MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on March 4th, 2013, 0 Comments

The Teen Stage

Season 4, Episode 17

The Framework

Tonight on Modern Family the four teens are on stage. Luke has a case of adolescent-stage fright about sending a message to a classmate he has a crush on, but he eventually lands a first date with her when his dad helps out by on-line chatting as him. And Manny is crushed when the romantic dinner he planned for the new nanny – a dinner complete with candles, love poems, pizza, and tiramisu – doesn’t even make it to first bite.

Meanwhile, Haley accepts her mom’s invite for a dinner date, bails on her, and then rejoins Claire to watch Alex play in her new band. But after the concert, just when it looks like Claire might get to have a double daughter mom-date, Alex (acting just like a teen) blows her off instead:

Claire: We’re going to get some dinner. Do you want to come with us? You can bring your friends from the band.

Alex: Ummm, no thanks. We’re (pointing to the band) actually going out. And I have a ride home. So see you guys later.

Alex (to her band friends): Oh, my God! Sorry about that.

Haley (to Claire): Did she just apologize for us.

Claire: Yep.

Haley: But we were just being nice.

Claire: Sucks doesn’t it?

Claire has a theory about the teen stage and what makes teens act the way they do. Actually it’s an analogy that Phil gave her:

Raising a kid is like sending a rocket ship to the moon. You spend the early years in constant contact. And then one day, around the teenage years, they go around to the dark side, and they’re gone. All you can do is wait for that faint signal that says they’re coming back.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

I can get onboard with Phil and Claire’s rocket ship analogy – at least as far as the moon. I can envision the soon-to-be-launched teen rocket being fueled as our kids’ physical maturation, their increased thinking capacity, and the intensified expectations placed on them all combine for their blastoff into adolescence. I can even use the Dunphy’s analogy to picture our kids extending away from us as they form their own identities. Our girls tend to extend away by revving their rocket engines in our faces while our boys tend to takeoff to their bedrooms and stay there for so long that they might as well have gone to the moon.

So I was right there with Claire and Phil on their moon mission for the firing of the rockets, the revving of the engines, and the takeoff. But when we got to the part about teens going around to the dark side and that all we can do is wait while they’re gone, I had to bail out.

We used to think that the Dunphy’s analogy pretty much described how things worked. For years psychologists told us that teens needed to separate from their parents so they could establish their own identity and become independent. We believed that during their early years kids were dependent on us – we were in constant contact as Claire put it. We thought of adolescence as a time when kids form their identity by venturing out on their own (to the dark side, so to speak) to discover who they are. And like Claire and Phil, we thought that about the only thing parents could do was wait, and if we waited long enough, our kids would eventually come back to us as fully individuated and independent adults. Sounds just about as plausible as when Claire described it, doesn’t it?

We now know that this theory about growing up is way too simplistic. Today experts agree that connection – not separation – is the foundation for strong parent and teen relationships. And this connection is not based on the dependence of a young child or the independence of a mature adult. Instead the connection is based on an in-between stage of interdependence.

Don’t get me wrong, though. If our teens are to do their job of forming an identity of their own, they have to keep us at arms length (hence the revving of their engines in our faces and the takeoffs for their bedrooms and beyond). If they didn’t work hard to extend away from us, they couldn’t be sure that the identities they’re forming are truly theirs and not just a copy of our opinions, values, and ideas.

So just to be clear: Our teen’s job is to extend away from us. And it’s our job to stay involved and connected to them– even as they extend away.

The BottomLine

Tonight Claire lamented to Haley: When you were little, we used to do everything together. And I thought maybe you were coming back around, and we could be friends again. I miss being part of my daughter’s life.

Take heart, Claire. Adolescence is a stage. It has an end. And while it’s true that conflict within families is particularly evident between daughters and mothers, it’s also true that the conflict typically increases and peaks during the early years of adolescence – around the age of thirteen or fourteen. So Haley is on her way back around.

Our kids do change. And it’s almost always for the better. It takes time, but they’ll eventually be friendlier on a more regular basis. They’ll be more cooperative, more responsible, and less argumentative. They’ll no longer criticize us constantly and disagree with all our ideas just because we happen to be in the same room with them.

Tonight Claire notices the transformation beginning to take place in Haley, remarking to Phil: Did you hear that?! First she complimented my fashion sense. And then she told me I did something right. I think it’s happening. Although Haley is not yet fully independent, we’re beginning to see glimpses of the adult she is becoming.

