MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on December 3rd, 2012, 0 Comments

Why Is Manny Dragging His Feet?

Season 4, Episode 9

The Framework

Tonight both thirteen-year-old Manny and his stepfather Jay attend a kid’s Olympic-themed birthday celebration. And it appears that the party may have pushed them both outside their comfort zones.

As soon as Jay arrives at the party, it’s clear he’d rather be somewhere else. This man who is so at ease in his own home, is obviously uncomfortable here. He wants to fit in with the other dads who’ve accompanied their kids to the party. But as he’s introduced he gets J-Loed, and it quickly becomes apparent that he doesn’t have a lot in common with this crowd of younger, cooler??? men.

Manny too would rather be somewhere other than the party. Early in the episode he drags his feet about going:

Jay: Manny, while we’re young!

Gloria: He doesn’t want to go. That’s why he’s taking so long with the primping.

Jay: A boy his age should do exactly zero primping.

Jay (as Manny comes down the stairs): You ready?

Manny: Not in the least.

Now perhaps Manny is reluctant to go because he, like Jay, is anxious about fitting in with a new crowd – a crowd of more athletic and popular peers. But I’m not convinced that it’s Manny’s fear about stepping out of his comfort zone that is causing him to drag his feet.

Because when I heard him describe the party this way:

This kid in my class, Doug Brooks, has a sports-themed party every year. All boys. All sports. All day. He calls it the Doug-lyimpics – which might make sense if he did it every four years. Or if his name was Al… Let’s just say that nothing about this party works.

And explain why he got invited like this:

I think he only invites me because he likes to match skin color to nation. I know that’s why Allan Yang gets invited.

… It made me think that perhaps something else was behind his reluctance to go.

Manny went to the party because his parents urged – even expected – him to go:

Gloria: It’s a beautiful day outside. Go and enjoy yourself at Doug-lympics.

Jay: Okay we get it; sports isn’t your thing. But you’ve got to step out of your comfort zone sometime… You don’t have to win a medal. Just have fun.

And although Jay has “diagnosed” Manny’s foot dragging as a comfort zone issue, I think it’s more likely that this precocious and self-confident (although different) kid was dragging his feet because he simply preferred not to go.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Everyone has a comfort zone. And these have been stretched and expanded throughout our lives. This is the nature of learning for all of us – whether it’s learning a new game, acquiring a new math skill, or trying to fit in with a new group of peers.

We feel calm and confident when we’re doing something in our comfort zone. But the stretching process that takes place when we do any kind of new learning causes us to become hesitant and doubtful. And if we become overwhelmed with uncertainty, all kinds of excuses and rationalizations will pop into our heads. We’ll sound like Jay as his comfort zone was being stretched at the birthday party tonight:

Ahhh… I don’t really know anyone… I’m supposed to be at the club in a few moments… I’ll see you later.

If, however, we manage to get through the hesitation and doubt, we’ll succeed in expanding our comfort zone to include a new skill.

This uncomfortable stretching is what learning is all about. It’s what our kids face on a daily basis – not just in the classroom, but in the hallway and lunchroom too as they try to fit in with their peers. And because teens count on their peers to assure them they’re okay and because their social connections help them define who they are as an individual, fitting in is important.

But while it’s important, the shaky nature of teens’ social lives makes the process of fitting in complicated for most kids. And fitting in can be particularly difficult for a teen who has been typecast as different and on the fringe. So we parents worry if our teen doesn’t seem to be accepted by their peer group and wonder how we can tell if their friendship patterns are cause for concern.

Because there are so many variables, it’s difficult to say what level of peer interaction is normal. If social interactions are distressing your teen or if they see their difference as a flaw, they may need help with socialization issues. However, if they seem to feel okay about themselves and have one or two close friends who they enjoy being with, don’t be too quick to jump in and try to fix things. Your teen’s friendship patterns may have a different meaning for them than for you. They may simply prefer to spend time alone.

Regardless of your teens’ level of social savvy, you can help them feel comfortable with who they are and feel more at ease when interacting with others by:

• Listening to them and empathizing with them if they feel bad about being different instead of trying to talk them out of their feelings.

• Accepting and affirming your teen’s positive differences and telling them often what you admire and appreciate about them.

• Valuing their interests even if you don’t share them and by letting them see the excitement they feel when pursuing their interests mirrored in your eyes.

• Floating some tips by your teen on how to meet people and make friends…

– Making sure your teen realizes that other people – including kids – like to know that their ideas are being listened to and valued.

– Reminding your teen that they can let other kids know that they’re paying attention by making eye contact while other kids are talking and by asking a question or two about what they’ve said.

– Mentioning to your teen that when they let other kids know that they think they’re entertaining and funny, it makes those kids feel good. Plus it indicates that your teen has a sense of humor – one of the top assets teens look for in a friend.

The BottomLine

Some of the most intelligent, creative, and mature teens I’ve met are typecast as different and on the fringe. Sometimes their peers rebuff them. But more often than not, they sense that they’re different, are comfortable with it, and would rather not join the crowd because they’ve learned that they rarely get much meaningful from the interactions.

