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 25th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 24, American Skyper

Even the American Skyper Phil Can’t Solve Everything

The Framework
Tonight Alex graduates from high school. Phil, who can’t make it home from a business trip, is forced to attend the family celebration by a robot on Skype.
Phil: How great is this thing, huh? It’s so convenient. It’s like I’m right there in the room with you guys.

The house is especially full with visitors tonight – including Andy’s girlfriend Beth. And it really does feel as though Phil is right there in the house with them. In fact, practically everyone (except for Jay who shuts him in the bathroom) seeks Phil out to dump their problems on him.

Claire: [I got Alex] a key chain with a picture of me and [her] on her first day of school. I wanted her to have something that reminded her of how much I love her.
But later there’s this.
Claire: Honey, the key chain was a bust. I need something else. Quick.
Phil: Why don’t we just sing that song I wrote her … Good thing I brought my ukulele on the trip.
Claire: Trip! Oh! When Alex was little, I took her for brunch at that cute little Dutch town up north. I-I could take her there again. A trip for just the two of us. It’s perfect.
And then there’s this.
Claire: You’re never gonna believe what my dad did.
Phil: Lock you in the bathroom?
Claire: No. He gave Alex a trip to Europe for her graduation present. There’s no way I can now give her a weekend of Dutch pancake balls after that.

Cam: Phil, I need to talk to you, man to man. I think Mitchell’s having an affair.

Mitchell: We had some budget cuts at the office, and a bunch of us got laid off … I didn’t tell Cam because I was embarrassed, but also because I knew I would get another job like that. But it’s been a month …
Phil: Mitchell, you can talk to me. I’m a realtor.

Andy: Hey, Mr. D. Can we talk? … I’ve been getting some signals from Beth that she wants me to propose. I even have a ring. [But] there’s this other girl, and I feel like I have a serious connection with her, but I just don’t know how she feels.
Phil: It’s natural to wonder about a different path, but if you truly love Beth, you should propose.
Andy: You’re right. I’ll do it. There’s this place she loves by the ocean. I’ll take her there and propose at sunset.

Haley: Hey, Dad, can we talk? … Everyone thinks Beth is so great, but I think she’s crazy. She’s been after me all day … [because] she thinks I’m in love with Andy.
Phil: Are you?
Haley: No. I mean, I care about him. He makes me laugh. I like spending time with him.
Phil: Well, do you think about him when he’s not around?
Haley: I guess. Sometimes, I see something funny and I think, “Oh, Andy would love that. I wish he were here so I could share it with him.”
Phil: Honey, I know I’m just a robot, but that sounds like love to me.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
Modern Family has just been renewed for another season – which means that the show will have to deal with tonight’s guest of honor going off to college. And Phil gets a lot of practice tonight at the long-distance relationship that will be required.

Of course, there have been other, earlier transitions in kids’ lives – like starting kindergarten and going off to their first summer camp – but no transition is bigger than that of graduating from high school and leaving home for college. And the leaving for college thing is not just a transition for our kids – it’s a transition for us as well.

Alex: Hey, Mom … I wanted to give you a present.
Claire: Me? No. Honey, I want to give you a present. That’s what I’ve been trying to do all day. You are the last person who should give me anything.
Alex: You got me here. You got me to graduation. To Caltech. You did it. And you’re done. … I want you to go to Europe with me.

Truth be told, it’s Phil’s experience tonight – not Claire’s – that better foreshadows the interactions to come as our teens get set to take off for college.

For starters, a soon-to-be college kid’s focus is likely to be outside the family. So don’t count on yours inviting you to tag along to Europe (or anywhere else they happen to be going) this summer. And although you’ll probably invite them to do all kinds of things with you before they leave, they’re likely to say “no” almost every time.

Plus, while Alex assured Claire that she was now “done” at her job as a parent, it’s likely that things couldn’t be further from the truth for most of us moms. In fact, the dumping-on that Phil got tonight should help prepare us for the almost inevitable calls from our distraught teens during their freshman year at college.

What’s a Mom to Do
Here are some ideas to help make the college transition easier on you and your teen.

Invite your soon-to-be college kid to do things with you, but don’t be surprised if they say “no.” Your teen’s focus is likely to be elsewhere this summer. But the extent to which they stretch and extend themselves in healthy ways over this transition time is largely dependent on how connected they feel to home. So invite them to do all kinds of things with you and the rest of the family. But don’t guilt-trip them into doing something they don’t want to do. And don’t let yourself feel hurt when they say “no.” Because then you’ll stop asking just when your teen needs you to reach out more than ever. Instead, be content with knowing that the reaching-out and inviting is what deepens the connection – especially during this huge transition time.

Establish some guidelines for regular communication while they’re away. Before they leave for college, come up with a communication plan that will work best for both of you. Decide together about how often you want to connect, what method you will use to communicate, and what time is best. Many families decide on a once-a-week phone call and set a regular time and day of the week to check-in. Sunday afternoons often work well. These might be FaceTime or Skype calls with the entire family.

In between these scheduled calls, you can keep in-touch by email or texts. But don’t be hurt if the correspondence is one-sided. In fact, it’s best to not expect an immediate reply or any reply to every one. Trust that the connection is being made. Like the invitations to do things together this summer, it’s the overture that counts.

Remind them that you’ll still be there for them if they need help.
When our kids take off for college, we have less oversight than we’ve ever had before. However, we still have lots of influence. And if we create an atmosphere of open communication before they leave, they’re more likely turn to us for guidance if they need help. So set some time aside this summer to discuss your new role and theirs. Below are some talking points to help get the discussion started.
– What choices, decisions or problems do you expect them to handle (at least at first) on their own?
– What decisions do you expect to have input on?
– At what point should your teen ask for help?
– In what situations would your teen want a friend or roommate to call you or the counseling center?

At the end of tonight’s episode as Andy gets set to take Beth for a drive to catch the sunset and propose, Phil tries desperately to get his attention.
Phil: It’s Haley! Haley’s the girl! You love Ha– (no audio) love each other! Where are you going? You guys love each oth– You’re making a huge mistake!

When the audio fails, we’re left dangling with no resolution about whether Haley and Andy will end up together. Perhaps this is just the writers’ way of making sure we tune-in for Season 7. But it’s also true to life. Because in reality, even if we have the most sophisticated telecommunication system available and the best parenting skills possible, we still can’t fix our kids’ problems for them.

This is never truer than when they’re away at college. But we can still be there for them – caring about them, remembering them, listening to them, and influencing them – from a distance.

Your Parenting Experiences
Have you found a particularly good source of advice for launching college kids? One of my all time favorites is The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College by Harlan Cohen. It gives a great behind-the-scenes look at campus life – for college freshman and their parents. No topic is taboo. A new, 6th edition just came out.

Sources and Resources: by the Jed Foundation; Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, PhD; The Launching Years by Laura Kastner, PhD and Jennifer Wyatt, PhD; The Naked Roommate by Harlan Cohen

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