MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on November 18th, 2013, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 7, A Fair to Remember

Gloria Takes the Cake

The Framework
Tonight’s episode, set at a town fair, sounds like fun. But the fun played second fiddle to the downside of competing – with family members losing face and friends at almost every turn.

Even as the Pritchetts turn into the fairground’s parking lot, Jay squares off with another driver over a parking spot – and his pride.
Jay: Didn’t you see my blinker?
Derrick: Looking at ya, I’m guessing it was on the whole way here.

Claire and Phil, who are celebrating their china (20th) anniversary on fair day, are also competing. Claire has always given Phil disappointing gifts, but she’s sure she has a winner this year with the Chinese acrobats she’s hired. They’re back at home, though, so she wants to drag Phil away before he even has a chance to whack-a-mole. Phil needs to keep Claire at the fair because he’s going to perform the “romantic” song he wrote for her: She’s a pretty sight, wise as a Buddha. But, brother, watch that bite; she’s a Claire-acuda. That is until he gets cold feet about following the rock star pharmacist who performed before him.

Cam is fixated on his losing freshman football team: Do you see how everyone is glaring at me like a loser coach. … I’m the Hester Prynne of freshman football. I might as well have an ”L” sewn on my shirt.

Alex and Luke are both competing for the same girl. Alex is determined to make Sienna her new best friend: Sienna is amazing. Stylish, worldly, and she’s so new to our school, she doesn’t even realize I’m a full social class below her. I need to cement the friendship before she finds out we have a cafeteria. Luke wants Sienna to be his girlfriend. As Claire tells it: [Luke looks at her] the same way he used to look at Halloween candy. The sibs both lose out when their attempts to thwart each other end up creeping out Sienna.

Meanwhile Jay and Gloria worry about what Manny might lose by winning the fair’s cake contest.
Jay (seeing a crowd of boys laughing at Manny as he carries his cake): Give me that. Do you want to fit in? You’re not doing yourself any favor with this cake contest.

But it’s Gloria who really takes the cake tonight – beginning with this as Manny puts the final touches on his cake.
Gloria (to camera): See Manny up there with the misfits and their crazy cakes. I started to wonder if Jay was right. Maybe Manny would fit in better if he was more like the other boys. And maybe I need to give him a little push.

Flipping the Frame: My Notes
The episode left me pondering the title: “A Fair to Remember.” What transpired tonight was funny but forgettable. That is except for Manny’s grit: I’m going to win the cake contest. … And then there will be no stopping me. … [I’ll have] first place ribbons and respect.

When Gloria tries to sabotage Manny’s chances of winning by surreptitiously tearing a huge hunk off his cake, Manny won’t be deterred: Hey, Mom! Check it out! I finished my cake! … It’s Los Angeles after an 11.5 earthquake. I call it “earth-cake.”

Even when he has just 60 seconds to get his cake to the judges’ table and there’s a dense crowd standing in his way, Manny doesn’t give up.
Gloria: Uhhh! There’s no way we’re going to make it through that crowd.
Manny: Like heck we won’t! Here; (handing his cake to Gloria to carry), follow my lead. Ready? Then smiling. Come on! Come on!

Despite his peers’ snickers, Jay’s dire warning, Gloria’s sabotage of his cake, and the crowd standing between him and his goal, Manny stayed focused and persevered.

Gloria: I was the one who ruined your cake. I was afraid all those boys were going to make fun of you. I think I care more about your fitting in than you do.
Manny: No, I care. It’s just the stuff I’m good at isn’t the stuff that makes you popular.

This is a good reminder for us moms. We need not worry so much if we have a teen, like Manny, who is not the most popular. It’s crucially important for their social and emotional development that kids have one or two close, solid friendships. But being popular is not essential.

We may wish for our kids to be popular – just as we may wish for them to be athletic or good looking or smart. But we need to be careful that we’re not imposing our own wishes on our kids or weighting them down with our worries. There are lots of paths to success. And regardless of our kid’s path, researchers are increasingly pointing to how much character traits like the grit that Manny demonstrates tonight matter. Kids who don’t let setbacks discourage them, who are hard workers, and who finish whatever they begin are the most likely to succeed – not just in the immediate, short-term but also in the long-term of life.