So it’s wise to remember that while we all want our teens to feel accepted, not all kids who have trouble fitting in during adolescence have a problem. In fact, these are the kids who often grow up to be future leaders. As school smart Alex quipped to her older and more socially savvy sister Haley in an earlier season episode: You have your fans. I have mine. Someday your fans are going to work for my fans.

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• What do you think? Was Manny dragging his feet because he was out of his comfort zone or did he simply prefer not to go? How did you reach your conclusion?

• Think of the times when you could tell that your teen was out of their comfort zone. What did they look and sound like?

• Our teens need us to stay connected with them so that we can support them when they’re stretching their comfort zones. But knowing how is as much an art as a science. Mostly by trial and error, I learned that one of my teens benefitted from my clear direction and reassuring yet firm insistence while my other teen benefitted more from my quiet presence and gentle undergirding. What do you do that seems to help your teen when their comfort zone is being stretched?

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There’s a New Four-Letter Word Getting Lots of Buzz

Posted on October 1st, 2012, 0 Comments

The word is grit.

Grit is a new psychological category defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” It’s related to willpower (the subject of a recent posting), but it’s not the same thing.

Gritty individuals have more than the self-regulation in willpower. They have zest and persistence as well. Teens with grit are focused less on short-term intensity and more on stamina. They believe in long-term goals and don’t give up in the face of difficulty or disappointment.

So how gritty do you think your teen is? The Short Grit Scale can give you some idea. The scale was developed and validated by Penn psychologist and researcher Angela Duckworth.

Duckworth and other researchers have been studying qualities like grit, perseverance, self-confidence, curiosity, and passion for several years now. They call these qualities “non-cognitive skills,” and they believe that these skills have been undersold. Now, they’re not saying that smarts don’t matter. But they’re arguing that when it comes to how children succeed, this set of non-cognitive skills is at least as important as the narrow band of cognitive skills measured on ability and achievement tests, including the ACT and SAT.

Although non-cognitive skills are harder to measure on tests, researchers are increasingly pointing to how much grit and the related qualities (which most of us call character) matter in predicting which students will flourish. What’s more, studies have shown that while there may be a genetic component to character traits, they are not fixed. Instead, they can be taught, learned, and developed.

How can you help your teen build grit?

There is not yet a curriculum proven to make teens grittier, but there is quite a bit of evidence suggesting that the following can help:

Nudge your teen to do some looking into the future. Teens who regularly think about what they want to do with their life and what kind of person they want to become, have a better sense of direction and are, thus, less likely to get off-track. These teens don’t see going to college as an end in itself. Instead they’re charting a course that includes some ideas of what they might do for their work life. This doesn’t mean that they’re firmly committed to a specific career track. They may change their mind and head in a different direction more than once. But at any given time, they can articulate where they think they’re heading – at least for now.

Teens with this type of guiding purpose tend to work hard at school and to take hobbies and other activities seriously. They also tend to take charge of problems and persevere.

So nudge your teen to look into the future by regularly (a couple times a year) asking them to think about their current interests and strengths. Encourage them to make lists of the things they like to do, the things they like to learn, and the things they value, as well as the things they’re good at – perhaps even better at than most kids their age. And then talk with them about how their combination of interests and strengths might be used in a career someday.

Encourage your teen to think of academic achievement as a marathon. Most teens have a shortsighted view of academic achievement. They think of tests, papers, and projects as a series of unrelated sprints that they either win or lose at. When school is viewed this way, the intensity and the pressure to win can become unbearable.

From a longsighted view, though, academic achievement looks like a marathon. From this viewpoint, each test, each paper, each project your teen works on represents but one of many laps to their long-term goals. And each lap offers new opportunities for them to develop the non-cognitive skills they need for sustained high performance – learning how to better pace themselves, developing better study strategies, discovering the value of perseverance, and building resilience.

Give your teen a chance to learn how to handle disappointment and failure. We parents often think our job is to do everything we can to shield our children from adversity. Yet when children are overly protected from hardship, they don’t get a chance to develop the ability to overcome failure. So if we want our kids to have long-term success, we need to first be willing to let them do some struggling. This is a thread that runs throughout How Children Succeed, Paul Tough’s brand-new book about character. (You can hear the author talk about his book in an interview with MPR host Kerri Miller here.)

So rather than thinking of yourself as your teen’s protector, consider acting as their safety net instead. Being a safety net means paying attention so that you’re there when they fall – to comfort them and reassure them that they can indeed bounce back. And then you’ll want to help them look honestly at where things went wrong, how they contributed to the problem, and what they need to do differently next time.

Be your teen’s historian. You can help your teen bounce back stronger and build resilience after a fall by reminding them of obstacles they’ve faced before and successfully overcome. When they’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, you can listen to their worries and then remind them of their past successes under similar emotional circumstances.

By helping your teen build grit, you’re not just helping them succeed at school. You’re also nurturing the kind of stamina they need to have real-life success.

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