Drawing lines: is it too late?

Drawing lines: is it too late?
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First Published: Fri, Dec 18 2009. 09 43 PM IST

Locked: Assign fixed phone hours.
Locked: Assign fixed phone hours.
Updated: Fri, Dec 18 2009. 09 43 PM IST
Initially, my cellphone was a plaything for my son. He grabbed it as soon as I returned home from work to play games, download ringtones, click photos, etc. Since I’m not half as tech savvy as he is, I was quite happy to let him. Close relatives, however, have always been squeamish about the habit—they don’t allow him to touch their phones. Lately—he’s 15 now—he has started using my cellphone for long conversations, and erases the numbers he dials. He also spends a lot of time on the Internet, chatting and social networking. Is it too late to lay down the rules on online/ telephonic communication? His father thinks we should just give him his own phone. I think it’s too early.
Locked: Assign fixed phone hours.
There are two issues here. Your son needs to learn to recognize and respect boundaries (15 is late, 6 is from when this should begin: For those of you with younger children, this is something to start working on). Your relatives are right in stopping him from using their phones. We have to teach our children not to be presumptuous.
Second, do keep an overall eye and ear out for who his friends are and with whom he is chatting. His erasing the number from your phone could just be a quite natural secretiveness, but you need to know who he closely associates with on a daily basis. Talking about boundaries, for starters, I would say you have to declare your phone off-limits. Your phone is yours and should be kept that way. From what you describe, you have willy-nilly given your son permission to simply “commandeer” your phone when he wants to, so you will need to sort this out decisively but without unpleasantness.
I agree with you that it is too early to give a child his own phone. You could sit down with him and resolve it together. First, surely he can use the landline phone? Second, you have to have that chat about him not using your phone. As for the Internet, maybe you could come up with a mutually agreeable quantum of time that he is allowed to spend on the Internet. But if it is, say, 2 hours, then avoid letting him chop this up into five different intermittent sessions, where he is then fretting and simply killing time till the next session.
Listen to the seventh edition of the Lounge podcast where we have lots to tell you about Copenhagen, consumer psyche and 3-D in its new Avatar.
Many youngsters submit to and accept a timetable for studies and recreation during classes X-XII. You could too, again asking him to come up with what he thinks is a realistic and fair timetable which would include studies, Internet time and recreation outdoors. Parents make a cardinal mistake when they object to something and then give in to their children’s whining and sulking.
When she was 13, my daughter confessed to “liking” someone in her class. At that time, I told her she was too young to “go steady”. She’s now 15 and has been studying together with this boy for the past year. They considered themselves “a couple”. However, a few months ago, something happened between them and he called it off. My daughter is now behaving as if the world has come to an end. How do I help her get some perspective?
This is no doubt a painful time for your daughter. Most people will say let time do the healing. However, at this age and stage, it is important that someone (such as a sensitive parent or even a counsellor) intervenes gently. While you (as well as her friends) are available, possibly, to listen to her, and to let her express her grief and/or anger, hurt, etc., there is something more important to be done to help her move ahead. The intervention is not so much to help the youngster “vent” and “get over it”, but to put a more far-reaching attitudinal shift in place. What you need to work on here is helping your daughter make the distinction between feeling currently unloved by this boy and permanently unlovable by anyone.
This is what she seems to be feeling right now and, in that sense, you have to help her “label” this episode appropriately. By talking to her, as well as her friends, perhaps, you can bring some perspective to the situation a) by identifying and labelling the event as a specific change of heart or attitude on the boy’s part—something over which she has no control—and reiterating that it’s mostly about him and not her, and b) by helping her see that this is not the end of the world.
While doing this, be careful not to say bad things about the boy. Find ways for her to see this as a disappointing development, but not something that should “sentence” her as unlovable by any boy. The other thing that you need to subtly help her with, without a hint of “blame apportioning”, is to see in what ways the boy was wrong and in what ways she may have mishandled their relationship.
However, overall, what you need to help your daughter with is to understand that people change and exit our lives and have a right to do so. And this does not mean that one should allow all our self-worth to exit along with them!
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Send your queries to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Dec 18 2009. 09 43 PM IST