Simi Valley Family Magazine

Spring 2000 Edition


The Care and Feeding of Teens

Deborah Tucker, MA

Every parent who has a raised a child from infancy into adulthood will admit that there were certain stages and time periods that were easier, and some that were more difficult. Those whose children haven’t hit the teen years yet may feel a certain amount of fear and trepidation, wondering what to expect and how to cope. Fear not! Teens get a lot of “bad press”, but are really very delightful people, at least most of the time. Still, there are some things that they would like their parents to know.

Teens aren’t little children. Teens will be very quick to remind parents that they are nearly grown, and that they should have different rules than when they were younger. They’re right! An important, and perhaps frightening, thought for parents: in just a few short years, your teen will be on their own, whether at college or moved out with a job. Are they ready? The only way we can tell is to give them progressively more responsibility, in small enough increments so that they can grow into each new level. This applies to all areas of life – money handling, responsibility for choices made, whether good or bad, time management, etc. Every family will handle this aspect differently, but every family ultimately has the same goal – to produce a competent, responsible, moral adult who is capable of functioning out in the world.

Teens aren’t adults. Teens may be a little less quick to remind parents that they need limits, but they still do. While they need to learn responsibility and consequences, they need time to build the skills necessary to handle life situations. Think of how most of us learned to drive. First, we operated the car in a protected area, perhaps a parking lot. Then, we learned to navigate calm residential streets. Later came heavy traffic, freeways, and night driving. It probably took awhile before we were ready for long treks alone. Skills are built in a stepwise fashion, and there are limits put on us until we’re ready for the next step. Teens still need clear messages from parents about things like curfews, behavior with the opposite sex, alcohol and drugs, school performance and other important issues. Especially these days, teens can crash and burn very quickly if parents forget to keep an eye on how they’re doing and what direction they are taking.

Teens have their own opinions. It seems to be a truism that one of the functions of teenagers is to challenge parents, or least to point out inconsistencies between parents’ stated beliefs and actual behavior. Perhaps this is why parenting is called a growth experience. Still, teens are often very articulate and impassioned speakers on topics that are important to them, and their opinions are worth listening to. Many parents find that, if they really listen to what their teen is saying, a long-standing opinion or position may be changed. At the very least, some very interesting discussions can happen if all parties can learn to state their beliefs respectfully, and back them up with reasons and sources.

Teens value their parents’ values. This is an exceptionally well kept secret, and many teens will deny it, but studies have shown that teens truly are influenced by their parents’ value and opinions, and are very interested to hear the reasoning behind them. This is related to the point made on setting limits for teens. Teens need a “baseline”, or beginning point. They may for a time have a very strong need to challenge parents’ opinions, but it is very common for them to return by young adulthood to a place not so very far from where their parents are. The lesson here is to again let your teen know where you stand, live by your beliefs, and be willing to explain why you feel the way you do. A major caveat: teens can smell hypocrisy a mile away. If you profess to value honesty, but gloat over how you cheat on your taxes or pulled on over on the merchant down the road, be prepared for the reaction! Again, parenting is a growth experience!

Obviously a whole other area of focus could be what parents need when raising teens, but that's beyond our scope for now. Vitamins, stress management, radar tracking and a mighty sense of humor might top the list!

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Summertime, Summertime, Sum, Sum, Summertime

Cheri West, MA

Here we go! When summer vacation is peering around the bend, most parents feel relieved to be nearing an end to the daily stress of school. No more homework wars (this year I suffered through the 5th grade state research report, endured the 10th grade personal home grown fungus experiment, and survived the GATE make-your-own-invention project), and no more “Did you?” battles in the early A.M. (Ex: “Did you brush your teeth?” or “Did you pack your homework?” or... well you know the rest). Time to start making those fun-filled plans for the hot days ahead. We’ll soon have a few months of rest and relaxation...NOT!!! We’ll soon have an exhausting few months of how to entertain our children and endless arguments about the freedom they need and deserve since they no longer have to go to school. Put an end to those endless arguments by planning ahead. Time to contract with your children so the summer rules are clearly spelled out and boundaries are comfortably in place. Time for a family meeting!

