My 11 year old wants to be treated like a teen

Dear Jenny

We have two teenagers, 16 and 14 years, and an 11 year old who thinks he’s a teenager!  We feel like we’re beating our heads against a wall trying to get him to understand that he can’t do what his brothers are doing. The most repeated phrase in our house is, “Why not? You let them do it!”  He gets so angry when we say no. The other day he wanted to stay at his mate’s place till the wee hours watching scary movies and couldn’t understand why we said no to both! The other battle we have is with age restrictions on Playstation games. He says everyone else’s parents let them play games rated older than they are. We held to that boundary with the older two with very few problems but this kid is so different!

Jenny’s tips

It sounds as though you have a budding leader developing here. This can be wonderful and challenging! They do require a particular kind of coaching. These kids need to be made to understand who’s in charge, firmly and with kindness. They do best when the rules are clear, consistent and reasonable. They also need room to make choices within the rules. It’s important to handle situations calmly, keeping the fight out of our voices. When we get into the habit of taking this approach, it often defuses potential arguments – our kids feel secure and calm in our leadership. If you tend to be softly spoken, try making your voice firmer earlier – see if this reduces power struggles.

Use ‘no’ sparingly – save it for when you really need it. Try using phrases like, “Yes, when you’re as old as your brothers were”. How about using your teenagers as consultants? While your youngest is listening, check with them what age they were allowed to do things. If it’s an argument you’ve had before just say, “What did we say last time about this? Same deal this time,” and refuse to be drawn into rehashing the issue or launching into a lecture. It’s a great idea to help leader kids think for themselves. Rather than you saying, “Yes, because” or, “No, because,” ask them, “What will I need to know?” or, “Convince me”. Give choices where you can. “No, you can’t do that but you could do this or this.”

Respecting authority figures can be a challenge for leader kids so acknowledge them when they keep quiet instead of arguing with the rugby coach, or when they accept ‘no’ with good grace. If they are disrespectful, expect them to apologise for their attitude or words. Teach them when and how to speak up respectfully, and when to let an issue go. They may need to learn how to calm down and give their brains a chance to come back online again! Empathise when they feel hard done by. “I’m sorry you feel this is unfair. I know it’s important to you.” They’ll still go off mumbling but they will appreciate that you understand. It might be an idea to draw up a bit of a timeline together laying out what ages your teenagers were allowed to do things. The proviso must be that maturity trumps age – how ready is this kid for this responsibility? What have they shown us to earn this privilege or this freedom? Talk about what you’d need to see from them before they earn various opportunities. Then hold firm to what you’ve said.

The outcome

The advice was reassuring that our previous rules had been reasonable and that the difference was that this boy’s personality required a slightly different parenting approach. We’ve been noticing the way we speak to him – careful to be firmer to give less room for arguing. We liked the bit about our son knowing who’s in charge. He does seem calmer knowing he can’t push us as much. We loved the bit about checking with the older two about what age they were when they were allowed to do various things. This seemed to make some sense to our youngest. Thankfully our son does respect his teachers and coaches so that hasn’t been an issue – only with us – but we’re ready if that changes! In the meantime, we’re working on him apologising to us when he’s disrespectful.