‘Dear Agony Aunt, my 12-year-old daughter has developed a weird ocular condition – she keeps rolling her eyes when I speak. Do you think it’s something that can be cured or should we wait seven years for her to outgrow it before we seek professional help?’
Photo: Tonya Hester
Is this frazzled parent describing your little darling? If so, relax: you’re not alone. All over the suburbs, the Tweens (eight to 12-year-olds) are revolting (hmm…). So what are the most common battles, and how can you come to a truce? Ann Cawood, a counsellor at Greenfield Girls’ Primary School, Cape Town, with nearly three decades of parenting and counselling experience under her belt, defines the TOP THREE BATTLES…
THE PROBLEM: Cell phones, TV, computers, PlayStations, Facebook and anything else the universe has created that parents can’t even turn on. Mother and Father want to shield their tween from the negative effects technology can have on a child’s social skills, sleep patterns, health, schoolwork and even (given the threat of internet predators), safety. To a tween, this is inexplicably lame, especially this last parental fear – who on earth is going to trick them?
THE SOLUTION: Acknowledge that technology is here to stay and that while it petrifies you to imagine the terrible things that could happen to your tween, you can’t wish it away. Instead of banning technology, teach your child when and how to use social media appropriately, and warn them that just one word or picture used or sent unthinkingly might haunt them forever. Gathering up your tween’s cell phone at bedtime stops under-the-cover SMSing into the night.
THE PROBLEM: Yes, yes, we all buy into the hope that academic success will give our child a greater chance of succeeding in life. But little Johnny or Janey does not connect that Grade 6 History test with success in adult life (of course, quite often they’re right, but don’t tell them that).
THE SOLUTION: Avoid inflating power struggles by harassing or coercing your kids. It will only cause them to dig in their heels mulishly… and drive you to distraction, since there’s precious little you can consistently do to make them complete their assignments. Instead, out-manoeuvre them! Agree with them that homework is their issue and you won’t police them daily, but also point out what will happen if school feedback suggests they’re not working hard: it could be bye-bye to their favourite TV programme, fun outings or special treats. Be sure not to fall for puppy eyes when it’s time to hold them to their end of the bargain.
THE SOLUTION: Every parent wants their children to speak nicely to the shopkeeper, answer the phone politely and attend family gatherings with a smile on their face. But those hormones are working overtime in our tweens, urging them to mark out their independence just a little. Which is where that eye-rolling comes in.
THE SOLUTION: Number one, don’t forget about people who live in glass houses – you have to be a good role model and display good manners yourself, and that includes being nice to your spouse or partner! Be very specific about the particular rules that underpin your family’s values, for instance, no name-calling, hitting, talking behind people’s backs, etc. Then introduce a system whereby the child who chooses to break the rules faces the consequences, eg deduct an amount of pocket money that you’ve agreed beforehand.
‘Parents are the last people on earth who ought to have children’
(Samuel Butler, Victorian novelist)
Photo: Tonya Hester
Don’t give in to the pressure of what other families may be doing. Stand firm and let your tween know that your family has its own unique needs, rules and boundaries. Every family member should take part in setting clear, fair and firm borderlines that are age-appropriate. Involve the children in deciding guidelines around the respect with which all family members should be treated, the consequence of someone not doing their chores, etc. Ensure your child knows what the limitations are, as well as what to expect when they transgress the boundaries. Empathise with their feelings when they make mistakes, but don’t budge in matters of discipline.
Flexible boundaries may give children temporary feelings of victory, but eventually destabilise them when they realise their parents don’t adhere to any set rules. Rather than punish, which may involve hitting and instilling fear, a loving parent disciplines consistently and gets better results. For instance, issue a warning with a time frame such as, ‘Unless your room is tidy by three this afternoon, you’re not going to your friend’s birthday party’. Avoid nagging and constant reminders, but follow up on the consequence if the activity isn’t done in time. Another strategy: confiscate personal property such as cell phones, iPods or whatever else is of value to the offender for a reasonable duration (seizing a cell phone for a year is punitive!).
STAYING CALM (!) in all this is key. For this to happen, parents have to learn to manage their reactions. Using humour to diffuse volatile situations is invaluable. When things get too intense, step back and lighten up. Laughter, fun, dancing and music are important. We should never make fun of our children, but finding humour in situations to diffuse possible conflict situations is a vital skill in any family.
Try this: how three Cape Town parents work with their tweens
RICHARD, MARKETING DIRECTOR AND FATHER OF FIVE: ‘We try to be aware of what programmes our children are watching, and to ask questions that lead to discussions about what’s wrong or right about the programme. We’ve different age limits for different technologies, and make our views and expectations clear. We involve our kids in our lifestyle where we can, invite them into our discussions, and try to spend time together in a fun way such as hiking up the mountain or going for an ice-cream. We also pray in many situations!’
ELEANOR, OFFICE MANAGER AND MOTHER OF TWO: ‘We allow negotiation over certain issues, but we reserve the right to the final say. It’s essential for parents to operate from the same page for the sake of unity at home.’
GRACE, FULL-TIME MOTHER OF TWO: ‘I think it’s important to take account of my kids’ feelings when putting boundaries in place – the Bible says don’t exasperate your children! I also try to help my children choose friends from families with similar value systems to ours.’