Monthly review – letting go

If you read my newsletter, you would have read the following a few weeks ago in relation to our eldest teenager:

Restrictions on technology is by far the biggest issue we have. All the research I have done on technology/tv for kids all restrictions are needed and I personally agree. Even adults find it hard to self regulate, so giving younger kids the freedom to choose when to get off doesn’t make sense to me. But it is a constant source of tension between the eldest and I so I am being to test out other options.

While in many ways parenting a teen is completely different to parenting in the younger years, I am quite often struck by how there are some fundamental similarities.

I remember clearly how with the little ones, things would be going along pretty well. Nice sleeping routines, feeding well and over all pretty happy kids. Then without warning, sleeping would come disrupted, or they would start fussing at dinner or they would become quite defiant in their behaviour, refusing to get dressed etc.

Years in the parenting trenches taught me that when we went through these phases, it was most often because there had been growth and development in the child in question and I was a bit slow getting on to it. For example:

  • They needed to drop from 2 – 3 sleeps a day.
  • They wanted to feed themselves more (needed more finger food options).
  • They wanted more independence over choosing what they wanted wear.

I would make changes to cater for their development and we would make our way back to periods of more relative calm.

Over the last few months, technology usage with the eldest teen has been a constant source of tension. While he is your pretty standard teenager and loves to challenge me constantly, the whole techno thing was wearing us both down.

He is very articulate and through recent discussions, he had made some very valid points which I began to think  a great deal about:

  • You want me to be independent – getting myself organised, getting myself places, but you don’t let me determine how much technology I have.
  • You expect me to be more responsible than the younger kids, but what do I get for it.
  • You just want to control what I do.

It was the last one which really got to me. It was said in a heated discussion, but I noted it and followed up a couple of days later when we were both calm, asking him about the control issue. He told me it was to do with how I control the technology by changing the wifi password regularly and how much he hates it. He said this was the only thing that really bothered him and it bothered him that I wouldn’t change it.

I needed to accept that I missed another change point. I hadn’t let go of some control and handed it over to him as he had grown and developed. We had tried in small bursts before, but found he didn’t self regulate very well so went back to the parents having more control.

I realised that there was an important part of the letting go process that I hadn’t let him experience when we had tried allowing him to self regulate before – natural consequences. I had stepped in before he could see the impact (or not) of him regulating his own technology use.

I thought back again to previous experiences with handing over responsibility and letting go with him and he has always learned best by feeling the consequences of his own behaviour. In my book I share the story of when he was in year one and I handed over responsibility for him to make sure he had everything ready for school himself. It didn’t happen straight away and there were tears and mishaps, but he grew through these and became very good at getting himself organised (in his own last minute style).

So now, the rules about technology for him are quite broad:

  • Not on devices before 10am.
  • Not on devices after 10pm.
  • No devices in the bedrooms overnight.

Within that framework he needs to self manage. It has been going for a few weeks now and while it hasn’t been perfect, the tension between us has reduced dramatically. We are both happier for it.

Is he using his devices more? Yes I think he is. Am I a worried about it? Yes I am. But I believe this is something he is going to have to work out for himself. He is in year 11 now, so am hoping he can work out how to manage his technology use effectively before his last year of school next year.

For me to achieve my goal of being a planned, patient and present mother to my kids, I need to listen to them. I need to be prepared to take on their feedback and think about how we can find compromise in family life.

I need to be patient as the teenager learns to manage himself and technology. I have snapped a couple of times over the last few weeks and provided my thoughts on what he should be doing instead of playing a game on the iPad and the minute I did it, I regretted it.

I am determined to stick at it, as I do see glimmers of improvement in his behaviour, but most importantly I want to keep the improvements it has made to our relationship. By letting go, I am showing him I trust him and believe him. As I noted in my Book Review – Yes, Your Teen is Crazy!: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind, role modelling the behaviour I would like to see in him, is often the best thing I can do.

What stages are your kids at? Do you find letting go tricky?

Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.
Deborah Reber, Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul