Q. I know you don’t believe in consequences, but is there ever a circumstance where a consequence is effective even when knowing the root cause of the behavior? Example: My 10-year-old son expressed this morning that he wished he didn’t have to go to school. He was moody and angry. I did some digging and turns out he hates music and it’s his first class of the day. I get it. I said missing school isn’t an option and asked if he could think of anything to make the day bearable. He was super angry and wasn’t open to hearing me and started to call me vulgar names/swears. I told him that calling me names is unacceptable—something I’ve told him many times. He stormed outside to ride his scooter for a bit, and I was left wondering if he should lose YouTube after school. Will it make him remember or think twice when he is in the red zone swearing at me? Is it just a thing parents do to feel in control when the situation feels so out of control? Can I do both? Does it make sense to say, “in our home when you call me vulgar names you lose privileges”?
We get freaked out about how our kids present themselves on social media and what and how they communicate. Much of that freak-out is justified. But remember, for centuries we have been altering our public self-image. Directing portrait artists and photographers to present the best you; attention on clothes and makeup to enhance appearance, wigs to cover unwashed hair. Letter writing has always allowed carefully thought-out words as opposed to spontaneous and possibly awkward conversation. We have always cared about our public image. Nothing new here—except social media presents a constant reminder that one’s “real” self is deficient.
Q. My son is 15 years old, so that means I shouldn’t tell him what to do, right? We have a pool, and I’d rather he swim than play video games. He prefers the latter. He seems to be all done with pool games as are his friends. When they come over, they sit with their feet in the pool and wait for their required outdoor time to end so they can go inside and play video games. Although I’ve adopted a pretty good ability to not be controlling, I’m finding it harder to apply this to my 15 year old than my older son. He wasn’t as much of a video game kid. Neither of them have been outdoor kids and I guess I have to finally get over it. Any thoughts or comments?
A. Letting go of control, what our children do and how they do it, is the greatest challenge for any parent. We have learned from lots of mistakes and want our children to benefit. But did we benefit from what our parents tried to tell us? We all have to learn in our own way at the time that is right for us.
Q. I don’t know what to do anymore about screens. My 9 and 12 year olds are not only on screens all day for school but then they crave playing their games and it’s all I can do not to just give up. I hate the way they behave when they get off and we end up in some kind of fight or argument because their attitudes are snarky and rude. What can I do to get a handle on it?
A. It seems that across the board everyone is hitting a Covid wall. Everything that is normally a simple problem turns into huge emotional upheavals. We all want to escape and feel normal again. For most kids, their escape—Covid or no—is into the world of gaming and watching gaming.
Kids who feel some level of incompetence at school, athletics, and/or friendships find solace and mastery in the video game world. With Covid, kids are stuck at home with parents who are always telling them what to do. Especially when school is online, they are less engaged than ever and feel frustrated and bored. It doesn’t matter to them that they have been staring at a screen all day. It’s what they gain in the gaming world that we need to pay attention to.
These are dark times even though it’s getting lighter outside. None of us ever imagined—even a month ago—that we would be sheltered in our homes, fearing the coronavirus, learning daily the frightening number of new cases and deaths, unable to get together with friends and family, wearing masks when food supplies must be refilled, and disinfecting mail and groceries.
Who knew we would either be lucky enough to be home with children scrambling to figure out how to homeschool and keep them occupied or unlucky enough to be an “essential worker” unable to be home with children out of school for who knows how long? Or to be alone. Or to be sick.
The unknown is frightening. When will Covid-19 be a thing of the past? Will it? When will we feel safe to send our kids back to school? Will we have a job, a business, a salary when this is over? Will town businesses, restaurants, and theaters reopen? What will life be like?
My favorite Leonard Cohen song is Anthem. I get a chill every time I hear, “There’s a crack, a crack in everything. That’s where the light gets in.” What an image for this time. There are cracks in this darkness and the light can come in when we see those cracks. But we have to look for them.
Am I screwing up my child? Have I failed? I’m so afraid it’s too late. Ever have these fears? Well, you’re in good company. Parents, mothers mostly, worry far too much about failing as a parent. It can be a debilitating fear that obstructs making connection with a child.
I’d like to convince you that your failures can be your child’s best teachers—if you’re willing to own up to them and learn.
