Q. I have a 16 yr. old daughter home from boarding school after 3 years. Since school started, she has been with “friends” every evening till 8 or 9 PM. On weekends, she has been out at least till 11 PM. She wants me to extend weeknight curfew to 9 PM and to midnight on weekends. I had said no, that she needed to be home by 6-7 PM at night and by 9 PM on weekends. She said that she does not have homework and gets bored at home with nothing to do. She brought home her first grades report — mostly As & Bs, except a D in Biology and an F in Language Arts. What are your thoughts on curfews?
Remember sandlot baseball? Neighborhood kids got together anytime they could down at the empty lot, out in the street or at the playground to choose teams and play ball. No coaches, no parents, no supervision. The basic rules of the game provided a structure within which the kids decided their unique rules of playing together and the consequences of not following those rules. Sure, there were fights.
Sandlot ball doesn’t happen anymore. Children learn the rules of sports by instruction from adults, many of whom are invested in winning. Adults set the rules, teams, schedules, pressure, and consequences. Parents yell from the sidelines telling their kids what to do. Children have lost the opportunity to make, play by, and problem solve the rules of any game. They must defer to adults all the time. This is not good for our future.
Q. My 8 yr. old daughter, M, started playing with B last year and became her best friend. Towards the end of the year M became quite possessive of B. The situation escalated when B’s mother decided to “ban” B from playing with M. When this school year began, the ban was still on. I learned of it for the first time and also talked to the other mum. M was confused and angry, thought B was lying about the ban. She called her a liar and shouted at her which is very unlike M. She was still not ready to talk to me about it, so I couldn’t comfort or reassure her. It seems to me that girls this age don’t know how to play in groups at school.
When we engage in power struggles with our children, it means we are invested in being right. When we must be right—”I’m the parent, I know best. You must do what I say”—the child is wrong and is left feeling powerless. The child then must fight back to preserve integrity; either that or the easy-going child submits again and again learning in the process to seek the approval of others to gauge her self-worth.
Engaging in a power struggle keeps the parent in the position of having to be right.
Backing down from the fight may feel too vulnerable for many parents. The parent expect the child to back down, to give up, to acknowledge being wrong — in other words, the parent expects the child to be the grown-up first.
Q. I’m concerned about my almost 15 year-old boy. He is depressed and with good reason. He is slightly on the spectrum and has A.D.D. (no hyperactivity). We’ve moved twice in 14 months and we’re currently renting. He is a creature of habit and our lives have been very unpredictable for almost three years. He lost his baby brother when he was 6 and had to deal with Mom and Dad’s grief. He is totally quiet at school and therefore not making friends. He has never really talked much, especially about emotions. My husband is not open to much of anything except talking with him. He is very open with my husband, thankfully, but my husband is very unpredictable and emotional.
All parents struggle with fears and worries about their children and many end up just getting in their own way. When you take your children’s behavior personally and use your authority to control them to do what you want, you may wind up creating the scenario you most fear.
The problem comes when we think it’s our children who need to change when indeed it is us. Whatever you need to do to get to acceptance is the answer.
The following is a story from one of my clients that I find truly inspiring. Her struggles to understand her son and ultimately herself have led to a wonderful relationship. I hope it motivates you to trust your children and let go of a small bit of your fears. You will always have fears and doubts — you wouldn’t be a conscientious parent without them. But in the moment, when your child needs your connection, you must be able to at least temporarily put those fears aside.
Being Your Child’s Friend and Parent
Q. I do welcome your advice and think you speak a lot of sense, but I am not sure about your advice to be your child’s friend in one of your articles. What is wrong with being a mum? I am the only person who can officially be regarded as mum in my daughter’s life and I feel very proud to be so. I am not sure being a friend is possible as the friendship is automatically unbalanced. I have a number of very good friends, some long term and we have quite balanced relationships, involving give and take. I do not regard my relationship with my daughter as balanced, and she does not seem to understand give and take. I would also say she is a very high maintenance friend, and therefore I would go out of my way not to be her friend if she wasn’t my daughter. I don’t think she is like that with her peers though – I think their relationship is balanced. When choosing activities, we try to pick nice things to do and see, and we get a lot of resistance from her until we get her there and then she loves it. We also get resistance around food and most things at the moment – she is quite selfish and does not seem to understand the notion of helping out, and she wants things from shops all the time, which is wearing.
In the wake of the recent college admissions scandal, my concern is with the students who are waking up to a whole new vision of themselves. Many of them from fifty known families—so far—apparently knew none of what their parents were up to—until now.
Some received a sports scholarship in a sport never played using photoshopped headshots; some had their SAT and ACT tests corrected by paid off proctors; some even had their tests taken for them. Coaches at the elites took huge amounts of money from an agent of a falsified non-profit who took even more from parents desperate to give their children a prestigious resume and a bumper sticker for their cars. The illegal non-profit allowed the parents to deduct their payments as donations.
Stop Catering to Food Demands
Q. My kids, 5 and 3, have had catered food of their choice their whole lives, and we can’t figure out how to switch without enduring weeks and months of misery at the table. When we tried a year ago, we gave up after about a week and a half of screaming and crying at every dinner. After a long hiatus, I tried again, thinking the kids would help plan the menu and cook. They agreed to try a homemade mac and cheese. They took a few bites, declared it disgusting, and started crying for their usual (pbj for my son, pizza for my daughter). We also had other items they like on offer—pineapple and bread—but they wouldn’t eat. After 30 minutes of crying, my husband and I agreed to give in but to get advice on how else we might do this more effectively, and less painfully. An additional challenge is that we are vegetarian and tend to prefer healthy, fairly sophisticated foods. Since they won’t eat mac and cheese, they are unlikely to eat barley pilaf with kale, shiitake and marinated tofu. I’m willing to compromise my own palette to aid their development, but I end up feeling quite resentful when I am stuck eating mac and cheese (even with veggies) when they don’t even eat it.
Toxic stress in early childhood can harm children for life, warns the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Don’t think your children have experienced toxic stress? All children do to differing degrees. Whoever said childhood is bliss didn’t know what he was talking about. Children experience stress just by being a child. From nightmares, worry about transitions, being afraid of the dark or thunder storms, social fears, children have a hard lot. And that doesn’t cover huge emotions and dysregulation that they cannot possibly understand when asked, “What’s wrong?” Then being punished, criticized, or threatened for behavior they can’t control…. You name it, a day rarely goes by when a child doesn’t experience stress.