationships are always emotionally intimate. And if we hope (and expect) that our kids will wait to have sex until they’re in a deeply committed, caring relationship, then we need to communicate with them about how to tell if a romantic relationship is healthy or not. Because as we were reminded tonight, sexual relationships are not always emotionally intimate.

Sex is a difficult subject to discuss, but research shows that we parents can help steer our kids in the direction we want them to go by having meaningful discussions with them about sex-related topics including healthy dating relationships. In national surveys, most teens say that their parents have the greatest influence over their decisions about sex – more than their friends or the media. Most say they share their parents’ values about sex. And most teens say that talking openly and honestly with their parents would make it easier for them to make decisions about delaying sex.

Here are some ideas and approaches that can help you improve communication about healthy dating relationships with your teen.

It’s best to start talking about romantic relationships before kids begin dating.
Serious romantic relationships are most likely to develop during the later teen years, but kids typically begin pairing-off between the ages of 12 and 14. Although it’s never too late to start these conversations, it’s best to start talking about what makes romantic relationships healthy before the pairing-off begins. And as you talk, emphasize the many ways to express affection other than sex – such as intimate talks, long walks, listening to music together, dancing, holding hands, kissing, and hugging.

Be on the lookout for good opportunities to talk with your teen.
Frequent, short conversations make a bigger difference in kids’ behavior than a single conversation. Right after watching a relevant TV show (like this Modern Family episode) can provide a unique opportunity to discuss the behavior of the show’s characters – reinforcing positive behavior and underscoring the potential consequences of risky behavior.

Stay informed about the messages your teen is getting about romantic relationships and sex. Your teen is probably getting messages about sex and relationships from a variety of sources, including teachers, friends, TV, and the Internet. Don’t assume that all the information your teen is getting is accurate. And don’t assume that the school’s curriculum includes all the information you want your teen to know and consider.
– The following are a few websites for teens that you can trust to provide direct and accurate information about sex: (from Rutgers University) (from Goryeb Children’s Hospital), and (from Children’s Hospital Boston, for girls).

– Regularly taking your teen to preventative health care appointments and allowing them time alone with the doctor or nurse can also give your teen a chance to talk confidentially about any questions or concerns they may have.

Be sure that your talks with your teen include discussions about feelings, attitudes, and values. Our teens need accurate information about sex. But they also need to know what healthy romantic relationships look and feel like. Although we moms are more likely to talk with our girls about how to say “no” to sex and more likely to remind our boys to respect a girl’s feelings, boys also need to be taught how to say “no,” and girls need to be taught how to be respectful of a boy’s feelings.

In addition, both our daughters and sons need to know how to tell whether a relationship is healthy or not. In a healthy relationship:
– Both people feel respected, supported, and valued; neither tries to change the other.
– Both people like themselves as individuals when they are together.
– Both have friends and interests outside the relationship.
– One person doesn’t make most or all of the decisions; instead the couple makes decisions together.
– The couple settles disagreements with open and honest conversations; neither of them shouts, threatens, hits, or throws things during arguments.
– There are more good times than bad ones.

Connecting Lines:
Talking with your teen about what they would look for in a romantic partner or relationship is a good way to show that you’re available to listen and a chance for you to get a window into their thinking about these topics. As you talk, try to remain open to your teen’s ideas and be ready to share yours.

Below are some ideas to help support a conversation with your teen based on tonight’s Modern Family episode:
How do you think Alex feels about herself after she’s been with Ruben? What advice would you give Alex if she were your good friend? How about if Ruben were your good friend, what would you tell him?

We learned tonight that both Haley and Andy feel guilty about being together – given that Andy is engaged and all. What do you think that their guilty feelings say about the health of their relationship?

How would you want to be treated in a relationship? How do you want to feel about yourself when you’re with that person?

