Ep 119: Fresh Advice from Dad

Episode Summary

Marc Fienberg, author of Dad’s Great Advice for Teens, helps us kick off the new year with some fresh advice for teens–and the best way to deliver it!

Show NotesParenting ScriptsInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

There are so many things in life that teens, no matter their high school education, are not prepared for. Rarely are there standard courses on how to monitor our own technology use, balance friendships and relationships, and effectively resist drugs and alcohol. It falls on parents to deliver life advice. And with so much to cover it can be tricky to know where to start!

Moreover, it’s daunting to do: being the brunt of eye-rolls and bringing up sometimes awkward topics generally isn’t at the top of anyone’s to-do list! Parents know their teens will just tune out as soon as discussions get lecture-y and cliche. 

Luckily, Marc Fienberg joins us this week to help with the issue of how best to dole out advice–and how to say it. Marc is the author of Dad’s Great Advice for Teens: Stuff Every Teen Needs to Know About Parents, Friends, Social Media, Drinking, Dating, Relationships, and Finding Happiness. A father of four, Marc found when each kid became a tween/teen, there were certain pieces of advice he consistently wanted to impart. Significant age gap between his kids meant he had the chance to tweak and adapt his advice for each kid–and his teens let him know if his advice was any good! 

In speaking with fellow parents and friends into account his own teens’ feedback, Marc has a wealth of knowledge on what advice is sound, what strategies work, and the best ways to deliver advice to your teen. 

Speak From Experience

Marc’s key piece of insight on how best to deliver advice is to do what no one else can: speak from your own experience. There is perhaps nothing that perks up your teen’s ears more than hearing stories about their own parents’ (mis)adventures. (Bonus points if another grown adult they know is in your stories!). Marc notes that not only will you have your teen’s full attention, but using your own experiences will lift your story out of the realm of cliche and prevent eye-rolls. 

Using your own experience has the added bonus of built in vulnerability, which Marc asserts is vital for a healthy teen-parent bond. Teens need to know it’s okay to “get it wrong”. Sharing times when you messed up or got hurt shows your teen no one is perfect–and that’s normal. When it comes to giving advice on romantic relationships, sharing your experience is particularly impactful for teens. 

The teenage brain is wired to find new relationships incredibly rewarding. You may notice your teen sloughs off plans with family and friends to hang out with a love interest. Instead of lecturing generally on the importance of maintaining relationships, Marc suggests pointing out the relationships you have from your high school years that have lasted. It’s fairly rare that we keep in touch with the people we’ve dated in high school. But the friends we make in our teen years often last a lifetime–maybe you’ve even zoomed them recently! 

This is not to say teens shouldn’t bother dating–Marc believes it is an important time for young people to put themselves out there and test the dating waters. Our role as parents is to help adolescents navigate the choppy seas of young love and keep everything in perspective. 

Seeking Balance

One of the ways in which parents can help teens keep perspective is to push them to keep things balanced. Instead of accusing your teen of spending all their time with a new love, a better approach would be to try a relationship time-spent exercise. Whether you as the parent are in the right or not, is not the point: accuse your teen of something and they will immediately be on the defensive. 

You can try making it a thought experiment by saying something like: “If you have 10 hours a week you can spend with everybody, what do you think is a good way to break that up?” Most teens inherently know that they shouldn’t be spending every waking moment with one person. However we all fall prey to obsession from time to time–the teen brain just more often than the adult brain! It may take a parent sharing their own experience with losing friends over a relationship to wake up the teen to the fact that relationships are a balance. 

Similarly, teens can get sucked into their relationship with technology. And it’s a parents job to make sure they stay balanced in their relationship to social media/entertainment as well. Marc’s advice to avoid overdoing it with technology is to challenge your teens to balance consumption with creation. 

Marc’s rule with his own four teens on technology use? One hour of content creation gets you two hours of consumption. Creation can be as simple as making TikToks or as complex as running a podcast. It’s the act of flexing those creating muscles that’s the important thing in Marc’s mind. 

