Q: Our 15-year-old daughter is very demanding and, to be honest, self-centered. One of the things she does is ask one of us for something and demand an instant decision, as in, "Can I go to the mall with my friends?" If she doesn't get the right answer, she begins to yell and become disrespectful and/or she goes to the other parent (in person, phone, text), but cleverly fails to tell him/her of the first parent's decision. That, of course, causes tension and sometimes conflict between the two of us. We feel caught between a rock and a hard place. If we tell her that she must wait on a decision until the two of us can collaborate, she begins to throw a temper tantrum. On the other hand, if one of us makes a unilateral decision, we often regret it. Any suggestions to help us resolve this?
A: Yep. First, make a list of "permissions" that the two of you agree upon, that don't require collaboration. Henceforth, either of you can make any one of those decisions unilaterally. When the list is complete, share it with your daughter, making perfectly clear (or as perfectly clear as is possible with a teenager who is demanding and disrespectful) that any item not on the pre-approved list requires collaboration. Tell her that if she can't wait until collaboration is possible, the default answer is "no." Inform her, furthermore, that yelling or any other form of disrespect means that "no" is the automatic answer to any and all requests for a week. That ought to do it.
Q: We have discovered that our 14-year-old son is bragging to the world over social media of exploits – even of a sexual nature – that he's never experienced. We took away his phone privileges for a week, but that hasn't stopped it. Help!
A: Given the well-known fact that smartphones enable irresponsible behavior in many if not most teens, I fail to comprehend the rationale behind otherwise intelligent adults giving them smartphones. There is, in fact, no rationale; there is only nonsense like "Well, that's how they communicate" and "Let's face it, their social lives depend on smartphones" and "I want us to be able to get in touch should an emergency arise."
I know of plenty of teens who do not have smartphones. Instead, they have "Model A" phones that do not connect to the internet; phones that will call and text (laboriously) only. Without exception, said teens are not suffering socially. They may be at times inconvenienced, but they are not suffering. They are somewhat behind the information curve in their peer group, but they are not socially isolated. Albeit not happy with that one aspect of their lives, they are not clinically depressed. Can someone please explain to me why it is bad for a parent to say to a child, "So, if I understand you correctly, you're telling me your life's not just as you would have it; in which case, all I have to say is 'welcome to the real world, kiddo.' "
Let's face it, folks. Smartphones create problems for parents. At the least, and even in the case of children who only use them responsibly, they make extra work for parents. Can someone please explain to me why, when an alternative exists, otherwise clear-thinking parents would choose to make extra work for themselves?
C'mon. Stop fooling around with this. In your son's hand, a smartphone becomes instantly toxic. Take his phone away ... for good. Give him a "Model A." Tell him he can have a smartphone when he's living on his own and can pay for it and the monthly bill. That will certainly motivate him to emancipate as early as possible, which is certainly a win-win.
(Visit family psychologist John Rosemond's website at www.johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.)