Power plays make for exciting stories, but bad parenting.
Scorned, mistreated and disrespected by their unruly teens, parents are now striking back. Remember the dad who shot his daughter’s laptop because she was rude? Or the mom who made her daughter sell her iPod online because she was bullying? It’s like these parents are in a gang – not a family – and need to assert dominance and force respect. I understand needing respect. I understand requiring respect. What I don’t understand is how bullying begets respect.
In a recent piece from parenting expert John Rosemond’s syndicated column ( “Bad Attitude at Home – and Only at Home”), a mom asked Rosemond why her 13-year-old girl was gracious, helpful and personable with everyone but her family. She wanted to know how to “reach” her daughter who stays in her room reading until forced to participate in family activities, when she then makes everyone miserable.
Before revealing his solution, Rosemond speculates on the potential cause of this girl’s ‘troubling’ behavior. Knowing nothing more about this situation, he determines that, like most girls her age, this one feels “a life that’s devoid of drama has no meaning,” and in response, he asserts that the girl has invented a dramatic soap opera in which she casts her family as the villains and herself as the victim. The outdated reference to soap operas tips me off that Rosemond lacks an understanding of the modern experience of a thirteen-year-old girl. More importantly, who can possibly speculate as to why she stays in her room and is crabby with her family? Perhaps her family makes her feel badly. Perhaps she is struggling with friendship issues. Perhaps she is being bullied. Or, let’s go with the most common and likely rationale: perhaps she is 13. Accusing girls of playing the victim and also victimizing their families feels, well, mean.
From “victim” to “brat,” Dr. Rosemond resorts to name calling, but his biggest offense is in his final solution – drum roll please – simply removing her bedroom door. Rosemond is practically giddy with the anticipation of the daughter’s shocked response. No problem, the door can just be returned when the “real daughter you love and cherish” both reappears and proves herself by acting like a “real” daughter for a full month. Even my 12-year-old son found the use of this term offensive in this scenario. Is a “real” daughter one who becomes a good actor and a perfect pleaser? The phrasing is dehumanizing, and treads on dangerous ground.
At the end of his explanation, Rosemond calls the door removal technique the “cheapest therapy your daughter will ever have.” This is therapy? Removing the daughter’s door doesn’t solve a behavioral problem, except by manipulation and extortion. It’s a bullying tactic that says, “You want to be alone? I’m going to deprive you of the one thing you want to show you how much power I have over you.” Since the girl is in her room reading – not doing drugs – let’s leave the door alone and address the truly problematic behavior.
All day long, teens are judged by a jury of their peers on their progress. Kids are quick to let each other know when they are developing too soon or too late, moving too slowly or too quickly, appearing fake or not fitting in. The constant evaluation by their peers wears teens out. By the end of the day, it’s no wonder they want to decompress. When parents pile on the judgment, too, it only pushes their teens further away.
Instead of punishing the child, give her choices. Not all family events need to be mandatory. Make big deal events mandatory (birthdays, graduations, etc.) and explain that if she attends with a pleasant attitude – engaging others in conversation, not complaining, and using appropriate manners – she can choose to skip some non-mandatory family events like movie night or dinner out. I suspect once the daughter begins to feel her choices are respected, she’ll opt in more and more.
I wish I could tell this mom that adolescence, while trying, can be fun for both mom and daughter if they can be flexible with each other. I believe that treating a 13-year-old like a baby through dramatic power moves will only exacerbate the girl’s behavior and build her resentment. The best way to enforce family rules, protect other family members and preserve the family structure is through understanding the middle school stage and modeling respectful communication.
Michelle Icard is the author of the book Middle School Makeover: Improving the Way You and Your Child Experience The Middle School Years (Bibliomotion, 2014)