A large percentage of the problems that come to my office have to do with relationship or coexistence problems between parents and children. This tends to occur more frequently in boys than in girls, and it is from 11-12 years when they begin to grow in intensity. Before this age, the child is too young to show certain types of behaviors such as aggressiveness or defiance, while the parents still maintain that capacity to be authority before the child.
Another reason for the increase in these problems, in addition to the arrival of preadolescence, is that at these ages children begin to want things that border on the limits that parents impose on parenting. Wanting to spend more time away from home, arriving later, doing certain activities or not wanting some others (mainly homework) are situations that usually generate conflicts between parents and children, which if maintained over time can permanently affect the relationship of family members.
These conflicts are easy to explain: what parents want in certain situations is diametrically opposite to what children want. In the case of the use of the game console, for example, parents would like the child to play for only half an hour and only when all school work has been completed. For his part, the boy alleges that he arrives very tired from high school and that he sees nothing wrong in playing until approximately 5:00 p.m. to relax and start doing his homework. These situations are what cause a family to go to a psychologist’s consultation and my approach is always the same: to reach agreements.
The agreement is necessary because the “because I said so” does not work. The same works so that the son does not use the console (if we requisition it, for example) but it does not help the boy understand why it is not positive for him to make that use. The boy will comply not because he is convinced of the good faith of his parents but rather the opposite: he will attribute a negative intention to his parents and the “all they want to do is annoy me” will go around his head and generate hostility towards them. That will start a cycle of negative relationships that, as I said before, can lead to significantly spoil the family climate.
Some parents believe that reaching agreements means losing their authority by giving their children the power to decide, but nothing could be further from the truth. Reaching agreements implies talking, that both parties sit on a sofa and listen to the motivations of the other. This negotiation process will help parents understand that with current consoles, with 30 minutes of play you hardly even have time to start the console. And the kid probably understands that playing a long time before doing homework is not the best for his attention and his ability to think clearly. This dialogue should result in an agreement, a midpoint where the two parties meet, satisfied despite not having achieved what they originally proposed.
With the parents in my practice I use the metaphor of the road to make them understand that negotiation does not imply loss of authority. Each family imposes limits, as if they were marking a path. Parents prefer that their children travel that path right through the center, away from the dangerous shores. But sometimes it is necessary to adapt to the needs of that child who is less and less child, and we must allow him to walk closer to the limit of the road. Of that path that parents mark because they believe it is the best for their child, without letting him get away but allowing him to get away from the center a bit. Give freedom within limits – that’s what really works in parenting.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.