It’s halfway through the summer, and you’re finding yourself in power struggles over screen time with your kids. “Why can’t they simply obey me and get off those stupid screens without whining, complaining, and negotiating? It drives me crazy!” A reasonable question, but there are a couple of key complicating factors:
- You’re up against a giant. Your “foe” is a whole industry with incredibly brilliant researchers, designers, programmers, and marketers with billions of dollars competing in a contest to “capture the eyeballs” of youth. In a famous statement at the height of MTV’s popularity, Bob Pittman said, “We don’t shoot for the 14-year-olds, we own them.”
- Your anxiety and anger are contagious. Because of how powerless parents feel against their children’s screen obsessions, they often engage full of anxiety about it (“Will my kid ever get a life, or will he just live in my basement playing video games forever?”) and anger (“I’m soooo sick of this fight!”). When kids sense these emotions and judgments, the conflict escalates.
Knowing this, how can you overcome those factors to effectively guide your child?
The rough-looking teen’s tough veneer had softened. I detected tears in his eyes.
“No one has ever said anything like that to me.”
Just minutes before, I met this teen in a line at our local amusement park. After a brief conversation, I dug a little deeper and asked Jared what he was good at. “Are you kidding?” He seemed angry. “Look at me.” Violent tattoos, tattered dark clothes, a defiant countenance and multiple piercings on his ears, nose, eyebrows and lips were suggestive of a hard life.
Disciplining misbehaving kids is often a difficult and emotion-laden task. Our oldest son Daniel, sometimes said to Lynne, “Mom, you just bursted all over us!” And he was painfully right. Jim had his share of quick, harsh reactions as well. Those were discouraging times for all of us, and we wished we knew how to get unstuck from that negative pattern.
You know how sometimes you look back and think, WHY in the world did I say that!? I had a moment like that last week. It was ugly… but I learned a lot! Here’s what happened:
In a state of discouragement and stress, I had written some critical, even sarcastic comments about a friend — and then I realized I had accidentally emailed those comments to my friend.
michaeljung | iStockphoto.com
Although I’m 62 and won’t be giving birth to any more children any time soon, I recently reflected that God gives us children in many ways, some biologically and some spiritually. It is a privilege to build into the lives of young people and watch God work.
Have you ever noticed that kids rarely misbehave when they feel truly happy and deeply secure? There’s a reason for this.
When our children misbehave, there is almost always underlying discouragement or anxiety that drives the misbehavior. Rushing to address the misbehavior without understanding the discouragement often backfires, in one of two ways:
- It fuels the power struggle flames and misbehavior escalates.
- The intensity of effort to make it stop “works” to curb misbehavior in the short run, but feeds the discouragement, which feeds further misbehavior in the long run.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Sometimes it takes a while for parents to change in ways that lead to deeper respect from their kids. Sometimes it can happen fast. When Dan attended our weekend workshop he saw an immediate change by practicing what we call a “do-over.” Here’s his report:
An hour before we left for your seminar I was getting ready to go. Our 12-year-old son Will was sitting on the steps. He asked why we needed to go to the seminar. I explained that his mom and I were going so we could learn to control some of the chaos in our household. His reply was, “If you think that’s going to work, you’re retarded!”
Kids struggle. So do adults. Not rocket science, but profound nonetheless, and easy to forget.
When we find ourselves in a parenting struggle, many times our natural inclination is to end it right now, at all costs. Squash it. Squelch it. Just make it stop!
Often times our emotion drives our response to our child. Perhaps it is embarrassment for the child’s behavior in a public place or in front of someone we were hoping would think highly of us. Perhaps it is frustration from the piles of laundry and dirty dishes. Maybe it is from the hurtful words spoken to us by a friend or colleague. Maybe it doesn’t have much to do with our child at all. And all we can think of at the moment of the struggle is, “How can I make this stop?”
When the goal is making it stop we become like opposing goalies in our child’s eyes. Our primary objective is to keep the ball (or puck, depending on your preferred sport) out of the net. Whatever their question, our answer is no. We are the opposition, an obstacle to be defeated or “gotten by” in order to get what they want rather than a teammate with whom they seek to cooperate. This, of course, leads to the classic power struggle.
It’s at times like this that we have an important opportunity. What will we do in this frustrated, exasperated place?
Is dinner at your house a bit crazy? Perhaps it needs a little injection of purpose.
When the meal is all about getting kids to settle down and eat their food, it’s bound to be a struggle. But when it’s about meaningful stories and questions, it can take on a whole new tone. Consider Tim’s discovery.
Could it be that the reason Jesus is so appealing to us, the reason we want to follow him, is that we see throughout the Gospels that he “gets” people?
He knows us. He understands us. He meets us where we are. Hebrews 4:15 states it clearly – “we have a high priest who empathizes with our every weakness.”
Could it also be that, as the people given the job of representing “Jesus with skin on” to our kids, we are strongly called to empathize with our kids in their weaknesses?