First, I suggest you ask your children to make a list of what they would most like to do this summer by priority. At the same time, parents should be making their own wish list by priority. Next, have your children make a list of their expectations regarding the summer rules and you do the same. Last, schedule a family meeting to review both your lists. Set up the rules for a family meeting at the beginning:

  1. Only one person speaks at a time and the others listen attentively,
  2. Everyone gets a chance to speak,
  3. Ideas are just that...ideas! Plans for the summer should be decided based on what is reasonable, affordable, and meets the needs of all involved,
  4. Remember to listen to your children’s ideas completely regardless of how farfetched they might be. In order to come to mutually satisfying resolutions, children need to feel they are actively involved in the negotiation and decision-making process,
  5. Rules should meet the needs of both parents and children to some degree. Negotiations should include both rewards if rules are maintained and consequences if rules are broken and,
  6. The end goal of the meeting should be a mutually acceptable contract which parents and children should sign and then keep posted for the remainder of the summer.

Contracting with your children is an easy way to put everyone’s expectations on the table before conflict occurs. Keep in mind that you can always call another family meeting if plans change to work through issues before they become problems. Here are some ideas for negotiation:

  1. High priority outings can be arranged for the same day every week based on your schedule and your child’s good behavior. For instance, make Fridays beach day and agree that begging for a 2nd beach day, other than Friday, or breaking contracted rules will mean the beach is off for that week.
  2. Agree on all curfews; include phone curfews, returning home time, in bedtime, etc. Curfews tend to be followed more when they are negotiated. For instance, if your child wants an 11:00 curfew and you feel 10:00 is reasonable, agree on 10:30 with bedtime by 11:00. If curfew is broken one day, your child should lose that amount of time the following day. This way, your child continually has the chance to redeem himself and start over.
  3. Carpooling for summer activities can be a lifesaver. Encourage your child to take responsibility by making arrangements for another parent or friend (whom you trust) to drive one way and you’ll drive the other or switch off weekends with another parent. Public transportation or bike is always handy if your child is old enough to travel alone. Have your child call you when they arrive at their destination.
  4. When both parents work and children are at home, agree that your child will always ask permission before leaving home. Let them know you will be calling on a regular basis to check in and they should be available unless agreed otherwise.
  5. Avoid grounding for weeks at a time; a rule broken today can be a privilege lost for tomorrow only. Children need a chance to earn back privileges during their vacation and we like to see them earning.
  6. Explore wish lists and decide which outings or vacations are mutually acceptable and reasonable. If a large vacation is not doable, perhaps several small family outings might work just as well. Example, if your kids are hoping for Hawaii this year and this is not possible, explore an extended weekend at a nearby beach resort.
  7. For younger children, explore the possibility of day camps even if only a few days per week. The local Parks offer a very reasonable summer camp program for a full week or a few days filled with trips, swimming, crafts, sports, etc. Older children can work as a camp counselor and enjoy the activities while earning spending money.
  8. Make a daily chores list. Spread the chores out over the week allowing for free time after chores are completed. If an unexpected opportunity comes up one day, be open to allowing 2 days chores to be completed in 1 day.

Remember, plan ahead. It’s not too early to plan for summer and avoid unwanted and common pitfalls. Good luck!

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What Women Want from Men--The Basics

Karen McQuade, MS

Many men are truly puzzled by women and what they want. Male clients often tell me that the women in their lives aren't satisfied with even their best efforts. "What is it women want?" they often ask me in frustration. Besides being sober, faithful, law-abiding, and relatively sane, here are some of the basics of what the average woman wants from men:

Women want to be respected. Most women want the man in their life to respect what they say, even if he disagrees with her. Women do not want to be dismissed, ignored, or ridiculed for their opinion. Men who can disagree respectfully do better with women than men who are rude.

Women want to be valued. Most women want their man to express that he values her by treating her as if she matters to him. That means considering her opinion about major decisions, asking her if she wants something if he goes to the kitchen, the mall, or the grocery store, and asking her what she would like to do. Remember her birthday and your anniversary. Bring her flowers. Send her a card. Take her out on a date to a place she likes. Let her know by how you speak and behave that she has a high value in your heart.

Women want men to listen. When women are venting about a frustrating or upsetting situation, they want support, empathy, and comfort (i.e., a hug, "I'm sorry things were so hard today," "I don't like when people don't treat you well," "You didn't deserve that," "It's going to be all right, baby," etc.). They want to know that you understand that this situation was upsetting or stressful and that you are on their side. Women want understanding first, not fixing or solutions.

