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.
A. Food: Think about it this way:
Your daughter has a sweet tooth. She is too tempted by sweets to be able to discipline herself. She doesn’t care about tooth decay or what junk food is doing to her body. That’s your job to be in charge of until she is old enough to care about what goes in and down and how it affects her health. She just knows what is available in the pantry and what she wants. When it is limited, she has no recourse but to sneak. Allowing two junk food items means that is acceptable food.
My advice is not to increase her allowance but to eliminate junk food in the house. Do not buy food that is not okay for your kids to eat. You can buy lots of relatively nutritious snacks that are organic, less processed and still satisfy a sweet tooth without a lot of processed junk and sugar. Then you don’t have to worry about what your kids eat, nor do you have to police her eating and get upset about sneaky behavior. Forbidding anything always leads to hoarding and sneaking the forbidden fruit — no matter what is forbidden, including screentime.
Don’t expect her to be able to limit herself to what you say is okay. Expect that she will want to choose for herself and will always choose sweets when they are available. You are working against her rather than with her. Buy healthy snacks and not very many. Let her work out with her sibs who gets what. Perhaps once a week or more provide a special treat for everyone. That way sweets are less of an issue and they will not be in her face tempting her.
B. YouTube: My advice is to trust that your daughter is smart, well behaved and competent in school.
You described her this way, but I believe your fears are getting in the way of your trust. She is a child and her job is to do what she wants when she wants. Expect this. Your job is to decide what she can have and what not — but with the understanding that she is not, nor should not yet be thinking only about what is best for her to see. She is not yet concerned with watching what is enriching or good for her in the long run. Do you think this is what you thought about when you were 12? Were the programs you watched on TV ones that enriched you and improved your skills? I highly doubt it. After a long day at school, working hard and coping to be a good student, she wants chill time. The fact that she is smart, well-behaved and does well in school indicates that she does care about how well she does. But when she doesn’t have to work, she wants to have fun.
You will think about her future, but it is unlikely that she will in the way you hope for many more years. And I advise you to not think too hard about the future or you will be tempted to lead her in the direction you think is right for her. You cannot know that. We must all step back after supporting and guiding and learning what our children need to have the confidence to move forward. We should be sitting back and watching their lives unfold in miraculous ways — which it will when we give them the support they need but not the direction we think they should take.
Unfortunately, Youtube is one of the biggest draws for kids these days and they so easily get sucked in. Again, instead of expecting her to limit her own time so she is not distracted from the things she doesn’t want to do like homework, work with her and together come up with how much time is reasonable to spend vegging on YouTube. But do understand she wants and probably needs to veg.
Problem solving is the key to making sound agreements. You say what you want, she says what she wants and the opinions and points of view keep sparing with each other until you come up with a compromise you can both agree to. The rule of problem solving is that you both have to agree before a decision is made final. Then agree on this for one week at which time you will both reevaluate to determine how the agreement has worked for both of you. Make the week appointment and put in on the calendar. Do not say anything during the week, but if she cannot keep to her agreement, at reevaluation time, tell her it has not worked for you. Stay away from blaming her and focus on what worked/didn’t work for you. If she has not been able to stick to it, that tells you it is too tempting for her to be able to regulate her own time— yet. Then you can suggest a tool to help her stop at the agreed on time. There are many management tools to monitor time spent on devices so the parent is not in the policing role.
Also, I suggest that you get informed about what she likes. As often as you can, watch with her. Let her know you want to know what interests her. Never criticize what she watches. Instead ask her what it is about the program that she enjoys. The point is you want to be curious not critical. You can certainly share your opinion but own it rather than judge the program. Get her talking about what she likes and why. That may teach her to be more discerning. As long as it is age appropriate, let her simply tune out into nonsense for a bit and waste her time – especially since she is a diligent student. We all need to let our brains just be entertained for a bit. If you get involved in it with her, you might also make some suggestions of other things to watch together. Of course, you can’t do this all the time. But this kind of involvement in what your child likes is as important as any limit you can put on her.
And come at all this with realistic expectations — of course she wants sweets when they are in the house, of course she wants to watch drivel on YouTube. It’s when our expectations are off — she should be able to limit herself, she should want to watch only programs that enrich her mind — that our emotions get the better of us, and we find ourselves parenting from a perspective that is sure to push our kids away.
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We punish our children in an attempt to keep them from pushing our buttons, often escalating the original problem into a cycle of anger and blame. When Your Kids Push Your Buttons is not about what to do to your kids to get them to stop pushing your buttons. This book is about how to be the parent you wish you could be-the parent that only you are holding yourself back from.