Our son is 14 and his two sisters are 22 and 23. He is keen on gaming all the time, not studying. So we got him admitted to a boarding school. He had some problems but was helped by a counsellor and teachers. Whenever he is home for even a short break, however, he goes on extracting money from his father or sisters, and if we don’t give it, he threatens he will not come home during vacations. His friends are all older than him, and have a lot of money to throw around at gaming places. He does not like to stay in the house, and if he is at home, he communicates with us only to pester us all the time for money. How do we get him out of this habit? When he was younger, we used to shower him with things and money, but those were for small things; now his demands are getting out of hand.
While you will have to be firm with your son, that will simply not be enough, as you are experiencing currently—he will keep cajoling, threatening, whining, sulking, for money. As a family, you will have to come up with ideas for non-money-related good times that you can give him when he is home. Sadly, you seem to have showered affection and enjoyment quite predominantly via your wallet in his growing years, and undoing that involves more than just a firm “no”. In addition to not giving in to his demands, you must all come up with interesting family things to do together, which may or may not cost money (even if they do cost some money, that spending should come from you and not him). Activities like cooking together, a home barbecue, giant puzzles, renting a film and watching it together, reading together, going on a drive or day trek… these are some of the things you can consider doing if you are to turn the tide!
Parents of younger children could bring these elements into their lives so that their children do not associate “good times” only with how much money they get to spend on gaming places, etc.
You can’t make this kind of change overnight, but you can start by giving him a little of the money he asks for and introducing one family activity on his next visit. Let him know in advance that you are all going to do something together, and give him a choice of such planned family activities beforehand. Don’t take no for an answer, and you could even tell him that he will get some money to spend with his friends if he agrees to the family activity or outing.
Your son perhaps finds all of you preoccupied with your own lives, and is bored at home. You would need to plan in advance so that while he gets to go out with friends, he also begins to learn to enjoy a little quality family time.
Families sometimes have to learn to regroup, reconnect in ways that have been forgotten or perhaps never explored.
I have an 11-year-old daughter. She is bright and intelligent. However, she is now losing interest in everything. She never wants to study, or go for her Kathak classes. In fact, she has started lying all the time and trying to find the easier way out of things. Earlier, she was always enthusiastic about everything. Her notebooks were neat and complete. Now, her work is incomplete, untidy and has lots of errors. Her attitude towards everything has changed. She just wants to watch TV and have fun. We are really worried.
We have had many such anxious queries from parents of children this age. As you say, the children have been happy and eager to learn new things, master them, demonstrate how they can do them well, etc. Now it seems they don’t care much either way, and your approval and pat-on-the-back are not something they are particularly seeking. Suddenly, the curious, happy, bright and responsive child is turning into what you describe—an avoider, a sulker, and most perplexing for a parent, unresponsive to your efforts to motivate. At this stage, a child doesn’t seem particularly affected by your pleas, threats and punishments.
Most parents who have spotted not just enthusiasm but good potential and talent in their children—for a particular subject, or for a sport or a pursuit like music—experience this kind of “plateauing off” when the child is 11 or so. The reaction of parents can be at two ends of a spectrum. While some parents, with some amount of regret, just let things go, rather than cajole and/or badger the child to stay with the activity and practise it, other parents come down hard on “the slacker” and get into daily battles when it comes to going for this or that class, practising, staying engaged and interested. The “tiger moms” (and dads) will simply brook no argument, and will play out a war of nerves, insistently dragging the child to the class or activity or pursuit at which she was doing well until then. Some parents of achiever children say it is worth sticking it out, because “goading them uphill rather than allowing them to stay on the plateau always pays off”.
Perhaps the best thing is to find some sort of “golden mean”. First, you will have to take into account that your daughter is now on the cusp of an inward-looking phase, which will go on for a few years. And so you will have to learn to let go of some of the pleasures of watching her simply learn and enjoy learning and participating with enthusiasm. However, you will also have to help her stay with some of the things that she is into, like dance, and for this you could negotiate with her—make it clear that dumping the activity fully is not an option, so how much is she willing to do in exchange for a certain amount of TV or computer time? Second, you could let go of some of the demands on her to practise, but you could take her for allied activities—for instance, dance performances. This way she stays with the subject but doesn’t feel she has to participate actively. What you are doing here is allowing for some passivity, yet seeing that she remains with the subject in some form.
The lying may come down once she does not feel she is up against your ambitions and expectations of her. Avoid talking about how she was so much nicer/smarter/more honest/more cooperative earlier. It just makes a child feel bad, and does not really work to motivate her.
That was then, this is now, is what most children feel—even if they don’t say it—when you keep telling them about how well they used to do something.
Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.
Write to Gouri at email@example.com