I’d like you to picture the scene:
A young man, age 17, attends private school and is starting driving lessons next week. He is addicted to computers – and I mean addicted. As a result of his addiction, he is not engaging in family life so his Mother is removing the computers. And not for the first time.
His response to, and language towards his mother is unbelievable. He calls his mother a f****** b****.
The result of this situation is that all communication has ended. The boy is not talking to his mother and his mother is now deeply upset with a whole gamut of emotions going on. She’s worried, sad, angry, indignant and hurt that her child could treat her this way – not to mention wondering where on earth she went so horribly wrong in bringing him up.
Ok – so now you can imagine the situation. Perhaps you are judging parent or child? Thinking this would never happen in your relationship? Or perhaps, you are thinking… ‘Yes, I understand that feeling’ whether to the same, a lesser or a greater extent.
Let me tell you, this kind of thing is happening up and down the land and is unleashing complex and distressing dynamics in families.
For the purposes of this article I want to focus on two contributory factors: Addiction and Contribution.
It is well known that someone can’t be helped until they want to be helped. Over the years I’ve worked with drug addicts and you don’t even begin the conversation until they’ve been off the drugs for a certain length of time. This gets the drugs out of their system and if they get through this ordeal it bodes well for any intervention.
The thing is, computers are altogether a trickier subject. It’s very difficult to remove ALL of them because even quite young children do their homework, look things up and communicate with them. Sometimes they do the Social Media bit on PC’s and schoolwork on Apple devices. Even if you remove the PC’s they’ve probably got a Smartphone or Tablet.
This means there is little change of a digital detox. Which means it’s like trying to help an alcoholic whilst letting them hold a bottle of whisky at the same time.
What happens is that ‘discipline’ comes in, often in the guise of the ‘removal’ of computers. Which swiftly leads to bust ups like the one mentioned above.
Even more worryingly, I frequently see this accompanied by a lack of Contribution within families.
This happens when the child / children get to a certain age and no longer expect there to be consequences to their actions, no matter what they do. A bit of a sweeping statement maybe, but they certainly don’t get the idea that a Family is a ‘Community’ and all members must contribute to the benefit of the unit.
When they are little, we give children jobs to do and wall charts with stars so they can see themselves earning points. Laying the table, drying up, bit of weeding, it’s all good stuff and renders them Contributing members of the Community. However, far too often with older children, this stops. We leave them alone to do their homework, we wait on them hand and foot to give them the best opportunity to study. They forget about the community and the above happens!
Once the fracas has started, it’s too late to take action. It’s much more effective to have a conversation earlier on ensuring that child knows that the decisions and choices they make have Consequences.
Looking back at the opening situation, the only consequence would seem to be that his PC is taken away. This results in our young person having to find another way to communicate, play and do all the other things they do with their online friends; and trust me, they are resourceful and will find a way!
At the risk of being provocative, I’ve thought of a much more interesting list of things they could lose as a consequence of their behaviour:
All things that will considerably impact their life and which, of course, they never actually HAVE to lose! All they need to do is follow/comply with the community rules.
So, what might those rules be? Well, polite is certainly a good start. Thoughtful and helpful are also great qualities.
At 17 they are almost an adult and could already choose to be married. They are certainly old enough to get a job and rent a flat. Therefore, as a life-lesson, learning that we are not owed a living, a home or anything else – that ‘entitlement’ has to be earned - can only be useful.
I would urge though to avoid, in the heat of the moment, saying that they don’t need to stay in the family community, they are very welcome to leave! I can already hear the wails of distress from parents and cries of “UNFAIR!” from the youngsters.
Parents need to decide what behaviour is acceptable in order for them to continue supporting the child.
It’s your home, your family AND your CHOICE.
Once you have made those decisions, talk about it with your child or young person.
I’ve used the word ‘child’ in this article but actually, by the time they get to 17, you are living with an adult who is perfectly capable of joining in a conversation about how things are going to be. And together, decisions can be made.
From experience, young people are often harder on themselves than the parents would be and the beauty of this is that it removes the need for raised voice discussions, the frustrated removal of computers or other punitive measures.
If the code is violated, everyone knows what will happen.
As the Meerkats would say “Seemples”.
All you, the parent, needs to do is, quietly and firmly enforce the code.
I am concerned for parents who seem to have forgotten all their own hopes and dreams in their striving to comply with the ‘new way’ of doing things.
Trust me, teenagers have always had a mind of their own and a desire to do things their way.
Here’s a quote from Socrates [470-399 BCE]
“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.”
Hmmm… nothing changes!
Society has spawned conventions that enable us to exist together. Courtesy and Contribution are high on the list: “Thank you so much” and “How can I help you?” is a much more harmonious approach to living.
Teach them skills and qualities which, throughout their life, will make your youngster much better equipped for getting a job or achieving their hearts desire. After all, people suddenly become very obliging when you’re nice to them.
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