MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on May 20th, 2013, 0 Comments

Right. Wrong. They Just Can’t Stop It.

Season 4, Episode 23

The Framework

The title of tonight’s episode – “The Games People Play” – is the same as that of a song by the Spinners from years ago. Actually the full title of this classic is “They Just Can’t Stop It The Games People Play.” And this mouthful of a title is what tied tonight’s “Modern Family” storylines together.

The adults in each of the three families were interacting with their kids and with each other in ways that they’d picked-up from their parents. Right or wrong, they just couldn’t stop it.

When Jay and Gloria discover that the family had held a game night without them, they first blame it on each other’s competitive and cheating ways. But then quickly pin the blame on their parents:
Jay: I get this damn competitive streak from my dad. It’s a wonder I didn’t pass it on to Mitchell.
Gloria: I love that we can blame our parents. … My mother used to cheat on everything we ever did.

Of course, Jay was wrong in assuming that he hadn’t passed his competitive ways on to his kids. Because as Mitch watched Lily compete in a gymnastic tournament, he morphed into an out-of-control little league dad:
Mitch (to confessional): I have to admit, seeing Lily do so well brought out something in me: the pride of being the parent of a child who wasn’t just participating but thriving. … This [competitive thing] is the thing I always hated in my dad. … This ends today. I’m not passing it on to Lily.

Claire too picked-up her dad’s competitive streak:
Claire (to her kids): I goaded you guys into a fight to prove a point. Why do I always have to win? How did I get this way?

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

How we were parented matters. Even when we are consciously trying to do things differently, we can find ourselves acting just like the parent we vowed to never be.

Like Mitch, we don’t want to pass on to our children what our parents got wrong. But our memory of how we were parented can get in the way – not only in the specific behaviors we model but also in our overall approach to parenting.

Several decades of research have defined four basic parenting approaches or styles:

Micromanaging Bosses (authoritarian) use control with lots of lectures, warnings, and restrictions.

Likable Friends (permissive) place few demands and give more freedom than the teen is ready for.

Proactive Consultants (authoritative) strike the right balance between restrictiveness and autonomy.

Indifferent Bystanders (uninvolved) minimize the time and energy needed to interact with the teen.

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not an indifferent bystander. But most of us have some of each of the other three approaches in our parenting repertoire. Most of us also have a dominant style – a style that is often influenced by the approach our parents used.

Whether we’re conscious of it or not, our parenting style helps form the stance we take when we interact with our teens. Our stance, in turn, affects how our teens think, the tactics they use to get what they want, and what they learn as they interact with us:

A teen parented by a micromanaging boss…
Might think if I ask, they’ll say no without even listening. So I need to figure out a way to outsmart them and then be really careful not to get caught.
Tends to learn that you get what you want by sneaking and even lying. And if something bad did happen, they’d be reluctant to seek help or advice from their parents and would probably try to figure it out alone or with their friends. So they’re also learning that there are limited ways to solve a problem.

A teen parented by a likable friend…
Might think I can talk them into this – especially if I pester and badger them long enough. And if something does go wrong, they’ll have to get me out of trouble. That’s there job. So I have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Tends to learn that they can take risks without considering the consequences because their parents will do all the worrying that is needed. These teens tend to get the impression that they’re entitled to whatever they want – not because they’ve earned it but just because they want it. And they fail to learn that past behavior matters.

A teen parented by a proactive consultant…
Might think I’ve earned this by following the rules and being responsible. I had to do some negotiating last time, but they trusted me and let me do what I wanted to do. So I just need to assure them that I can handle this and then not mess up. But I’d better figure out what they’ll be concerned about and how I can handle those things before I ask.
Tends to learn how to negotiate and think ahead about possible holes in their plans. And since their parents had pre-approved the plan, they’d likely seek their parents’ advice if something went wrong. So they’re also getting guidance in problem solving.

The catchy lines of the Spinner’s song keep playing in my head – right, wrong, I just can’t stop it. It’s hard to unlearn what our parents modeled. Sometimes we’ll find ourselves acting just like they did, even though we vowed not to. At other times, we’ll over compensate and go too far in the other direction. So chances are we’ll sometimes act more like a boss – micromanaging and controlling. And chances are there will be times when we’re at the other end of the spectrum – leaving our teens too much on their own.

Just as our parents weren’t perfect, neither are we. But the more time we spend at the middle of the control continuum, guiding our teens like a proactive consultant, the better our relationship with them will be and the more influence we’ll have on their decisions and actions.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• Where were your parents on the control spectrum – were they more controlling, guiding, or hands-off? What did you argue most about with your parents when you were a teen – grades, curfew, clothes, friends, attitude, chores? How do you think your teen would answer these questions about you?

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 15th, 2013, 0 Comments

Haley and the Champagne Flute

Season 4, Episode 20

The Framework

Tonight on “Modern Family” a couple former storylines get picked up right where they left off. The house that Claire and Cam have been renovating gets put on the market and sold. While over at the Pritchett house Gloria gets mad when Manny’s father visits again, bringing Trish – another one of his girlfriends – with him. And Gloria gets even madder when it turns out that this one is not a bimbo but an art expert with a fancy degree and a job to match.