Additionally, Marc is adamant that we get our teens to balance the content they do post. Whatever our kids put on the internet is, in a large way, a part of their ‘brand’.  Marc thinks it crucial to remind our teens that when they post content, it should be more than just them looking good. It can be so easy to get wrapped up in posting only pictures where we look beautiful, pretty, handsome, or sexy. Marc says parents should challenge teens to post things that show other facets of their personality. How can you share your other interests in pictures or videos?

In the Episode… 

It was a blast to speak with Marc this week and hear his fresh advice and stories on raising teens. In addition to vulnerability and relationships (personal or otherwise), in our interview we cover:

  • What exactly to say when advising your teen on relationships
  • Why buying drugs for your teens might be the next-best approach
  • The power of going with our gut
  • How to help your teen (and yourself) tap into your gut
  • Why we should explicitly tell our teens not to make us happy

As Marc states, no kid is going to take all your advice, but delivering it in an engaging way, and surprising them with your vulnerability, will at least get them to listen for longer. Cheers to starting the new year off with an advice-giving refresh and to closer, more connected relationships for all!

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1. Let your teen how someone treats them is the most important thing in a relationship: 

“I want you to be happy and if it’s with someone from a different race, religion, political party, as long as they treat you like a king or a queen, that’s what’s going to make everybody happy.”

-Marc Fienberg

2. Ask your teen how you can keep them accountable:

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3. Serve up some candid advice on being brave:

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4. Be clear on where you stand on drug & alcohol use:

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5. If your teen admits they’re addicted to vaping OR refuses to stop buying vape supplies from friends:

(Members Only)

6. Encourage your teen to strike a balance when they start new relationships: (1 of 3)

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7. Encourage your teen to strike a balance when they start new relationships: (2 of 3)

(Members Only)

8. Encourage your teen to strike a balance when they start new relationships: (3 of 3)

(Members Only)

9. Help your teen see the long-game of relationships:

(Members Only)

Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: Talk to me about this book. The book is Dad’s Great Advice for Teens and a pretty bold statement there. What makes you so sure this is great advice? Where did it all come from? And what inspired you to put it all down in a book?

Marc: Yeah. Well, I’ll start with the last one that’s the easiest one.

Marc: My four kids they’re spread out in age and when they were younger, I would give one of them a piece of advice and I’d think, “Oh, that was actually not great advice, but that was good advice.” And I’d write it down so that when the other kids were old enough, I’d tell it to them. So I started writing down the messages I wanted to give to my kids and the list got longer and longer and the document got longer and longer.

Marc: And I just decided when they turn 13, I’m going to hand them this Bible, back then it was called great advice from your father. And when each of them turned 13, I went over to Kinko’s and printed it up and gave him a little bound book. And eventually I realized, “Oh, well, my kids like it, maybe other kids will like it too.” And that’s how it developed.

How I know its great advice. So listen, I’m pretty humble about it. I’ve been humble many times as a father. I’ve given great advice to my kids only to have them turn around and challenge me and give me what the real great advice was. And I was more than happy and proud to say, “Oh, you know what? My advice was off.”

Andy: Yeah. So it’s field tested?

Marc: Exactly. It’s field tested and still developing. I’ve actually invited my readers to challenge me and I told them, if I’ve like your rebuttal, I’m going to put it in the next book and say, “Here’s my great advice but John here has some different advice that’s probably even better.” So I want it to be a living document in that sense.

Andy: That’s cool. I like that. And so your kids felt like they have been following this advice. They got that Bible at age 13, and how did that  go over?

Marc: Well, it’s interesting. First of all, let’s be honest, they don’t take all my advice–

Andy: Yeah.

Marc: Right? No kid’s gonna take all the advice. There’s 25 pieces of advice in my book plus a few bonus ones. If they take one or two, I’m a happy father and I’m proud that I can help them. So, the bar is a little bit lower. But I’ll tell you this, there are some easy topics in my book that I’ve talked to them about directly and that they enjoy talking about, making the best use of their time, being their own person, don’t try and make your parents happy, make yourself happy. But then there’s some other parts that are a little bit harder to talk about, like drugs and drinking and sex and smoking and vaping. And I think they appreciated getting that advice from me in written form rather than in discussion form. And that’s not to say we haven’t discussed it–

Andy: Right. Yeah. It’s easier to kind of digest or something [when it’s written].

