Help! Our teen does not listen to us

Angelena Iglesia

First, an update from Feed the Frontliners program head Monica Wen-Angping: “We have raised funds for more than 3,000 meals since your column appeared (Aug. 20). The hospitals are super thankful and they share happy photos daily with us and the sponsors. “Many sponsors really like this column, some know […]

First, an update from Feed the Frontliners program head Monica Wen-Angping: “We have raised funds for more than 3,000 meals since your column appeared (Aug. 20). The hospitals are super thankful and they share happy photos daily with us and the sponsors.

“Many sponsors really like this column, some know you personally, some are former students and their families. Through this program, we were also able to connect donors of snacks, face shields, PPEs and face masks to hospitals that need them most.” To my students and friends and to people I don’t know but still helped: thank you so much for your generosity. We give help where it’s most needed. Stay well and God bless.

Now let’s continue with online learning.

Last week, we discussed ways to foster effective study habits for grade school children. Breaking bad habits and creating good ones is more complex in high school and college.

“Our 16-year-old son has a mind of his own,” says Maria, the founder of a retail business. “He won’t listen to us. Grounding does not work. Last year, he was almost on probation, but a kind teacher gave him a passing mark for the last quarter.

“My husband and I are busy with our business and we do not have time to keep on overseeing him. We already threatened to take away his games and gadgets. But nothing works. We are afraid that he will flunk now with online learning. What do we do?” Maria, communicate openly with your son. Tell him you love him, you want him to do well, you are worried about him.

Grounding used to be an effective deterrent, when the Baby Boomers and Generation X were still children (I suppose you belong to this category), because digital gadgets did not yet exist in the analog era.

Today, Generations Z and Alpha generally prefer to be in their rooms with all their gadgets. Grounding does not work now—losing access to gadgets and WiFi causes the most anxiety.For teens, threats may not work, particularly if you never followed through in the past. If you take away your son’s gadgets, he may resort to unsavory means of getting them.

Part of the difficulty lies in evolution. Research shows the rational part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) matures only when humans are 25-30 years old. Teens tend to be impulsive and irrational, because the brain’s more primitive parts (such as the amygdala) tend to overwhelm the seat of reason.

Discuss this fact with your son. Refrain from blaming. Tell him that you understand that self-regulation and self-discipline are not easy, but you want to help him do better.

Communication is key. If your son continues to tune you out, contact an adult he respects: the principal, a teacher, a counselor or an aunt to mediate. If all else fails, you may need to consult a psychologist.

By the way, since you run your own business, give tasks to your son. He is old enough to help.If you want him to be a worthy successor to the enterprise, start training him now. Home chores will take him away from gadgets and foster a sense of competence.

Ultimately, the only effective way of changing behavior (for children and adults) is through logical consequences. If your son does not buckle down, he will flunk, as you fear. This year, he may encounter a teacher who will give him what he deserves, and even if failing hurts, it can be an eye-opener.

When my son was in seventh grade, this is what he told parents, which appeared in our book “Home Work 2”: “For most students, the prospect of failing a subject is enough to spur us into studying. By not nagging or threatening us, you are extending your trust to us while letting something far more powerful do the job: the fear of failure. In school and at work, we will always be faced with distractions. Developing the power to say no to present distractions is much more powerful than being sheltered from them. This is something all of us kids have to learn by ourselves—painfully, if needed.” Teens often listen more to peers than elders. Next week, we look at what teens themselves say about managing gadgets.

Get “Home Work 2: Everything Parents Ask About School and Growing Up,” which I cowrote with my son, at the Anvil Publishing website.

Queena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” at www.lazada.com.ph. Contact the author at [email protected]


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