These storylines were full of laughs like these:

Haley: He went to college at a place called “mit.”
Alex: It’s MIT.
Haley: I know how to spell it.

Gloria: This is not even garbage. They wouldn’t take it. It’s too big for the can.

Trish (to Gloria): You know what I had for lunch?! I had half a granola bar. And I can’t even button my pants.

But as the families celebrate the completed renovation, there were a couple sobering lines as well:

Phil: I would like to propose a toast.
Haley (emptying her glass of bubbly and holding it out for more): Missed me. And before the second toast: Still empty.
Alex: You know you’re my ride.
Haley (pinging the champagne flute with her finger): They say it’s bad luck to toast with an empty glass.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Does Haley have a drinking problem? She did chug down that glass of champagne. And there was that night of bizarre behavior that got her kicked out of college – a night that began with drinking. But how would we know if she had a problem? Come to think of it, how would we know if one of our kids had a problem with alcohol?

Here are some warning signs:
• Mood changes – flare-ups of temper, irritability, and defensiveness
• School problems – poor attendance, low grades, or recent disciplinary action
• Rebelling against family rules
• Switching friends along with reluctance to have you get to know their friends
• A “nothing matters” attitude, sloppy appearance, a lack of involvement in former interests, and general low energy
• Finding alcohol in your child’s bedroom or backpack, or smelling alcohol on their breath
• Physical or mental problems – bloodshot eyes, lack of coordination, slurred speech, memory lapses, poor concentration
(Source: NIAAA)

Some of the things on this list may be no more than normal teen growing pains. But if your teen shows several of the signs at the same time, if they occur suddenly, and if they are more extreme, it’s probably time to get some help. A good place to start is to call your teen’s doctor – just as we would if our teens had any other serious medical need.

None of us want our teens to use alcohol – much less to develop a drinking problem. But no teen is immune. So we need to keep our radar up and quietly monitor for signs of use. Because no one will ever be more concerned than we are. And no one can be more watchful than we can be.

If your teen casually mentions that some of their friends are drinking or that some of their friends’ parents let their kids drink, it’s a signal that they may be doing some experimenting or at least considering it. Putting up these trial balloons lets teens test our response. And as the balloons float by, we get a natural chance to reinforce our rule that no use is acceptable and to remind them of the consequences for missing the mark.

If you suspect experimentation but only have your suspicions, voice your concerns as objectively (and unemotionally) as possible. Tell your teen what it is that you’ve noticed that has you worried. And tell them that you love them too much not to worry and care too much not to fight them over drinking or drug use. By saying this we let our teens know that we’re paying attention, and it lets us gradually build a case if their worrisome behavior continues. So say this, and then quietly monitor their behavior.

And if you find evidence of one occasion of use, try not to view it as the end of the world. Yes, it’s disappointing. And to send a message that you won’t tolerate drinking, you’ll have to take away some of their privileges (things like driving, sleepovers, and extended curfews) until they’ve re-earned your trust. But there is also reason to be grateful. Because when our teens make a mistake and we find out about it, we get one of our best opportunities to help them make better decisions down the road.

The BottomLine

Jay (to Trish): Now, I’m not an art expert like you, but I did acquire this piece in a gallery in one of those finer Vegas casinos. What do you think?
Trish: It does say something. … What is it Thoreau said: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

Some parents will take a look at the teen scene and decide that teens will drink and that there is little they can do about it. And to be honest, the research indicates that parenting doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of effect on whether kids decide to try alcohol. But if you take a closer look at the data, you’ll see that parenting attitudes and actions can make a big difference in how much and how often teens drink – and this is where the greatest risks to their safety and their brains lie.

Researchers have found that the kids least likely to do heavy drinking have parents who are highly supportive and highly demanding. These parents are warm and caring. They know where their kids are and who they are with. They send a clear message that no drinking is acceptable. And they hold their kids accountable. On the other hand, having a permissive parent who is warm and caring but low on accountability (I’m talking to you, Phil) can triple the risk of a teen taking part in heavy drinking. And a controlling parent who is high on accountability but low on warmth (Claire, I’m talking to you now) can more than double their teen’s risk of heavy drinking.

So it’s true that as our teens get older, we have less influence and their peers have more. But it’s also true that our actions and attitudes can go a long way in minimizing the effect of peer encouragement to drink.

Flipping the Frame: From My Life as a Parent

A decade ago when my son was a teen, many parents viewed teen drinking as a rite of passage. Some parents today still may feel relieved that their teen is “only” drinking. But in truth, what we’ve learned over the last several years underscores the dangers of underage drinking:

• It’s a major cause of death from injuries among teens.
• It plays a role in risky sexual behavior and violent crime.
• And there is growing evidence that the teen brain, which is still forming, is more vulnerable than the adult brain to the damaging effects of alcohol.

Some adolescent experts used to advise letting teens do their experimenting before they left home for college so that parents could keep watch and monitor their use. Nobody is suggesting this any more. We now know that the best thing we parents can do is to delay the age at which our kids start drinking for as long as possible. Because the earlier teens start drinking, the more likely they are to become a heavy drinker and to have problems with school, jobs, and relationships.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• I’m pretty sure that Haley is not yet 21. Why do you think she got champagne for toasting while Alex and Luke got juice? She’s almost 21. And it’s just one glass. So does it matter?

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