Troubles At Home
Recently a friend X confided that he is having trouble making conversation with his teenage boy. Almost every recent conversation between the father and son ended up badly. X said remorsefully, “Somehow nothing good comes out of my mouth when I talk to him these days.”
“Perhaps, it’s time to hold back your words. Just listen. ” I said thoughtfully.
But it didn’t seem like useful advice to him.
X continued, “Our fights are always over his excessive use of his mobile phone!”
What’s there to listen when it comes to the issue of phone addiction? Parents think everything that their children say sounds like an excuse. And to the children, parents are making a mountain out of a molehill in a draconian attempt to control their lives.
A Rift Is Created
I know how it was like. I had my own battles with my thirteen year old son, Conan, over his excessive use of mobile phone previously too.
I was often infuriated that Conan was always repeatedly saying “Wait, just one minute,” so that he could finish a text, browse down a web page further or play an online game a while longer with his friends.
And it got worse. His hands were perpetually stuck to the phone, his eyes were constantly glued to the screen. Be it walking on the streets, travelling in commute, having his meals and even going to the bathroom, the mobile phone and the boy became inseparable! I had enough of telling him and finally threw down the gauntlet by issuing an ultimatum, “Stop it! Or this will be the last time you see that phone!”
Conan would hurriedly keep his mobile phone away before tension escalated further. But it did nothing to alleviate the problem. My son continued to use mobile phone excessively behind my back. Quietly, Conan told his mom, “Ever since Dad had thyroid problems two years ago, his temper had become really weird and fiery. Better stay away from him.”
In my desperate efforts to solve problems quickly, I had unwittingly created a rift between my son and me.
Problem-solving Through Engagement
My wife became the one who had to constantly remind Conan, which I initially thought she was doing none the better than I. But gradually I noticed a crucial difference. My wife never allowed her relationship with the son to be soured by this issue, however much it tested her patience.
Their daily conversations continued unabated. On several occasions, my wife even managed to negotiate time-offs successfully. Without his mobile phone, Conan became more engaged and conversational. My wife hugged him and teased, “Finally, my boy is back, escaped from the claws of your handphone. I really like how thoughtful you are. Please continue to keep your phone in your bag instead of holding it in your hand.”
There, I realised the wisdom of my wife’s give-and-take tactics and her gradual approach to improving our boy’s habits through engagement.
Find Opportunities To Think About Whys Together
Taking cue, I changed tack and stopped correcting the boy. Instead, I focused on having Conan think about the whys of setting ground rules at opportune moments.
I seized an opportunity in the midst of a lively conversation over family dinner one day to broach the topic,
“I really enjoy listening to your views at conversations. Now you know why I have imposed a no-handphone policy at the dinning table?”
Conan smiled and replied, “I know what you want to say.”
Then he stole my lines,
“Mealtimes are not just time to eat. They are also social time to enjoy food, each other’s company and make conversations.”
Conan has even become the person who enforces the rule these days. One Saturday, my wife unexpectedly placed her entertainment tablet on the dining table.
“Lunchtime is for family conversations. No gadgets please.” I said.
My wife argued, “I am just letting the drama run, like the TV, that’s all. I don’t have my earpieces plugged in, I’m listening to you.”
Hearing that, Conan, who was sitting next to his mom, remarked, “That means I can also do this then,”
Conan picked up a novel he was reading earlier and pretended to continue reading while digging into the food, murmuring, “I don’t have my earpieces on either, I’m listening.”
My wife acquiesced, “Alright, you father and son win this time. Don’t let me catch you in the same act!”
Conan and I laughed. True enough, we were the repeat offenders most of the time in the past.
From The Child’s Perspective
I told Conan, “I noticed that you have learnt to use handphone moderately. I am thinking of sharing your experiences with my friend X.”
“Dad, tell your friend, ‘Don’t shove rules down your child’s throat. The more you stop them, the more they will resist. And feel they do not have enough.’ Give his child enough time to figure out how much is enough.”
“Wouldn’t things get worse? ” I asked, “That’s what worried me when you moved on from one thing to another on the web over the last two years as if you would never get enough.”
Conan put on his thinking cap and explained,
“Well, some ground rules are necessary. But your friend needs to find the opportune timing to discuss with his son; not threaten or preach, but bounce ideas like what are the appropriate situations to use and not to use phones.”
“Ideas like no phone at dining table, while walking on the streets, and before completing homework make perfect sense. I am sure his son can figure it out too if the discussion is done at the right timing. Nobody likes to be told off.”
Then Conan added,
“Next, your friend must walk the talk. It is easier to pick up new habits as a family, rather than expecting the child to do it alone.” Conan continued,
“And the last step is to expand his interest in other things. As you can see, when I don’t have my phone, I simply switch to doing other things I like.”
Here are some precious insights I’ve gathered:
One: Don’t force your rules on children.
Two: Give children enough time to figure out what is best.
Three: Find opportune timing to work out the rules together.
Four: Walk the talk with children.
Five: Expand interest in other things.
Every child is different, so the approach may not be the same for everyone. Nevertheless, I hope that these hard-earned lessons may be of use to others. Do share this blogpost and let me know if it is of help.
William W K Tan
24 August 2019, Saturday