Marc: Yeah. Exactly because they get embarrassed about it.

Andy: Right.

Marc: And so that’s not to say I haven’t spoken with them about those topics, but I think they like getting it delivered when I’m not in the room. And I think that’s, what’s parents have found great about this book is they buy this book, they read it themselves to get some advice and then they simply leave the book on their kid’s bed and let the rest happen.

Marc: So, I’m not advocating never having conversations with your kids, use this as a tool. And when you do have conversations with your kids, my biggest tip is don’t look them in the eye, they hate eye to eye contact. Whenever I have my big conversations, I’m always like side-by-side driving or sitting looking out, they don’t want to you look in the eye when you’re talking about drugs or sex or anything.

Andy: Yeah, that feels intimidating–that’s a lot. Yeah.

Marc: It’s a lot. Yeah. And I can’t stare to look at one of my kids who shall remain nameless actually when they were younger, used to hide under a blanket whenever we talk about this, and we’d have to have the whole discussion with someone under a blanket.

Andy: Whatever works…

Marc: Hey, as long as they’re listening and digesting, I’m happy.

Andy: So why do you think that it’s so important to teach teenagers about the importance of figuring out who they want to be and to focus on their own definition of what they want in life rather than what their friends and parents want for them?

Marc: Yeah. So I think that defining your own success is key to what makes us all happy. And I think there’s a lot of adults these days in therapy right now because their parents didn’t do a good job of getting that across to them.

Marc: There’s a chapter in my book that probably is one of the more controversial ones called don’t make your parents happy. And the key there is, as parents we think we know what causes us and our kids to be happy, a successful career, a lot of money finding someone in our lives, a spouse or a significant other who is in our same religion or our culture or are the same background. And when it comes right down to it, I think eventually our kids, our generation, the next generation has figured out that even though we share the same genes with our parents, we don’t share the same dreams of our parents.

Marc: And so I encourage teens and I encourage the parents to figure out what makes them happy. And if it’s not being a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant, then do what it is that’s going to bring you happiness because your parents are going to talk about your career and it’s going to bring them happiness in the 1% of the time that they’re sharing their amazing kids accomplishments with their friends. But you’re going to have to live the 99% of it day to day. And if you don’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer, then you’re the one suffering, so that makes the most sense. And certainly, especially when it comes to dating people and finding the person you want to settle down with, parents idea of what’s going to make you happy is oftentimes really far from what’s going to make your teen happy. I just tell parents be careful about pushing your kid towards someone of a particular background or race or religion or political party. Tell that kid, “I want you to be happy and if it’s with someone from a different race, religion, political party, as long as they treat you like a king or a queen, that’s what’s going to make everybody happy.”

Andy: You have a great discussion in here about how to tell if someone really likes you, how to tell how someone really feels about you based on their actions versus their words. Why do you think this is so important? And how can parents teach this skill to their teens?

Marc: Yeah, I think for teens in particular, it comes down to the summary of it is don’t believe a word your boyfriend says or don’t believe a word your girlfriend says, believe what they do. You know, actions speak louder than words. And it just comes down to hammering that home because especially in the teenage years where the intersection of finding your morals and ethics and honesty and the intersection of becoming sexually active and interested in developing relationship with whoever it is that you care about, those things intersect and one often wins out and it’s not just with boys lying to girls about it, right?

Marc: That’s the cliche and I was really careful when I wrote that chapter, not to stereotype it as don’t believe a word a boy says because girls will do it too, so no one’s impervious to it. At this age, especially when you’re starting a new relationship, take it for what it is, listen to all the nice things that your partner says to you and about you, but realize that it’s easy to fake the words and it’s not so easy to fake spending time together, doing nice things for the other person, spending hours and hours just hanging out with them. That’s what really proves that somebody wants to be with you for something more than just the sexual gratification.

Andy: So what if it’s basically just looking for whether they’re investing time and energy in the relationship versus if they’re not?

