These parents sound a little….a little I don’t know what. Harsh, and yet harsh in a really non-harsh way. It’s weird.
Dear Annie: My wife and I are very strict with our 12-year-old son, “Jonathan.” He has normal adolescent issues, but he really is a great kid — well-mannered, hardworking, gets good grades, etc. We give him lots of freedom to make decisions about free-time activities and try to teach him about life. We take him on vacations and spend a lot of time with him.
Jonathan has recently begun doing small things that show he really isn’t thinking, such as walking past an overflowing garbage can, etc. We told him to go to his room and write a letter about how he was going to be more respectful and help out the family. He came back with a letter about how he wished he could live a “normal” life like his other friends. We sat down and had a tearful conversation with him, but didn’t get any clear answers about why he doesn’t feel normal.
Do we have anything to be concerned about?
— Hurting Parent
Um, seriously? Writing a letter about being more respectful? Sending him to his room at age 12, not for being, like, rude or unpleasant, but for not taking out the trash when he sees it? I wonder if this is one of his “regular” chores, or if it’s more like “we expect you to show respect by doing all chores that you recognize need doing.” Because I think it makes a difference, in terms of how they handle it, and maybe in terms of his being aware of what the expectations are.
Although either way I don’t see why, if you see him walk by the garbage can, you can’t just say “Hey, Jon, will you take out the trash please? Thanks.” He might pout if he was on his way to do something else he conceives of as incredibly important (I probably would have), but I seriously doubt he’ll refuse to do it.
Also, it wouldn’t hurt if the parents gave this kid a little credit. Growing up as a kid who was, like, 93% “good,” I know it could be really frustrating to see other kids getting paid to get good grades, or totaling cars and getting new ones, or asking their parents for money all the time and not having a job, when I worked hard because it was important to me, had a job and covered all my own petty expenses, and was always really careful and never damaged my parents’ property. On the other hand, I know I was often flaky about chores around the house.
No, you shouldn’t necessarily be rewarded for NOT causing trouble (is that like getting extra credit for showing up to class, or turning in your homework on time?), but I definitely remember sometimes, when fuming about being asked to empty the dishwasher (yes, yes, I was a whiner), thinking to myself, “they have no idea how easy they have it.”
Of course life isn’t fair and we shouldn’t expect it to be. And yes, of course, kids should learn to value working hard and doing a good job as bringing their own reward, and understand the importance of earning their own way. But still. Come on. Give the good kids a little credit. If the hardest thing these parents have to do is get their 12 year old to help out around the house, they should be dancing in the streets, not punishing him.
Instead of focusing on one task that needed to be done, these parents inflated it to mean that their kid was disrespectful and lazy. No wonder he feels crappy. They have every right to expect him to do chores, and follow up with him when he doesn’t. But I think that, if they aren’t, they should be giving him some the same praise they mentioned to Marcie and Kathy.
Dear Hurting: Probably not, but you need to watch how you handle the situation because it is likely to get more complicated as he gets older. Like many teens and preteens, Jonathan wants to spread his wings. He also sees that his friends apparently have fewer rules and he may be envious. But too little supervision can make children insecure and they often respond by testing the boundaries more forcefully in order to get their parents to react.
If Jonathan is saying his family life isn’t “normal,” that’s OK. If he is saying HE isn’t normal, however, it might indicate a problem, so watch for signs of depression. You seem to have excellent communication with your son, which will help, but try to be flexible enough to adjust your methods as Jonathan goes through his teen years.