MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on April 22nd, 2013, 0 Comments

Reframe: Manny Vies with Luke for the Phantom Lead

Season 4, Episode 14 (Rebroadcast from 2/6/13)

The Framework

Tonight on “Modern Family” Luke and Manny are involved in a play – a middle school production of “Phantom of the Opera.” And both take some risks and stretch their comfort zones as the lead changes from one to the other.

When the student star gets mono, Manny initially lands the lead.

Cam: I’ll need a “phantom” for this rehearsal.
Manny: I guess I could help.

Then we learn that Luke, who’s been painting sets, can sing better. And 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.

With that, Luke refuses to sing. In the end, however, he does take the lead. And, as Cam puts it, he sings like a nightingale.

(Click here to see the original post.)

Flipping the Frame: My Notes

Teens are biologically set to seek out thrills and take risks. In fact, brain changes tracked by neuroscientists suggest that teens’ reward systems (unlike those of younger children or adults) seem to bias their choices and decisions towards the thrill even if there is risk involved. (You can read more about the teen brain here. These brain changes evolved to spur this age group to leave a safe home and increase their range of experiences so that they’d learn new skills and make new discoveries about themselves. Which is all well and good.

But there is a potential downside. Our teens’ developmentally driven craving for trying new things can lead to boredom. And there’s a growing consensus that dangerous risk taking increases when teens are bored. For example, researchers have found that kids ages 12 to 17 who are often bored, are 50% more likely to use drugs and alcohol. Add a wad of cash ($25 or more a week of spending money) and those bored kids become 3 times more likely to use.

The good news is that the risks our teens are hardwired to take don’t have to be destructive ones. And that’s where we come in. We can stay connected to our teens and redouble our efforts to encourage them to try new things and test their limits in constructive ways. We can help them take…
Life risks that include social ones like joining a club, emotional ones like asking someone new on a date, and physical ones like rock climbing or skateboarding.

School risks that include academic ones such as taking an AP course or learning a new language, athletic ones such as going out for a sports team, and extracurricular ones such as trying out for a play (like Manny and Luke did) or running for student council.

Community risks, for example volunteering to help the homeless, mentoring a younger child, and leading by starting a small business or charity.

Teens say that their parents have more influence than anyone else when it comes to their decisions to challenge themselves with the right kind of risks. And when we help our teens find meaningful opportunities to push their bodies, expand their minds, and nurture their spirits, we are helping to satisfy their craving for trying new things that test their limits. In the process we’ll deepen our connection with our teens and reduce the chances that they’ll get into trouble with destructive risks like drugs and alcohol.

Sources: (CASA, 2003; Teens Today, 2004)

Flipping the Frame: From My Life as a Parent

My son was a thrill seeker. He was hooked on the adrenaline rush that comes from a close call. I saw this aspect in him early on. When he was in elementary school I’d sometimes watch him play basketball in our driveway with a neighborhood buddy. And if he got too far ahead as they went one-on-one, I’d see him sit back a bit and let his opponent catch-up. Now don’t get me wrong. My son liked to win, but he liked the thrill of a close game better.

He sought out close calls off the court too. At age 12 he’d saved enough of his birthday money and allowance to buy a mountain bike (and the mom required helmet). After that he spent a part of most weekends riding down the steep trails and jumping the logs that crossed his path in the North Carolina woods near where we lived.

Then we moved. Of course we brought his bike with us. But there were no steep trails near enough for regular riding.

It would be awhile before I’d realize how important those steep hills had been to him…

Flipping the Frame: Your Parenting Experiences

• I’m really glad that Phil ended up attending Luke’s performance. And I was delighted when his grandfather also showed up. Showing up is one way to encourage our teens to take positive risks. What other ways have you found to support your teen’s participation in these activities?

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The Teen Brain: Beautiful But Still Under Construction

Posted on October 24th, 2011, 0 Comments

Teens are biologically set to seek out thrills and take risks. From an evolutionary viewpoint, these changes evolved to spur this age group to leave a safe home, to increase their range of experiences and learn new skills, and to become independent.

So the changes that take place in adolescence are adaptive and serve a positive purpose. Yet, the teen brain still has a long way to go to reach adulthood, and the thrill seeking and risk-taking teens do along the way can make parenting them a tricky business.

Even though our children grow bigger and smarter and stronger during their teen years, the chances of them getting hurt or running into trouble go way up. Most of the time the cause is a bad decision. A teen sneaks out in the middle of the night and gets a citation for breaking curfew. Another tries smoking pot, likes it, and ends up getting hooked. Another hooks-up with someone met at a party and winds up with a sexually transmitted disease. And yet another sends a revealing photo online, and in a matter of minutes it’s shared with countless others.

For decades we’ve believed that teens make these deliberate but reckless choices because they weigh the risks as low, assess their smarts and skills as high, and conclude, “I’ll be fine. Nothing bad is going to happen to me.” Based on this explanation, parents have mostly tried to curb teen risk-taking by emphasizing the risks and then counting on their teens to logically think things through. I know I did.

Each time my teenage son went out the door, I reminded him of the dangers at the top of my mind and encouraged him to stay safe… to think before acting…. to make good decisions. And his response invariably went something like this: Don’t worry, Mom. I always weigh the pros and cons when I’m thinking about doing something you’d call dangerous. Back then I took comfort in knowing that he was thinking things through; I now know that my comfort was misplaced.

New evidence from 300 studies on teenage risk-taking strongly challenges the notion that teens think they are invulnerable. National surveys show that teens typically overestimate the chance that something bad will happen. The trouble is that they’re just not much bothered by it. New brain research sheds some light on why.

Brain changes tracked by neuroscientists suggest that teens’ reward systems (unlike those of younger children or adults) seem to bias their choices and decisions towards the thrill even if there is some risk. In fact, getting teens to deliberately weigh the costs and benefits of risk-taking (as my son assured me that he did) may actually encourage a riskier form of reasoning. The benefits of fitting in with their peers and the lure of excitement and rebellion right now will almost always outweigh the cost of consequences later.

So what does this mean for us parents?

Crucial Don’ts
Don’t think teens believe they are invulnerable. They don’t. Research clearly shows that teens are well aware of the risks in their world.

Don’t think that if you emphasize the risks, you can count on your teen to logically think things through and consistently reach the same conclusion you would. They won’t. The strategy of pointing out the risks isn’t very effective when teens already overestimate that something bad will happen if they take risks but still choose risk-taking when they logically deliberate.

Crucial Dos
Do monitor and supervise your teen. In today’s teen culture, there are so many temptations and so many ways for our kids to go wrong. They need our sturdy presence. Although we can’t be with them at every moment, and at the end of the day our teens must make their own decisions, we can make it more difficult for them to make bad decisions, and we can help fill their time with positive activities.

Do help your teen see benefits of good choices differently. Bad consequences are in the too distant future or are too poorly understood (or both) to be strong deterrents for teens. Instead, teens make decisions based on the benefits they expect – especially short-term benefits. So to make risk-taking less appealing for your teen, highlight the benefits of making wiser, safer choices.

Do be collaborative, aiming to guide your teen rather than trying to control them. Our parental control systems become less effective as our kids get older. So rather than viewing control as something we do to our teens (or giving up on them because we can’t control them), we need to find ways to influence our teens and work with them. The next post will look at some specific ways for doing just that.

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