A dad I know has an ongoing conflict with his thirteen-year old son ‘Joey’ about the teen’s online gaming. Joey craves time on the computer to play the game he loves, and his dad limits Joey’s computer times so that his teenager can also get his homework done and go to sleep at night. Joey has been lying and sneaking around in order to get time on the computer, and recently the teenager went so far as to creep into their garage in the middle of the night while the whole household was asleep so that he could play on his dad’s laptop inside his parents’ car where nobody would hear him.
This parent felt hurt and angry and he wants the disobedience and the lying to stop. Can you blame him? Many of us have been in similar situations with our teenagers; we think the boundaries we are setting are helpful and reasonable, yet our stubborn kids can’t seem to comply. Why is it so hard to just get along?
If I was going to mediate this conflict between the father and the son, the first thing I would do is get them each to take as much time as needed to explain to the other what was important. For example, I would ask the teenager, “Could you please tell your dad what is important to you about having time on the computer?” Then once the kid had a chance to fully express himself it would be the dad’s turn and I would say to him, “could you please tell Joey about your concerns with the computer gaming?”
Now, I’m totally guessing on this one because I have not actually mediated this particular conflict, but from my experience here are some things the teen would probably say:
- It’s really fun to keep going up level after level and improving my skill and getting deeper into the game.
- When I play the game I get to be totally in charge of what I want to do and how I’m going to do it. Nobody tells me where to go or what to do; I get to make all the decisions myself.
- I feel good about myself when I’m playing the game. I don’t have to share with my sister or make the teacher happy. It’s all about me.
And here are my guesses about what might be going on for the dad:
- For me it’s really important that Joey does well in school and that means completing homework and being rested and ready to learn in the morning.
- Success in school is essential because I want Joey to have choices when he is older. If he has good marks when he graduates from high school that means he will have lots of options about what he could study in college and what schools he could get into.
- I am worried that Joey is becoming addicted to gaming and that all the indoor sitting around will mean he doesn’t spend enough time outside or playing sports or interacting with his friends. That can’t be healthy.
You don’t need a mediator to have this kind of conversation. It sounds really simple and rational to take turns communicating and listen to the perspective of the other person. Should be easy, right? But we who have been there know that it can seem impossible to stop the voices in our head that say, “The kid needs to learn that enough is enough! He is lucky I even let him use the computer at all. With all this lying I should just take the damn thing away and he’ll have to get a job and buy his own computer!”
Taking the time to actually listen to what the other person has to say about the ‘problem’ can be transformative for the relationship all on its own. If that is the only thing you do, if taking the time to actually listen is the one tool you have in your box, you are already WAY ahead of most parents and you should give yourself a round of applause.
Too often I see parents and teenagers in a bad habit of arguing where they are each pushing their point of view HARD at the other person, but both of them are on the offensive and neither one is actually receiving the communication coming at them. By slowing the communication way. down. then both people have a chance to say what is on their mind and be fully heard.
HERE ARE SOME TIPS:
- You are the adult in this relationship. Keep working on acting like one. I’m not saying it’s easy and I’m not saying it has to happen today. Remind yourself: “I need to figure out how to be the more thoughtful and patient person here. I am the leader in this relationship. My son is looking to me for support and guidance, not indignation and righteousness.”
- If you aren’t ready to act like an adult, remove yourself from the situation. It’s okay to not be ready to have another difficult conversation with your teenager. You are merely human! You might want to sleep on it first, or blow off some steam with exercise, or talk with a friend about what’s happening. Take care of yourself and spend some time reflecting; it will help.
- YOU will have to listen first. If you demand that your teen listen to your point of view first, you are just reinforcing the same old argument. You need to demonstrate that this conversation will be different; you are the adult and the leader. Model good listening to your teen by giving him lots of time to explain his views, and when he is done say, “is there anything else you would like to say?” Or ask a clarifying question like, “What did you mean when you said ‘I feel really good about myself when I am online gaming’?” Really show your son that you are paying attention. When he seems totally finished talking say, “I would like to tell you about my point of view now. Could you take a turn to listen to me for a few minutes?” If your teen isn’t prepared to give you space to talk then he is likely too upset to have a productive conversation and he needs to remove himself. Don’t push him to have this conversation if he isn’t ready unless you want another argument. The more you give him respectful listening with your full attention, the more he will then listen to you.
- Make it easy for your kid to act appropriately. Remember when he was just learning to walk and you had to baby-proof the house by putting all the fragile and slightly dangerous objects out of reach? You did this because there is no negotiating with a toddler and no way to explain to a baby the dangers of electrical outlets. Have you noticed it can sometimes be hard to negotiate with teenagers too? If you don’t want your teenagers to have access to alcohol then don’t keep any on your property. Similarly, if you don’t want your kid on the computer at night then lock it up or sleep with it or keep it password protected. There was a time when I was a bit worried that my son might take my vehicle for a nighttime joyride when I wasn’t around. Did I lecture him about ‘the rules’? Did I ignore my intuition? No. I just kept all the car keys with me at all times and I never said a word about it. I had peace of mind and we didn’t have a single fight about unauthorized car use. It’s the easiest thing in the world to resolve a conflict that never was!
What kind of things do you argue with your teen about? Tell me in the comments below!