Marc: Yeah. I think there’s a lot of different signals and signs and I go through a lot of the details but it does really come down to that. It’s separate out the things that they do from the things that they say. One of the big warning signs to me is always, “Hey, do you want to do something this Saturday?” Right? And your significant other says, “Oh, that sounds good. Let’s see how it goes.” That to me is a signal that, “Okay, I want to leave my options open because there’s a very good chance I’ll find something to do with somebody that I like more than you and I want to spend more time with. And you’re my fall back.”

Andy: Right being with you is like the highest priority then. Well, yeah-

Marc: You jump into the opportunity, right?

Andy: Right, yeah I’ll schedule things around it. Well, let’s just–

Marc: Exactly. And those are the actions that can’t be faked, right? If you’re really just interested in someone because you want to fool around with them, you don’t allocate your whole Saturday to spending time with them. You say, “Hey, at the end of the night after the party is over, can I come over?”

Andy: Yeah, yeah. Right.

Marc: And listen, if that’s the relationship you’ve developed with someone then fine. But when you’re trying to figure out someone’s feelings, I just advise my girls and my son. It’s nice to hear those things, but some people aren’t sincere and to figure out who the sincere ones are, look at what they’re doing and not what they’re saying.

Andy: You talk about the importance of creating things, being a creator not a consumer. And you’re not necessarily talking about making beautiful works of art or writing poetry or something like that. You have a different take on what it means to create, what are you talking about?

Marc: Yeah. So this one’s, it’s one of the more ephemeral pieces of advice I’ve given the book in that it really comes down to doing rather than being inactive. So consuming I define as watching TV, listening to music, consuming in a big way, social media, right? Watching TikTok videos and posts and all that. And listen, I don’t say don’t do that. That brings us enjoyment and enjoyment it’s important and everybody wants to unwind and relax.

Marc: But that stuff is so easy to do and it’s such mind candy for us, it’s so relaxing and enjoyable and guess what, in some cases, educational, right? There’s some really informational posts and YouTube videos out there that make us better people.

Marc: But I also think it’s important, especially for teens to be a creator too. And so I define creating as not just painting and writing and drawing, but also create your own social media posts, create your own TikTok videos, create your own Instagram photos and also wider than that, right? Like try and build a presence, try and build a website, a blog because developing your interest as a teen.

Marc: And I feel like it used to be easier–now, listen, I was distracted by the television when I was a kid. Now it’s just a computer screen instead of a television screen–but when the TV goes off, we were drawing or building Legos or writing or doing whatever. And I do think that that builds creativity in kids, right? If you look at the most popular, the most viewed TED Talk/ of all time, it’s all about how schools and schoolwork haven’t developed to modern times and they suck the creativity out of our children.

Marc: So I think that focusing on being a creator and not a consumer helps our kids keep some of what I think school takes away from us and our kids. We don’t just want to create these robotic automatons that know algebra and calculus and history and reading and writing. We also want to create people who can creatively problem solve, right? Even if you become a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant being great at those jobs requires thinking out of the box and creating new solutions to problems that haven’t been seen in the legal field or haven’t been seen even in the accounting field.

Marc: And so I think being a creator added for teenagers is important to develop that skill that I don’t think schools do a great job of handling these days.

Andy: So what can you do as a parent? If you see your kid doing a lot of consuming and passively watching and sitting in front of the screens and bingeing Netflix, what kind of thing could you do to motivate them to start doing more creating?

Marc: Yeah, it is not an easy problem I’ll tell you that. I have tested many, many solutions that some have worked better than others. So I’ll tell you that the top ones that I recommend, the first one is the toughest and that is like a lot of different areas in parenting model good behavior yourself, right? If you’re a parent that comes home from work and sits in front of the TV…it’s tough, right? If you’re watching TV from the moment you get home from work, until you go to bed, there’s probably not much you can do to make [your teens not] do it.

Marc: So I would start with yourself, but I would also set some time limits. And so we have struggled with our kids in finding what that right time limit is. And more importantly, how to enforce it without being totally draconian in our measures.

