Friday, March 9, 2012

Shooting a laptop? I didn't see that in any of my parenting books!

I recently watched the video that went viral on YouTube of the father shooting his daughter's laptop in response to her angry diatribe on Facebook regarding her parents!!  Typical teen response, not typical parent response.

Just a little bit of brain development info here to help make this typical teen response a little more clear: teen brains are not fully hard-wired (or myelated) until they reach their mid-twenties. In a recent article on NPR by Richard Knox, Francis Jensen, a pediatric neurologist at Children's Hospital in Boston, stated that a crucial part of the teen brain — the frontal lobes — are not fully connected. "It's the part of the brain that says: 'Is this a good idea? What is the consequence of this action?' " Jensen says. "It's not that they don't have a frontal lobe and they can use it. But they're going to access it more slowly." That's because the nerve cells that connect teenagers' frontal lobes with the rest of their brains are sluggish. Teenagers don't have as much of the fatty coating called myelin, or "white matter", that adults have in this area.Think of it as insulation on an electrical wire. Nerves need myelin for nerve signals to flow freely. Spotty or thin myelin leads to inefficient communication between one part of the brain and another, says Jensen....plain and simple that's why they make so many mistakes!!!

Our reaction to their mistakes is the crucial part of parenting. What is that father who is shooting his daughter's laptop teaching her about respect and revenge?

Even though teenagers look like adults, they're not. We need to be the role model of respect and "the right thing to do". This isn't the Wild West and we're not a bunch of cowboys. We need to start thinking about what messages our actions are conveying.

When my son was 13 years old, we got into an argument about washing the dishes. The last comment he made to me was, "I'm not washing the dishes and you can't make me." As I was getting up from the couch to tear the skin off his back, my husband stopped me, put his arm around me and asked me a very profound question, "How do you want this turn out?" Very good question since both my son and I are power people. If you tell either one of us no, we have to do it anyway just to prove you wrong. This could have been an argument that went on all night. Instead I took the opportunity to take a few deep breaths, think about what I wanted my son to learn at that moment, and talk to my husband about the STEP skills we had learned.  I went into the kitchen and said to my son, "Listen, we're like a pack of dogs here...we look out for each other and help each other out. I wash your clothes, make you dinner, give you spending money, and drive you and your friends around not because I have to but because I want to. Now, I feel confused because I never speak to you that way and I need for you to show me the same respect. How can we make this work out?" We talked a little more and he ended up washing the dishes, not happily and not without grumbling and complaining, but he did it. And, I have to say, he apologized to me later. Something he had never done before. I think the turning point for him was that I maintained and modeled respect. He didn't always respond that way but what my son saw consistently from his father and I was respect, and as he aged and gained some maturity, he in turn reflected that same respect to us and others.

It's our role and, yes our duty, to be the grown up here. We have more life experience and we need to put on our parenting pants (even if they feel tight) and model what we want our children to be as adults. Sure, shooting a laptop on YouTube looks great and it's so easy...but taking the time to calm down, think about what you want to accomplish, and model it (even in the face of anger and immaturity) is a lot harder but more of an investment in your child's emotional development and, in the long run, more of an investment in your future relationship together.

If you'd like to learn more about STEP and how to deal with teenage (and children's) angst, consider taking a parenting class. You can call CARE of Southeastern Michigan at 586.541.0033 to find out dates and locations throughout Macomb County.

And don't forget to tune into the next Macomb Daily parent chat on Wednesday, April 4, 11:30 am, at Our topic will be the signs of depression and suicide in our children and teens.