Hey, we’re all human. We all lose it, we all make mistakes, sometimes huge ones. That doesn’t mean we can’t recover and move on better than ever. Your children need to see you falling down and getting back up again so they can do that too. And when you mess up with your child, recovery means connection and repair. Repair teaches humanity, humility, responsibility, and strength.
The Do-Over is one of the most powerful repair tools a parent has. And the beauty of it is that you get to choose when to use it. No need to worry about doing your best at those times when you feel at your worst. It’s those moments when both you and your child are frustrated, tired, and no longer able to cope when everything goes south. That’s when you react in those ways you hate and hear your mother or father coming out of your mouth with words you swore you would never say. That’s when you think your child is trying to get power over you—because you feel like you have lost all yours.
We all worry about the amount of time our kids spend on social media, how much of their energy it consumes, and how it effects our their behavior and emotions. Typically, a parent’s go-to is to fear the worst. When fear gets in the way, we go into control mode. We are constantly chasing the answer to, How much is too much? When and how do I put a stop to this madness?
When your kids reach the teen years, you have much less say over how they spend their time, and you worry and fear more than ever. Yet at the same time, having a connected relationship with your teen is paramount.
Andy Earle (https://talkingtoteens.com/), a researcher into teen life, has written this piece for me on how to stay aware and in charge of your teen’s social media time while maintaining trust and that all-important connected relationship.
How to Track Your Teen on Social Media (Ethically)
Losing track of what your teen is into online? Here are three ways to (ethically) track what your teen is doing. Parents today need to get more sophisticated on social media because teens are getting very savvy. We have to go beyond basic tools like SafeSearch and iPhone parental controls.
Q. I am currently feeling like a failure as a parent. My 12 year old daughter is smart, well behaved, does well in school. However, there are 2 main areas where we fight and tempers flare resulting in a tense hostile environment at home.
1) She sneaks food. She loves junk food like cookies and chips. We have a policy at home where the kids get to choose 2 junk items from the pantry as snack after school. And the deal is they don’t eat anything later. It works in most part, but she ends up taking 1-2 extra things on the side to her room. I am worried about the impact of constant junking on her teeth & overall health. She just cannot stop herself from eating. I cannot constantly monitor her and increasing the ‘allowed’ unhealthy stuff on a daily basis is not an option.
2) The other is her watching You Tube, again without my knowledge. She has to use the laptop for homework, and I cannot baby sit while she is doing that as I have another kid and work to take care of. And mainly I want to give her the independence of making the right choices in the long term. Watching screen distracts her from homework, impacts the quality of her work so it takes till dinner time to complete! Plus, I don’t approve of what she watches. While age appropriate they are a waste of time and not shows that will enrich her, improve her skills and help her grow as an individual.
Q. There were recently two child suicides in neighboring towns to us in less than two weeks, one of them a 13 year old. How does this happen? How can I protect my tween from a similar fate? I am at a loss. What is happening in the world??
A. Too many children all over the country seem to be feeling so forsaken that ending their lives is the only answer. How does anyone, much less a child, come to this conclusion? I cannot presume to have the answer. What we are left with is the question: How do we protect our children from such devastating despair?
In 2017, the suicide rate for 15-19 year olds was up 47% from 2000, the highest level in two decades. This doesn’t include 13 year olds. Much of the rise has to do with increased drug use and the effects of social media. But the question must address more fundamental layers. Many young people can resist drug use or moderate it. All are subject to social media. Some have addictive tendencies that are more vulnerable to drug use and some are victims of cyber bullying. This is not the result of poor parenting.
Q. I currently feel like a failure as a parent. My 12 year old daughter is smart, well behaved, does well in school. However, there are 2 main areas that we often fight about resulting in a tense hostile environment at home. One is sneaking junk food. We have a policy for the kids to choose 2 junk items from the pantry after school. It generally works but my daughter ends up sneaking extras to her room. She cannot seem to stop herself from eating. I cannot constantly monitor her and increasing the ‘allowed’ unhealthy stuff on a daily basis is not an option.
The other habit is watching YouTube without my knowledge. She has to use the laptop for homework, and I cannot baby sit. I want to give her the independence of making the right choices in the long term. Watching YouTube distracts her from homework and impacts the quality of her work. And I do not approve of the type of videos she watches. They are age appropriate but have no enriching content and are a waste of time. I would like her to watch videos that will enrich her, improve her skills and help her grow as an individual.