Marc: And so the best thing I can recommend is make a deal with them. And the deal for our kids is you keep track of your creating versus consuming time and we help them define what that is. And we say for every hour you spend creating something, you can spend two hours consuming.

Marc: And they feel like they’re winning.

Andy: Well, that’s two in one, yeah that’s great.

Marc: Yeah. We started with a one-to-one and we realized, “Okay, we need more inspiration.”

Marc: Now, here’s the funny thing, these teens they’re brilliant negotiators. They should be running all their union negotiations and all the negotiations on the world because they have an amazing way of redefining what “creating” is–

Andy: “Well, see technically what I was doing was..” yeah, right.

Marc: Exactly. Yeah. I got roped into giving my kids TikTok because they said, “Oh, well, we’re going to be making these great videos and dancing and learning dance.” Yeah and that’s creating. And I’m like, “Yeah, that sounds really good. Okay.” And sure enough, then I started watching, how much time are they actually learning new dances and doing this versus just scrolling through 30 seconds.

Andy: Yeah. Right.

Marc: And the ratio isn’t in their favor. So, be careful of their tricks and try and stay one step ahead of them actually more realistically, try and stay only one step behind them, because they’ll always be ahead of us. They’re just too smart, they really are.

Andy: And you have a chapter that I really like about taking photos. And specifically you talk about taking photos that focus on different aspects of your personality instead of just taking photos that show off how you look. And I think you make a really good point in here. That says, “You know, if you’re at the beach, instead of taking photos of yourself in a fashionable swimsuit, lying in a sexy pose on the sand illustrating how beautiful you are, take a photo of yourself in a fashionable swimsuit surfing the waves, illustrating how adventurous you are or take a photo of yourself in a fashionable swimsuit reading at the beach, showing how intellectual you are or take a photo of yourself in a fashionable swimsuit swimming in the ocean, showing how athletic you are.”

Andy: I think it’s a great point because it’s like, you have to think of the fact that you’re building a brand for yourself with every piece of media that you create and that someone’s going to have to glance at that and figure out, what do you stand for? Who are you? And like companies, when they’re trying to figure out what their brand is, they come up with a few words that they want or a few adjectives or characteristics that they want to communicate to the consumer about, what is this brand? Or what does this company stand for? And you have to do the same thing for yourself today I think because people aren’t going to give you a huge chance and go deep and inspect everything about you.

Andy: They’re going to take a glance at your social media profiles or take a glance at some of your content and instantly start developing ideas about who they think you are. And so it’s like, you have to be really clear about what it is that you want to communicate. And then, like you say, “It’s like every picture that you take, everything that you post has to just in some way, be hitting on one of those things.” But, so I wonder what you can do as a parent to teach that to kids or is that also about modeling and doing the same thing in your own social media or about having conversations?

Marc: Yeah. So, I think actions always speak louder than words. So, I think you could tell them a million different things, but if you’re being a bad example, yeah it’s going to be hard to counteract that.

Marc: But even if you’re not on social media at all, this is a really, really tough one to deal with because you’re fighting a billion or trillion dollar ad industry, right? That most of what we see is focused on beauty and body image and looks and listen. The other thing that was difficult about giving this piece of advice to kids was, I honestly think the best piece of advice is just stay off social media when you’re young, because who needs it. But realistically, that’s just not going to happen. Right? Cat’s outta the bag. So I try and tell teens to think of it in terms that they’re used to, right? Which is how you just described it as a brand. They look at a photo in a magazine or online or on TV. And for that one photo says a lot about what the brand means and stands for and does.

Andy: Yeah. Right.

Marc: And so just realize that you post something online that is advertising for you. That is your brand and it’s not just your brand today, but it’s your brand ultimately for the rest of your life, because it’s on the internet forever.

Andy: Never goes away.

Marc: It never goes away. And that’s not to say you can’t reinvent yourself a million times, but it is to say that it all accumulates and it becomes part of your narrative. And so, the difficult part is acknowledging that … Listen some kids want to be known simply for their beauty and is that awful? Well, I don’t think it’s awful we have a whole modeling industry and we don’t think those people are awful people, but I think at the teenage years, that’s where all the focus is. It’s always on your looks and your body and your fashion.

