It’s natural that kids are going to press limits and defy parents. They’re growing and testing limits and the results when the limits are enforced aren’t always pretty. But what do you do with a kid who ignores you in the moment and proceeds with whatever it is that they want? That’s the situation that I learned about this morning when a father banned television for his middle-school son and the boy then took the remote and sat down and flipped on the set. What are the options available?
Let me start by saying that I’m a firm believer in parental/paternal authority, what some now consider to be a quaint notion. I’m legally responsible for their safety and behavior and I believe that they simply don’t have the experience and judgment to handle whatever comes their way. So if I expect them to listen when those crunch times arise, I need to be able to depend on them to listen – and obey – when the stakes aren’t so high. That means that they don’t have the option of picking and choosing when to listen; they can question me if they want and we can discuss it, and there have been moments when I’ll even change my mind if the objection both makes sense and is properly presented. But the child – and that includes teen – is expected to toe the line when required. And that’s where it gets dicey.
So if Junior takes the remote and clicks on the television despite the ban, what are the options?
- Do nothing and leave the room, or do nothing and continue to talk/lecture/argue with the boy. The reality is that the advantage now lays with the boy. He’s ensconced on the sofa and watching television while Dad’s the one who is standing there talking. The thought probably running through his head is that if he continues on the same path, then Dad will tire and eventually leave and he can continue on with the show. The obvious problem with this approach is that the kid’s learned that he’ll win and the situations will continue and worsen through the years until the situation is untenable.
- Physically go after the remote and remove it from the boy’s hands. Adolescent boys are particularly difficult with testosterone and growing masculinity and the risk is that there’s going to be a full-blown brawl. Worse than that, if the kid is hurt then you have to consider the prospect of being charged with abuse. If that doesn’t happen, you’re still faced with the roiled emotions and damaged pride that can created further damage.
- Know what the boy truly values and then use leverage to regain the remote. If the kid has a cellphone, use that to regain the remote. Threaten to take the cellphone and if he physically has it, then promise to call the carrier and cancel the contract. The key is that if you’re going to use leverage, you have to follow through with whatever’s promised. It helps then to have a history of following through with what’s promised and that’s something that comes from paying attention and following through from the youngest ages. You can still do it if it’s new to the boy, but the situation will still be a mess. Full disclosure: I have a track record of following through on unpleasant consequences and have used leverage successfully on a number of occasions with all three of the kids.
That’s the reality that you often won’t see on the parenting shows, a reality of tension and unpleasantness that simply has to be waded through. There’s liable to be yelling and while I don’t spend my time bellowing, there are actually moments when it serves a purpose. But the important thing is to make sure that Junior toes the line because if he doesn’t, then the unpleasantries will spill outside the house into other, more public, venues.