Women see sex as an expression of your love for each other. Most women don't want to make love to a man who has been grumpy and unpleasant to them all day, then suddenly wants to have sex. Generally, she will feel used if you approach her for sex after being unpleasant or disrespectful all day. However, most women enjoy being sexually intimate with a mate who loves and values them.

Women value affection in and of itself--not for what it might lead to. Women want the men they are in relationship with to be able to be affectionate at times without being sexual. If a man is affectionate with a woman, she feels like he cares about her. If the man always moves from affection to sex, she may feel like he wants pleasure, not her.

Women want to be known intimately. Even if you've been married for years, be observant. Notice, and even ask, what she likes and doesn't like. Ask about her job, her day, her values, and her opinions. Listen to what she says. Find out who she is on a deeper level.

Women want an honest man. The average woman places a high value on honesty. If she asks a man something and he lies to her, she won't trust him. For a woman, a relationship based on lies is no relationship at all. A pattern of lying because you don't want to deal with her reactions to the truth will kill the relationship.

Women want a responsible man. Women do not want to have to remind a man twenty times that he promised to take out the trash, bring in the groceries, pay the bills, keep himself clean, go to work, or get out of bed. Since these are things Moms do, it tends to take the respect out of the relationship, and it leads to the woman feeling irritation and disrespect toward the man. She's acting like the Mom, and he's acting like the child. Women do not want to carry the whole load of responsibility for two lives, but women do respond very well to men who take care of things. Men who fix things or get them fixed, help a woman carry things that are heavy, have and keep a steady job, or take on financial or household responsibilities and do them are men who are appreciated and valued. Women like men who are adults and partners, sharing the load in life, not irresponsible men who create unnecessary burdens like financial hardship, emotional turmoil, and legal trouble. The stronger and more independent a woman is, the heavier the load she carries and the more she values your help.

So basically, a woman wants an honest, responsible, understanding, and clean adult male who loves her, values her, and treats her like she matters to him. If you are, or if you work at becoming that man, healthy women will be very, very happy with you.

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Relationships: The Simple Art of Validation

Phyllis Wilson, MA, MFCC

The more we study and learn about relationships, the more we can feel overwhelmed by how much work it takes to have a healthy one; what with men and women coming from different planets, having different communication styles, different focuses in life, etc.

Although it sounds pretty complicated, I'd like to share with you a rather simple technique that does wonders to help any relationship in your life -- be it with your spouse, child, parent or friend. It's called "validation", and it means:

1) Acknowledging the other person,

2) Letting them know that you understand what they're thinking and feeling, and

3) Accepting those thoughts and feelings in them.

Why is validation an important part of a relationship? We all want to feel loved and accepted by those close to us. We want to feel heard. We want to feel safe -- accepted warts and all--for that is the climate in which intimacy develops. And validating each other creates this climate of safety and acceptance and understanding. It's true between marriage partners, between parent and child, close friends - any relationship that is important to you.

How do we go about validating our partner? It begins with focusing on him or her, putting aside temporarily what we've been doing and directing our attention to the thoughts and feelings being conveyed. It could be frustration at as boss, sadness over a friend moving away, worry about how a child is doing in school. Or it could be a problem that's arisen between the two of you. Ask questions, encourage him/her to tell you more, say something like, "I can understand that you'd be angry about that", "I accept that you're really sad right now", "I can see why you'd be worried". I understand and I accept. Those are magic words as far as helping the other feel validated by you.

It's helpful to remember what validation is not. For one thing, it is not always agreeing with the other's point of view. If the two of you have different thoughts on raising kids, for example, disagreements will arise periodically. Validating your spouse's viewpoint simply shows your attempt to understand and accept his or her thoughts; it does not necessitate changing your own.

Validation is also not necessarily having the same feelings yourself. Your spouse could be upset because plans for the weekend had to be canceled, yet it's really no big deal to you. No matter. Validation is about conveying your understanding of how your partner is feeling, independently of how the situation affects you.

Lastly, validation is not about problem-solving One of the most common mistakes we make is to rush in and try to "fix" whatever the other is upset about, or to present our own point of view before we have adequately validated the person. Even when we have the best of intentions, this often comes across as a dismissal or a put-down.

There is definitely a place for discussion and problem-solving; however, the act of validating first is what allows the other to feel heard and understood. Once you've accomplished that, there's a much greater likelihood that your partner will be open to hearing your suggestions, comments, disagreements, etc. At that point, it's your partner's turn to validate you!

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