The next example shows how you can prevent problems before they arise. As you read, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the parent active in the child’s life?
- Are the limits involved realistic?
- Is the problem bigger than the parent can handle alone?
- Should the parent seek outside help?
- How might you handle a similar situation with your child?
Janice and Christopher (Age 14) 2,5,6
What’s the Story?
Lately, Christopher has been spending a lot of time in his bedroom with the door closed. When Janice knocks on his door, he rarely answers her; when she enters the room, he is lying on his bed listening to his radio with his headphones on. “Can’t you KNOCK?” he yells. When Janice asks him what he’s listening to, he says “Nothing.” Christopher has gotten four after-school detentions in the last month, mostly for getting into fights and arguments. Janice knows that Christopher shouts at her and at his younger sister more often than he used to, but she’s not sure why he’s so angry or how to help him.
He’s always kept to himself, but I’ve never seen him like this. The littlest thing can make him explode. It doesn’t make sense. His grades are fine; he does his chores; he dresses the same. He’s just so angry. What if he hits someone? What if his yelling changes into punching? What can I do? I’m really worried about him.
I wish she would lay off! She’s always asking stupid questions, like “What are you listening to?” or “What’s wrong with you?” She probably thinks I’m doing drugs or that I worship the devil or something. Nothing is wrong with me. I just want to be left alone.
What’s the Point?
Christopher may be trying to keep his mother out of his life, or he might just want time by himself to think. In his mind, there’s no point in answering her questions because she couldn’t possibly know what he is going through, thinking, or feeling. Many kids Christopher’s age feel this way and go to extremes to prevent their parents from knowing anything about them. After a while, many parents stop trying to know their kids because their feelings get so hurt when their kids reject them. Sadly, both the parents and the kids end up feeling very alone.
While Christopher may keep pushing her away, Janice needs to let him know she cares about him. She can’t make him talk to her; she can’t force him to be her friend. But she can show Christopher that she loves him, she is interested in him, and she isn’t going away no matter how mean he is to her. By not forcing the issue, she also shows him that she respects his privacy.
Janice should also seek out new and different ways to spend time with Christopher. Being involved in the same project or going somewhere “cool” together is a more natural way to reconnect and redefine their roles with one another. It also allows their relationship to accommodate the new, young-adult Christopher and his interests as things continue to change.
Janice needs to let Christopher know what is acceptable and what is not, when it comes to how he treats her and his younger sister. Janice should make it clear that he must treat her with respect and speak to her and his sister without raising his voice. Christopher may try to isolate himself even more as he gets older, so this issue is worth the struggle because it sets a minimum level of contact for family and son at this stage of their lives. Janice accepts that Christopher doesn’t want to share his life with her, but she will not accept him being disrespectful to her or her daughter.
Of greater concern is Christopher’s level of anger and how he deals with it. His yelling and fighting is a new thing that may be a sign of trouble. Anger is a tough emotion for many kids to handle because our culture frowns on expressing anger. Most of the contact kids and adults have with anger is seeing it expressed in its most extreme form: violence. Sadly, violence is the only way that many people know to deal with their anger.
Janice may want to enlist some outside help to teach Christopher how to deal with his anger in a more positive way. Many community centers, health care professionals, school counselors, and teen groups teach classes on how to manage anger. They show people how to control anger and how to express it without hurting themselves or others. Another option for Janice is to get Christopher involved in a healthy outlet for his anger. Running, boxing, writing in a journal, playing the drums, even crying are ways to channel anger so it’s more constructive than destructive. Having an outlet for anger and other emotions keeps them from building up inside, which also prevents them from bursting out in harmful or violent ways.