Marc: And I think as you get older, most of those people decide, “You know what? I want my focus now to be on being a great doctor or being a great architect or being a great janitor or being a great person.” And so counteracting that once you get older, when all this stuff is out there about yourself and by the way, not just the images themselves, but you’ve built all the people around you to think of you as the person who poses at the beach in a bikini and has the best body or the best face or the best whatever. So you have to counteract all your friends and social circles. I think this is one of those parenting issues where you find the right balance, right? And eventually it’ll click to them. Hey, you know what? I’m sick of people saying, “Oh, I saw your post. You look beautiful, you look beautiful, you look beautiful.”

Marc: I want them to say, “Oh, I saw your post. You’re so smart. You’re so great at singing. You’re so great at whatever.” It’s a tough thing to balance so I have to say it. It’s a really difficult thing for parents and for teens, I think, to juggle.

Andy: And there’s so much pressure, depending on how many likes things get that you start finding out like, wow, it gets a lot more likes when I just do it this way. Yeah.

Marc: Yeah. And that’s awful, right? That’s exactly what our teens are learning. They’re measuring themselves on likes and they’re realizing that the more skin they show or the more makeup they put on and the sexier they pose, the more likes they get. And we have to try and figure out a way to teach them that there are better ways of getting likes. There are more valuable likes, right? It is better to get 10 likes.

Andy: Yeah, not all likes are created equal.

Marc: Yeah. Oh, I’m stealing that, that’s exactly true. Right?

Andy: Yeah.

Marc: I’d rather get 10 likes from look at how smart you are versus a hundred likes from look how beautiful you are. Of course, that’s from someone like me, who’s got a face for radio, but we do what we can.

Andy: Another piece of great advice I really liked in here was about relationships. And specifically about keeping in touch with your friends when you’re in a relationship and not getting so completely a hundred percent in the relationship that you just six months go by and you haven’t talked to any of your friends. So, why is this important? And how do we teach this to our teenagers? Especially if they are really excited and gung-ho about this new person.

Marc: Yeah. So, don’t neglect your friends for your significant other right? Great advice number 10. And it’s a big one because teenagers, that’s the time when they get their first crush. Right? And they get their first boyfriend or girlfriend. And of course, something new and exciting like that you want to just amp it up to a hundred percent-

Andy: Totally. Yeah.

Marc: And you can’t blame him for that. And because it is exciting and it makes them happy and that’s great. But if you look at all the science behind happiness, right? The number one driver of happiness is relationships. And, but it’s relationships, right? It’s not just that one person that you get everything from, even in a marriage, right? If you’re only relating to your spouse or your partner you’re in trouble, right? You need to have other relationships that define you.

Marc: So I think that’s what we have to teach our teens is this new relationship is really exciting. Just don’t spend a hundred percent of your time with them. And find balance. Right? And by the way, I do feel like especially when a girl or a boy get a new relationship, I think it’s totally fine to have that take over their life for a time in a big way. So meaning 90 or 80% of your time you spend there, but you got to keep those friendships because most people do not marry the first person they date.

Andy: Correct.

Marc: So at some point there’s going to be a breakup. And if you haven’t kept in touch with your friends for six months and now your boyfriend or girlfriend dumps you and you’re left with no boyfriend, girlfriend and all your friends are gone away. Now you’ve got nothing. And that makes that breakup 10 times harder.

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About Marc Fienberg

Marc is the author of Dad’s Great Advice for Teens, the first in a series of more than two dozen “Dad’s Great Advice” books in the works. In addition to being a father of four, Marc is an entrepreneur, business coach, and award-winning screenwriter, director, and producer with more than a decade of filmmaking experience. Marc’s feature film, Play the Game (starring Andy Griffith and Doris Roberts) was the third most successful independently distributed domestic feature of 2009. 

Prior to starting his company, Story Films, Marc had a successful track record developing and marketing new businesses and products at high-tech start-up ventures and Fortune 500 companies, including Microsoft and Fruit of the Loom.  

A Chicago-native, Marc currently resides with his family in Santa Monica, CA.

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