I received a text message from an avid reader (as she claims) of this column. Lilibeth, who hails from Sagbayan Bohol, laments about how her 12 year old son has changed dramatically; from a sweet boy into a griping adolescent who now knows how to talk back whenever she admonishes him.
According to her, he only lightens up when he is allowed to play in the internet. But she is worried that he had become so engrossed with it, playing the whole day, missing meals.
Since her husband works as a seafarer, she dons the role of both mother and father to him. While she disciplines him, she can only do so much, short of actually physically punishing him because according to her,corporal punishment is not anymore applicable to this generation unlike before.
Lilibeth, first of all, thank you for following this column. Secondly, Iâ€™d like to assure you that the changes you see in your 12 year old son are normal and within stage expectations. However, if your relationship is already significantly strained and your sonâ€™s priorities are affected, then you really need to keep your acts together.
I have said this before and will say this again, parenting the adolescent starts way before they reach puberty. Because when these turbulent years come, the quality of the relationship that is built since childhood will determine the level of influence you will have with your teenager.
So, question Lilibeth. How much love does your son actually feel when he was growing up? You will know this if you asked him while he was still younger. And of course you can ask him these sorts of questions only during quality time with him.
Nevertheless, let us see what we can do with your present dilemma. If you are worried that he is talking back and that to you is disrespect, perhaps you can reframe such belief. At this stage, becoming argumentative is part of an adolescentâ€™s cognitive development. With their new found ability to think, they find opportunities to exercise their reasoning, take risk, and criticize othersâ€™ views, all for the sake of exploration and not really to disrespect.
So what do you do? Try empathetic listening. It is to listen without judgment. It is to listen with the goal of understanding the other person and where he is coming from. But it is not necessarily giving in to his demands, but rather showing respect to what he needs and feels, without giving up your influence. When he feels respected, he will also respect you.
Now, this takes practice.Â But I bet you will do everything just so you can effectively guide him. It is during this time of listening that you can clearly set your rules with him. When I say clear, it must be crystal clear.
How much playing in the internet can you tolerate? One hour? Two hours? Half day? You need to agree with him how long is long enough. And you have to lay down the consequences with him and follow through. If you cannot, then he will not also honor his part of the deal.
Please understand Lilibeth that his behaviour now is part of the process of gradually becoming independent and finding his own identity. At this point in his life, peers start to become more relevantthan parents. But do not worry too much. Itâ€™s not a rejection of you. You are still his secure base and he will always come back to you especially if he knows that he can talk to you and feel safe when he does so.
Continue to model appropriate behaviour for him. Know his friends. Treat them to lunch or snacks. Be interested in what he is interested about. Even if your husband is not physically around, involve him in the discipline by finding time to talk with him on the phone or the internet with your son.
Do not be reactive. If your son sees that you are reacting too much, you will lose your influence. Remember, he is more ingenuous in his thinking now. Be calm. Show him that you are in control especially with your own feelings and responses to him.
Lastly, know that you are not alone in this challenging task. There is no one sure way to parenting and we all struggle to find the best fit for our personalities vis-Ã -vis our children. And the change you expect may not happen overnight. But if you are consistent with your strategies, you will reap the fruits of your faithfulness in the long run.
P.S. For consultation, you can contact me at email@example.com or text me at 09177201218. (By Kit Nemenzo Balane)