Sources and Resources: Talking with Your Teen about Sex: Going Beyond “the Talk” from CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, Sex Education: Talking to Your Teen about Sex by Mayo Clinic Staff, Teen Dating: A Mom’s Guide by Barbara Whitaker from WebMD archive, Defining a Healthy Relationship for Teens by Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Facts on American Teens’ Sources of Information About Sex from Guttmacher Institute, Talk with Your Teen about Healthy Relationships from US Department of Health and Human Services

Photo Courtesy of ABC

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 18th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 23, Crying Out Loud

Gloria Gets a Word in Edgewise

The Framework
After almost six seasons, regular watchers of Modern Family understand the relationships among the various characters. Tonight’s episode takes these familiar family dynamics to a new extreme.

Jay has always been reserved about showing emotion when it comes to his kids. But tonight he uses Claire’s picture as a mirror to pluck his nose hairs. Of course, Claire sees this, mistakes it for something else, and dithers over an offer for another job because of it.

Gloria has always been manipulating – especially about Manny’s girlfriends. But tonight, after Manny has his wisdom teeth pulled, she tries to gaslight him into believing his girlfriend never showed up.

Cam has always been uber-emotional. About everything. As Mitch puts it: [Cam] gets so emotional he kind of handles the emotions for the entire house … possibly the entire block. Tonight the dads worry that this might be keeping Lily from developing a sense of empathy.

Phil has always been sentimental when it comes to his kids. Tonight he takes them to an old, abandoned theater he helped build years ago. When they find the kids’ tiny footprints in the cement floor, Phil uses a jackhammer to salvage them for a memento.

Haley and Alex have never gotten along. Tonight with Alex’s departure for college eminent, things between the two come to a head.

But it’s Claire’s attempts to figure out her job dilemma that captured my attention tonight.

First she tries to talk with Mitch.
Claire: So I walked into to Dad’s office, and he is holding a picture of me, looking at it with tears welling in his eyes.
Mitch: Oh, Dad was never that emotional when were growing up.
Claire: I know. That’s what makes this whole thing so hard!
Mitch: Maybe Lily hasn’t learned empathy because she hasn’t seen it from me, you know?
Claire: Could we maybe stay on my problem until the bread comes?
Mitch: I’m sorry. It sounded like you were done.

Then she tries to tell her story to Phil.
Claire: So I walk into his office. He’s looking at a picture of me and he’s crying.
Phil: Your dad?
Claire: Yeah, I couldn’t believe it either.
Phil: This is why I’m glad I show my emotions in front of the girls. I think that’s the reason they’re feeling…
Claire: Phil, could we at least stay on my story until the oven preheats?
Phil: Sorry. I thought you were finished.
Claire: No. Okay, so anyway, I went back later, and it turns out he wasn’t crying, he was plucking his nose hairs.
Phil: I didn’t expect that.
Claire: Yeah, me neither.
Phil: To walk into that theater and see their cute little heads together after they’d been fighting all afternoon.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
For most of the episode, none of the characters were really listening to each other. Mitch and Phil may have been the clearest culprits tonight, but they weren’t the only ones who were just waiting for a chance to talk.

Truth be told, that’s how most of us communicate most of the time. We listen until what we hear sets off an association in our mind – a question, a problem, or story of our own. We then wait for a pause in the conversation before asking our question or sharing our problem or story. This is how conversation normally flows back and forth.

Truly listening requires that we shift our focus off ourselves and pay full attention to someone else. We then have to process what they said and decide how to respond. This is harder and takes a lot more energy than simply waiting for a chance to talk.

Claire: Is it me? Is it the way that I tell stories? Am I so boring or is everyone in this family that self-involved?

Teens typically are not as reflective as Claire, but most of us have heard our teens complain, “You’re not even listening to me!” Sometimes our teens accuse us of not listening because we don’t agree with what they said or because we won’t change our minds based on what they said. And, of course, these accusations have nothing to do with listening.

But sometimes our teens have a valid complaint. In fact, even if we’re exceptional listeners with our friends, our spouse, our co-workers, and even our younger kids, we’re often not that good at listening to our teens.

Why? Because teens are harder to truly listen to. There are two main reasons for this.

