"It's summer! You're not just going to sit around on the computer all day are you??" Sound familiar?  Read more....

Summer 2012, Vol. 5 (3)

          The PracticaParent

For Parents, Educators and Mental Health Professionals Who Care About Teens


 Teen with laptop

Does this sound familiar?: "One thing is for sure: you're NOT going to sit around on the computer all summer long; you can get job, internship or volunteer, but I'm not putting up with you getting up at noon, being on the computer all day and then going out at night!" 

Ahh, summer: what many of our teens wait for all year, and what many parents dread. What am I going to do with them? What are they going to do with themselves? If you don't have a lot of money (or even if you do), it's not necessarily an issue of "options," but rather an issue of what feels like control. That's not to say that figuring out what to do during the summer is happening for American parents outside of a specific economic context. That context, though, can be difficult to discern.

Why not just get a job and earn some extra money? That will teach my teen responsibility and she'll still get to have some fun during the summer.  And if you read the local press in most states, you'll find plenty of stories of how "bright" the summer job market looks for teens this year. But if you look at the national press, you'll see stories about how "dismal" that same job picture seems to be. A recent study by the employment firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas outlined a "slightly positive" outlook for teen summer jobs, for example, as compared to the summer of 2011. However, what does "slightly positive" mean when teen summer employment is at the lowest rate since the end of World War II (hovering around 30 percent for the last two years)? For that matter, what does it mean that there is a "slight rise" in consumer confidence or that "things are turning around" vis-a-vis the Recession? If you're unemployed or underempoyed and you've lost 40 percent of your net worth--like most middle-class families in the country--it doesn't mean much.

Your teen might tell you that "...he's looked and can't find anything." Should you believe him? Well, it all depends on your teen. It's true that the competition is enormous for summer jobs, as it is for jobs in most areas of the country. Your teen is up against older teens (with longer work histories), college students, college graduates (Bachelor's, Master's and Doctoral level), older workers who are still unemployed or underemployed and the rest of the millions of people looking for work. The current California seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate is around 11 percent. Employers often say that they'll choose older workers who apply, given the choice, because they have more willingness to be flexible in their schedules, they need the work for their families and have more work experience and proven responsibility, in general. So, should you believe your teenager?  Maybe.  Probably. But "I can't find a job" can also mean: "I'm discouraged, because I heard so much about the bad economy, that I didn't look;" "I don't really need a job, so why bother?" "I asked around and everyone said 'no'"; "I applied to 3 now what am I supposed to do?" or "Stop bugging me--you want me to get a job so bad and are bugging me so much about it, so I'm not inclined to want to look."  I could multiply examples easily and it's important that you don't automatically assume that you know what "I can't get a job" actually means. It could mean all, none or many of these things. And after all, this isn't something your teenager is skilled at; he or she is still a teenager. Would you like to have someone get angry and annoyed at you for something you haven't actually learned how to do well yet? Probably, most of you have had that experience--as teenagers. It isn't pleasant.

So, what should you do?  Well, it's like most things related to parenting: each opportunity, especially the opportunities that seem rife with conflict, are usually the most important opportunities to teach our teens something important about what we value. Adolescence is all about the development of your child's identity and its transformation from a childhood identity into an identity rooted in the adult world. Your child's entrance into puberty was the beginning of a series of tasks oriented toward the development of a unique identity—under the pressures of multiple and sometimes contradictory demands of society, family, school, friends, and the like. Erik Erikson called the particular developmental dilemma most associated with adolescence “ego identity formation versus role confusion.” In other words, if your adolescent son, for example, does not adequately negotiate the development of a stable and pro-social identity, he will experience role "diffusion"—problems with who he is and how he fits into the world (and what his adult roles are to be). But if he does successfully negotiate this developmental period, he “wins” a particular personal value or strength: fidelity. By “fidelity,” Erikson meant, in my understanding, the ability to see the world as it is—flawed and imperfect and full of setbacks and roadblocks—and to persevere, to commit, to stay engaged with the world of self and others, despite what a mess it is. He sees the good and bad in the world but still makes commitments and they are freely pledged with integrity, a sense of authorship and agency.

Your teenager-- trying to negotiate the current job market--is a perfect example of a situation in which you can support his or her healthy identity development. What should you do when confronted with the mess made of the economy by adults? How many times should you talk to a potential employer before "perseverance" turns into "inappropriate annoyance"? How do you respond to your teen's potential "lies" about how hard, how often or how pervasive their job search was? How will you negotiate with him or her the use of "free" time? What does "free time" even mean? How much will you step in and help them get a job? What are the effects of "doing it for them?" Do you believe that they have to "give back" or make some kind of pro-social use of their time off from school?  Each one of these questions and the hundreds of other questions like them all point to opportunities for you to teach your teen something about your values, and help them to develop their own identity. Can you fill in (for yourself) the blank at the end of these statements: "I know it's hard to find work, but .... " or "I know you've looked a few times now and ...."  If you fill in the blank with phrases like, "...if you don't find something this week, I'm taking away your computer," or " haven't even looked at all and have no idea what hard work is...." then the chances of this opportunity for supporting perseverance in the face of imperfection get lost and just become a power struggle. What would you want someone to say to you if you were trying to do something that was a stretch for your abilities or experience? Thinking of the summer as a war between needs or a fight over control of your son or daughter's behavior is the main reason why you'd dread the summer to begin with.  What else could summer be, for you and your teenagers? 

