By Bunmi Sofola
When Sussie’s son came on his first long vacation from the university a couple of years ago, he came with a handful of friends. In days, they’d eaten Sussie out of home and her stock of lager and liquor had virtually disappeared.
But the lad was growing to adulthood, Sussie had reasoned, and needed to be free to entertain his friends in his own home. So she stocked up with more food, this time of the cheaper variety, and only lager and soft drinks. They were all gone within the twinkling of an eye.
That did it! The next time Sussie’s son, Ted, rushed to the refrigerator when his friends visited, he met nothing but bottled water. The pot of soup had only two pieces of meat in it. Sussie was in her room, a determined look on her face. “iya ti gbóro!”, his son sniggered to his friends. Roughly translated, he’d informed his friends that his mum had gone ballistic!
“When your kids are young”, Sussie said, “They know about treats from the fast-food joints and funfairs at Christmas and Easter. When they reach their teens however, they get a visit from the Teenage Demon. Overnight, they become angry and disobedient strangers.
Even before Ted went to the university, he’d become quite rebellious and he was the one who gave us the most trouble out of our three children. He refused to tidy his room and went out as he pleased. The more we punished him, the more he rebelled.
His dad always accused me of being a pushover when it came to Ted, but how do you control a son that’s turned into a snarling stranger overnight? He’d towered over his dad and me, so we couldn’t even hit him or order him to go to his room!
“It was a relief when he left home to go to the university, but now it seemed he’d gotten worse. He continued doing what he liked but we tried to talk a bit of sense into him. If he didn’t come home, we would lock him out, so he started to change.
“Then came the day he didn’t come home at all. I was a bit worried. If he wanted to spend the night with friends, he usually called us. I tried his mobile, but it was switched off. I phoned around his friends’ and one of them said they’d gone to a party the previous night and that on their way back, Ted got into a terrible argument with the police and was arrested along with three other friends.
“Before we could decide on what to do, Ted was escorted home by three menacing-looking policemen. He was absolutely mortified as he was led into the house in the full glare of the neighbours, some of whom were his friends! The police said he was suspected of being a cultist as he was quite drunk and threatening when the car he was in was stopped. He wasn’t the one driving, but he was the one threatening the police.
“By the time we `sorted’ out the mess he’d gotten himself into, he looked extremely subdued. His mobile was taken from him but the police didn’t know who had it, along with his watch and money. When he finally skulked to his room, his dad was actually amused. `I think the embarrassment of being led home like a criminal in the full glare of everyone will be punishment enough for him’, he said. And he was right.
Now that corporal punishment is being frowned at because it ends up toughening a determined teenager, how do parents having communication problems with their kid’s cope? “For starters, it’s a good idea to try to put yourself in your child’s position”, said a child psychologist. “Believe it or not, today’s young people are under a lot of pressure – they feel old enough to make their own decisions, but are always being given orders. Even a tone of voice can make a difference. Instead of telling your child what to do, try asking them”.
To cope with a problem teen, he advises, there’s no miracle cure. Every family is different and what works for one might not work for another. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Thousands of families are in the same situation. Talking to other parents may well offer assistance.
You perhaps feel you no longer know how to respond to your child? Don’t worry, he counsels, you haven’t failed as a parent. This is a normal process of adolescent years. Parents find it beneficial to stop, think, and listen – then decide on a response, rather than just shouting. Remember, you can’t control teenage children, you can only influence them. Try to recognise good behaviour and praise them. This is important for your child. Feedback shows that parents who are more flexible and willing to negotiate generally fare better than those who are more authoritarian.