Flipping the Frame: From My Life as a Parent

We too can sometimes get a peek at the young adult our teens are working to become. Our best chance is often late night because that’s when teens tend to be most reflective and most able and willing to give us a window into their lives.

Even though I’m not quite the night owl my kids were as teens, I did find it was worth my while to occasionally make myself available late at night to connect with them. One word of caution though: I found that this was not the time to lecture or to probe them about some upcoming event in an attempt to calm my worries. If I did, the window into their lives quickly got slammed in my face. But if I stayed quiet and receptive, I was often rewarded with insights into their thinking and sometimes even a glimpse at the adult they were becoming.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• Claire and Phil talk about their kids going to the dark side of the moon during adolescence. When you think about the distance your teen has put between you and them, what kind of words or analogies do you use?

• Think back to your teen years when you were extending away from your parents. What kinds of things did you do to put distance between them and you?

• Have you noticed your teen actively extending a way from you? What kinds of things are they doing to keep you at arms length?

• Have you ever tried connecting with your teen late at night to get a glimpse into their lives? Have you found other times when you can get this kind of glimpse into the adult they are becoming?

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MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on February 11th, 2013, 0 Comments

Manny Vies with Luke for the Phantom Lead

Season 4, Episode 14

The Framework

Tonight the action on Modern Family revolved around the word “play.” Haley and her boyfriend Dylan play house by babysitting baby Joe and Lily. Claire is there too, watching with concern as she overhears this exchange:

Haley: Having kids is fun!
Dylan: And easy.
Haley: Maybe this is what I should do with my life.

Meanwhile Mitchell, Jay, and Phil play golf. Jay who admits to being a bit of a drill sergeant when it comes to sports has put on kid gloves to coach Phil. But Mitchell, after six months of practice (and years of resentment), has taken off the gloves – or as he says, I was ready to kick my dad’s ass. And those are just the side stories. The lead story is about Cam directing a play.

Both Luke and Manny are involved in the play – a middle school production of “Phantom of the Opera.” And this lead story is basically about changing leads. When the student star gets mono, Manny lands the lead. That is until we learn that Luke, who’s been painting sets, can sing better. Then Manny determined to keep the lead, plays on Luke’s peer fears:

Manny: Look at the bright side. What if you don’t screw up, humiliate yourself, and get mocked forever.
Luke: Get mocked?
Manny: Only by the cool kids. But who needs them. You’re one of us now: the theatre geeks.

And with that, Luke refuses to sing. Cam considers playing the lead himself. Until he remembers it’s a kid production and begins coaching Manny for the lead:

Cam: Okay, Manny. Did you forget the notes I gave you? Or just choose to ignore them?

And then a bit later…

Okay, Manny, it’s no secret that you were not my first choice for this – or my second. But it’s not too late for you to make this your very own “Phantom.” So I want you to watch what Luke did and copy that.

Now don’t misunderstand. Cam doesn’t have it in for Manny. This is just his idea of directing. Here’s further insight into his style:

Cam (to cast): Okay. I’ll be recording today’s rehearsal, but don’t let that make you self-conscious. I’m only using it to pinpoint your mistakes.

In the end Luke takes the lead. He sings like a nightingale (as Cam puts it). And his father, who initially said he couldn’t make it because he was going to be busy playing golf, ends up attending the performance after all. Phil’s change of heart happens on the golf course as he listens to Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” – a tearjerker about a dad who’s so busy that he misses all of the important moments in his son’s life.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Risk taking is at the heart of the teen storylines tonight: Claire hopes Haley will stretch and try new experiences before starting a family. And as Manny and Luke deal with the changing lead in “Phantom” (a lead that seems as elusive as a phantom), they too take risks.

Teens have to take risks. Risk taking helps them differentiate themselves from others and develop an identity. Taking risks lets teens test their boundaries and know what they’re capable of doing. Risks that go well can let them experience personal success – as Luke did tonight. And the risks that don’t pan out can help them build resilience – as Manny found tonight.

Risk taking is essential if teens are to grow into independent, productive adults. So it should come as no surprise that teens are hardwired to take risks. But those risks don’t have to be dangerous ones. In fact, although adults tend to link risk taking with negative behavior, most teens think that risk taking refers to positive activities that have a built-in challenge or risk for failure. These activities include things as diverse as taking an AP course, trying out for a sports team or play, mountain biking, rock climbing, asking someone on a first date, running for student council, and volunteering to mentor a young child.