If you'd like to hear Michael talk about parenting teens, please join us at the book launch for
The Approximate Parent: Discovering the Strategies That Work with Your Teenager

7 p.m., Thursday, August 2, 2012
Books Inc., Berkeley
1760 Fourth Street
Reading, Q&A and author book signing

Books Inc., Berkeley


Abour our Organization...

Founded by adolescent specialist Michael Y. Simon, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (Lic. MFC 38305), former high school counseling director, noted speaker/educator and psychotherapist in private practice,  Practical Help for Parents  provides real-life solutions as you parent, support and understand the teens and pre-teens in your life. PHFP offers informative, entertaining, research-based workshops for students and parents, keynotes and presentations to high school and middle school parents, 
teachers and administrators; access to online Practical Help Tips, articles and web resources; and program development and consultation to mental health professionals, policymakers and schools/school districts.
The Approximate Parent Book Cover

Suggested References for Parents


Bellah, R. N. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American LifeNew York: HarperCollins, 1986.

Erikson, E. H. Identity: Youth and Crisis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1994.

Hinshaw, S., & Kranz, R. The Triple Bind: Saving Our Teenage Girls from Today’s Pressures. New York: Ballantine Books, 2009.

Lareau, A. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family LifeBerkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Levine, M. The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

Pope, D. Clark. Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001.

Postman, N. The Disappearance of Childhood. New York: Vintage/Random House, 1994.

Simon, M. The Approximate Parent: Discovering the Strategies That Work with Your Teenager. Oakland: Fine Optics Press, 2012.

Twenge, J. M. Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before. New York: Free Press, 2007.

Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement. New York: Free Press, 2009

Ask Michael...

I overheard my son talking to a girl this weekend. She’s a really good volleyball player and received a college athletic scholarship to play volleyball in college.  Anyway, I heard my son telling her that he was a star player on his volleyball team and that he was so good they asked him to be a mentor to the other players. It's true that our son played volleyball and was sort of decent, but he never mentored anyone and wasn't all that skilled. My wife said our son has made up stuff about himself before and also that his friends have asked her to verify things it turns out are untrue. He's even acknowledged to my wife that he has a problem with lying. I get lying to us about homework, but it seems weird that he would tell a girl he's interested in a bunch of bull that she could easily find out are lies. What do you think about this and should we do anything?

Kids lie to their parents about most important things (relationships/relationship status, accomplishments, where they are, when they're coming home, homework being done or not, etc.). Many kids lie profusely and do so into their mid- to late-twenties, until they feel okay about an identity that they can actually represent honestly, because now it matches who they've become, not who they want to be. Many teens don't even know why they lie so much, but they do it constantly and want to stop, but feel they just can't.
As far as a boy lying to a girl about his abilities and accomplishments: I imagine one of the earliest conversations in history went something like, "Hey, Org, how was your day today?" "Excellent, I killed 14 Brontosauruses with one hand--all while standing on one foot, but it was nothing." "Oh really, where is the kill?"  "Um, well, I felt it would be rubbing it in Erg's face if I brought back such a large bounty, so I decided just to bring back this one bird, which you see in front of you."
Anyway, I think exaggerating for a girl (or your guy friends) is commonplace...even if it’s a stupid, unnecessary or an easily verified lie. If you clearly overheard it (rather than were "spying" or eavesdropping on him), then it's up to you if you want to say something. When you directly accuse a teen of lying, they'll usually have to save face and lie about it the lie (or downplay it).  You can ask him, "Hey, you know I was right next to you when you were talking to so-and-so on the phone and I heard you say xxxx."  I wondered why you felt like you couldn't tell her what was true.  Do you think she would only like you or be impressed if you exaggerated for her?"  If you sneakily heard him lying, I wouldn't say anything because you obtained that information "illegally" so to speak...and the main issue becomes the invasion of privacy, not the lying. If you were "spying on him" and confront him about a lie, then he'll argue about you spying/eavesdropping and you'll argue about the exaggeration/lying and you'll both get nowhere fast.
He might say anything from "mind your own business" to saying nothing to all and leaving the room, to saying "I didn't lie" or "I DID teach my teammates--you don't know what you're talking about" or "Ummmm" or a host of other things before he would say, "I don't know why I exaggerated" or "Yes, I was worried since she is an athlete she'd only be impressed by someone who was super athletic, not just average."
If he doesn't leave or attack you, you have the chance to say, "Well, I know we're you're parents, but we love you with or without you being a fantastic volleyball player...and we'd hope you'd tell the truth most to the people you care about and want to care about was hard for me to hear you lie or exaggerate. You're okay how you are...not some exaggerated version of it."  You can also remind him that hes told you before that he thinks he has a problem with lying.
These should be short conversations and interventions...not lectures or long discussions, unless your son is the one talking, in which case, your job is to just listen, not talk much. That’s usually the most important thing.  If you talk more than listen, your teen may stop telling you what’s really true for him—which is hard enough to do at any point in time for most teens.

Copyright © 2012 Practical Help for Parents and Fine Optics Press, All rights reserved.
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