What’s a Mom to Do
There is not yet a proven way to make teens grittier, but there is growing evidence that the following can help:

Encourage your teen’s activities and hobbies that stem from long-term interests. These opportunities provide our kids’ some of their best opportunities to see that sustained effort over time is key to achievement. So we need to be there to encourage them and to cheer as they set goals and work hard to achieve those goals. (Jay and Gloria, I’m talking to you!)

Give your teen a chance to learn how to handle disappointment and failure. Like Jay and Gloria, we moms often think our job is to do everything we can to shield and rescue our children from struggle and hardship. Yet when kids are overly protected, they don’t get a chance to develop the ability to overcome failure. So rather than trying to protect our teens, we need to be their safety nets instead.

Being a safety net means allowing natural consequences. It means paying attention so that we’re there when they fall – to comfort them and reassure them that they can indeed bounce back. And it means acknowledging what they did well and then helping 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. Remind your teen of obstacles they’ve faced before and successfully overcome. (Gloria, make a mental note of all that Manny overcame to win at the fair.) When they’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, you can listen to their worries and then remind them of their past successes under similar circumstances.

There were lots of laugh lines tonight. But Manny’s grit is what made this show one to remember.

Your Parenting Experiences
How gritty do you think your teen is? The Short Grit Scale (click here) developed by Angela Duckworth can give you some idea.

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How to Help Build Your Teen’s Willpower Muscle

Posted on September 3rd, 2012, 0 Comments

The latest research by Roy Baumeister and others has likened self-discipline (also know as willpower) to a mental muscle. You can read more about Baumeister’s work here. Laboratory and field studies indicate that, like a muscle, self-discipline can be strengthened by practice and use. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the brain has a limited capacity for self-discipline. Thus, also like a muscle, willpower can become fatigued with overuse.

Now, with this fatigable muscle in mind, imagine your teen going through their typical school day. Think of the number of times they flexed and stretched their willpower muscle as they worked to stay focused on a boring lecture, kept from blurting out an answer to an easy question, labored through a difficult test, or swallowed a smart-aleck remark to a teacher or coach. Suffice it to say, that by the end of the day your teen has performed a variety of acts of self-control, all of them draining the same mental reserve.

By the time teens return home from school their willpower muscles are often worn out from overuse. And with their restraints weakened, it’s little wonder that they engage us in homework debates, fail to focus on their assignments, or have trouble switching off the television.

So what’s a parent to do?

Offer your teen an afterschool snack. We’ve known for a long time that glucose fuels many brain functions. But only recently researchers have discovered that restoring glucose levels can restock self-discipline. So something as simple as having a bite to eat can help boost your teen’s willpower. Proteins or slow-burning carbs (including fruits, vegetables, yogurt, as well as whole grain breads and crackers) are thought to elevate willpower for longer periods. But in a pinch, according to research lab tests, a sugar sweetened drink such as lemonade can revive willpower too.

Collaborate with you teen to establish a homework routine. Without a regular time and place designated for homework, teens have to make up their mind on a daily basis about when and where to study. And research has shown that making decisions and choices seems to draw on the same pool of resources as exercising willpower. So by collaborating with your teen to establish a regular homework routine, you’re helping them spend their limited willpower reserve wisely. Plus, it will cut-down on the everyday debating. Definitely an additional bonus!

Encourage your teen to come up with a homework to-do list. Working on multiple things at the same time or even constantly trying to figure out what to do next can quickly deplete your teen’s willpower. But by creating a to-do list before starting on the night’s homework, teens can reduce the strain on their willpower muscle. Some teens (usually the ones with the strongest willpower muscles) will begin with the hardest or least interesting tasks first. Others will organize their lists the other way around. Regardless, they’ll increase their odds of success by concentrating on one thing at a time as they move down the list. And they’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as they cross off the completed tasks.

Entice your teen to train their willpower. Researchers have found that willpower can be trained and become strong with use. In psychological studies, a couple weeks of performing simple, daily acts of self-control – things like changing the hand you use when opening a door or using a computer mouse or simply standing up straight whenever you remember– can increase willpower capacity in completely unrelated activities.

By following through on just a couple of the suggestions listed above, you can help your teen strengthen and conserve their willpower muscle. That’s important because the strength of your teen’s self-discipline is highly predictive of their success in school and beyond. It’s even more important than smarts.

The next posting will cover a topic related to willpower: procrastination. We’ll take a look at why teens procrastinate and what you can do to help them overcome it.

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