According to recent research, this kind of positive risk-taking is associated with better overall emotional wellbeing. When compared to their peers, teens who take positive risks are more likely to describe themselves as responsible, confident, successful, and optimistic. They’re more likely to report that they often feel happy and less likely to report feeling bored or depressed. And they’re more likely to consider the potential negative consequences of dangerous risk-taking.

Interestingly, the research suggests that it’s the challenge level of the activity – not the number of activities that teens engage in – that makes the positive difference in their behavior.

The BottomLine

Although their peers come in a close second, teens say that they count on their parents more than anyone else to help them take the right kinds of risks and challenge themselves. And we want our kids to take those risks. We empathize with Claire’s wistful comment tonight as she watches Haley play house: Aim higher. Open yourself to new experiences…

And we can do more than wistful thinking. Here are some concrete things we parents can do to help. We can:

Stay connected to them. Teens who report open and frequent communication with their parents about important issues are more likely to share their parents’ values and to try to live up to their parents’ expectations.

And it’s important we remember that being connected isn’t about occasionally going to coffee with our kids. Being connected is about talking, listening, and being available on a regular basis. As Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” song reminds, it’s about being involved in our kids’ lives.

Praise selectively. Notice what your teen is doing well and acknowledge it. Praise that hits the mark is of incredible value. It affirms your teen by underscoring what they already know. But be careful about overpraising. Excessive or undeserved praise can lead kids to feel entitled – to come to believe that good things will automatically happen to them. Not because they’ve earned it, but just because they want it.

And when praise is earned, rather than giving a general compliment, be specific. Vague praise doesn’t have much effect, and teens can’t learn from it. Plus even though we’re our teens’ biggest fans, they’re not tops in everything. And we’re not helping them learn what they’re capable of doing if we imply that they are.

Criticize Constructively. There are times when our teens can benefit from our honest, constructive criticism. But because teens are often ultrasensitive, especially when it comes to our judgments, it’s often difficult for us to be truthful without being hurtful.

And the hurtful memories can last a long time. In tonight’s episode Mitchell laments about how his father criticized his athletic endeavors as a kid: I wasn’t the best athlete growing up, and my dad never missed an opportunity to point that out: “Nice throw, Nancy!” Mitchell then pauses before adding: Nancy was our neighbor. I could never throw as well as she could.

How we relay criticism, however, can make a big difference. (Listen up, Jay and Cam!) Helpful criticism is done face-to-face; it’s done in private; and it never attacks the character of the person. If teens believe that their failure is due to some unchangeable flaw, they’ll lose hope and stop trying. Plus character attacks put teens on the defensive, meaning they can no longer listen to what we have to say.

Helpful criticism deals with the specific problem at hand. It points out what the teen is doing well and what they’re doing poorly. Helpful criticism holds out hope for doing better. And it suggests a plan for doing so – perhaps pointing out possibilities or alternatives the teen did not know were there.

Flipping the Frame: From My Life as a Parent

We don’t want our kids to settle for less than they can be. And when fear is holding them back, we parents can help them tip the balance back in the right direction. My daughter taught me a lot about this.

I learned that I could be most supportive by initially helping her unpack her resistance, saying something like “You seem kind of nervous. What are you most worried about?” I’d then stay quiet and listen to her anxieties. And once she’d had a chance to air her worries, I’d remind her of her resilience and past successes under similar circumstances. Here’s an example of what that reminder sounded like when she was about 14-years-old and anxious about an upcoming ballet recital:

I know you’re nervous about the dance recital on Saturday. But I feel certain you will get through it successfully. Remember last year before the recital you felt the same way. You weren’t certain at all about one of the dances, but you got through it beautifully.

Before the recital started, you were uncertain – afraid you’d forget something or even fall. You had a stomachache and your throat hurt just as they do now. But you danced exquisitely, and when it was over you talked about how much you enjoy performing for an audience.

You’ll get through this, just as you have before.

The technique of listening to their worries and then reminding them of their past successes is a powerful way to support them – whether it’s a recital, a competition, or a big test. When our kids are feeling anxious and full of doubt, they can benefit from our support. Even if it’s just a few positive words: You can do it. You’ll be exactly enough! I know you will.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• How could Cam have done a better job with Manny? What could he have said that would have been honest without making Manny feel inadequate?

• If Luke were your kid, how would you have praised him for his performance in “Phantom?”

• Have you found a way to give your teen honest feedback without being hurtful? If so, what’s the hardest thing for you to get right? For me it was keeping my eye brows from going way up. How about you? Is it your timing? Your facial expression? Your tone of voice? Your words?

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