The first reason has to do with timing. Teens tend to pick the most inconvenient times to talk – like when we’re under a deadline or when we’re exhausted and trying to get them (and us) headed toward bed.

The second reason has to do with topic. If the conversation involves a disagreement, we tend to listen with our minds made up. Once we’ve made up our mind, we focus on what we’re going to say next instead of on what our teen is saying now. And it’s even more difficult to listen when our teens are talking about things that make us anxious – a clash with a teacher or coach, a poor grade on a test, a concern about a close friend. We immediately see all the potential for trouble down the road and feel we must intervene – to tell them what to do or we scold them for getting into such a mess. In fact, we often jump-in without even making a conscious decision to interrupt at all.

But as hard as it sometimes is to give our teens a good listen, the quality of our relationships with them hinges on our ability to do just that.

– Listening is the most effective way to show your teen that you care about them and are committed to them.

– Listening affirms your teen. If you can open up your mind and listen without judgment – even when what you’re listening to sounds crazy – you’re showing respect for your teen’s right to have ideas of their own. And this helps your teen feel like they’re respected too.

– Listening is the best window into your teen’s external and internal life. The more you can encourage your teen to talk, the more you get to know about them.

– Listening can increase compliance. Sometimes giving your teen’s plans a full hearing and patiently listening to their objections will yield more cooperation. It tells your teen that you’re open to their input and that you can be convinced if they make a strong case that addresses all your concerns.

– Listening gives teens practice in speaking-up – to share their feelings, ask questions, and standing-up for what they believe.

– And perhaps most surprising, listening will help your teen listen to you. In fact only after teens have clarified their own thinking and believe that you’ve listened and understood their ideas, can they give your ideas a fair hearing.

What’s a Mom to Do
There’s a huge upside to listening to our teens. But it takes a lot of energy. Below are a couple suggestions to help you make the most of your limited supply of energy.

Be available when your teen needs to talk. Our teen’s readiness to talk rarely coincides with our readiness to listen. It’s tempting to say, “Let’s talk later.” But teens tend to share their most important self-disclosures spontaneously – when their mood and the moment feel right to them. When the mood passes, the momentary window into their lives closes. When a teen says, “I don’t feel like talking now,” it’s often not an excuse. More often it’s an emotionally genuine explanation. So parents who are the best listeners are the most available. They drop whatever they’re doing when their teen needs to talk.

End the conversation when it’s no longer constructive. At times discussions with our teens need to be long and even intense. But the conversation should not continue without end or at all cost.

Teens often have a lot invested in the outcome of their discussions with us. And if the discussion is about trying to convince us to say “yes,” they have a lot more energy to continue the discussion than we do. They know they can outlast us with persistence and repetition. Thus, we must be the one to decide when a conversation is getting out of hand and needs to end.

When the conversation begins to feel like it’s going around in circles or if the conversation is about to enter the combative stage, it’s time to end it. Let your blood pressure be your guide. If you feel a rush of anger beginning to build inside you, end the conversation as swiftly as you can.

It’s perfectly acceptable to leave the room to ensure the conversation ends if your teen refuses to stop pleading or arguing. And let them have the last word. It’s wiser to let them have this little victory, rather than spend the extra energy needed to continue a pointless or even hurtful conversation.

At the end of tonight’s episode, Gloria laments: Parents make so many mistakes with their children. But it’s only because we’re trying so hard to make them happy.

It’s hard to take anything Gloria has to say about parenting seriously. She didn’t listen well tonight. She didn’t even wait for her turn to talk; she got in what she had to say edgewise, in a voiceover. And she tried to gaslight her own kid tonight – for crying out loud! Still she might be on to something here.

Your Parenting Experiences
What do you think about Gloria’s lament in the voiceover tonight? When you think back to some of the parenting mistakes you’ve made, do many of them revolve around trying to keep your teen happy or trying to keep them close?

Sources and Resources: I’d Listen to My Parents if They’d Just Shut Up by Anthony Wolf, PhD; Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, PhD; “Why Listen to Your Adolescent?” by Carl Pickhardt at Psychology Today

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