My new nickname for my 16-year-old son is “toddler”. This is interchangeable with “big guy”. Toddler is appropriate because I find myself constantly watching him, to make sure he isn’t getting himself into trouble. Do I hear a kitchen cupboard open at midnight? A bowl of Chokella now, really? Or, evenings, after calling him one, two, three times, I knock, then barge, into his room to take away the earphones … and smartphone (which I had already confiscated). “May I have the phone please, honey?” (His nickname when I want something). “Yup,” he replies. I walk away, resolved to keep the items with me. He goes back to studying.
When my son was a real toddler, I worried that he would fall out a window or take a knife for playing Robin Hood. Once, my neighbor Charlotte walked into our backyard looking for her young son. She saw three knives lined up on the terrace, grabbed him, and marched past my front window with such a scornful look. I ran out to find out what was wrong, and oh, la honte, or shame, when I found the knives.
I tell “big guy” to study 50 minutes, and then take 10 minutes of “bliss” with a screen if he wants. Am I overdoing it? Well, how do you study if you are getting pinged every three minutes and putting on a new song every four? Then there’s the larger battle. Can we get something else on his brain soundtrack besides aggressive rap and bad taste YouTube videos? I try to expose him to quality – when he resists, I pull the crazy Greek mother act and then whimper, and he acquiesces. Last week we watched the film “Atonement”, last month it was “Amadeus”.
My latest is I sniff. Like a dog. “Toddler” comes home from school: I sniff his breath and his index fingers. “You smoked today!!” “No I didn’t.” “Yes, you did, I smell it.” “No.” “You’re turning me into the nosy woman I don’t want to be.” “OK, I did, but I only smoked une fin.” Quoi? My Danish girlfriend with 20-year-old twin boys says, “Relax, that is what French teens do…mess around with cigs.” Fritz, my German father-of-three friend says, “Pretend like you don’t care. That’s what I did and none of mine smoke.” My California cousin shrieks: “How horrible, cigarettes are worse than pot. Make him stop.” And father tells son: “Je m’en fiche si tu es un abruti, mais c’est important pour ta mère que tu ne fumes pas.”
“I don’t care if you are a fool, but it’s important to your mother that you don’t smoke.”
How’s that for cultural diversity?
Read Jane Mobille’s open letter to families in French schools.
“Big guy” knows why smoking is particularly harmful to 16-year-olds with growing bodies and brains. I both continue to watch him and try to trust him. I take care of him with good food, hugs, and a listening ear. And I tell him, “Stop now before the addiction gets worse.” He says he smokes a cigarette for the pleasure, and not every day. That he is not addicted. Except that yesterday I smelled smoke when I was working up on our top floor, so I came down and the window to his brother’s room was open. “TODDLER, STOP!!”
Indeed, but how? What can a parent do to help their teen stop doing harmful things like smoking? As a teen coach, I can assure you that there is no silver bullet, yet maintaining a functioning relationship with your child is the key.
A Coaching Tool for Parents and Teens
Here’s a coaching tool that I used with my son, which is designed to do just that: The “What I Need from You” coaching tool asks each party to list the three things they need most from the other party. Note that the tool is NOT called “What I Want from You”. A want is something desired, that may or may not be available. A need is something else altogether. In order to survive, certain needs must be met. Think food and water – without them we die. What does your parent-child relationship need to stay alive?
Have your child come up with three things that he needs from you, the parent. Then have him come up with three things that he thinks you would say you need from him. Independently, you, the parent, come up with three things that you need from your child, and then come up with three things that you think he would say he needs from you. Then the two of you – parent and child – pow-wow and come up with a joint “What I Need from You, What You Need from Me” table.
What I Need from You…3 Things
Ours is posted in the bathroom so we see it every day. And guess what? It has helped, going on eight months!
|SON’S NEEDS||MOM’S NEEDS|
|That you listen to me.||Tell the truth so I can trust you.|
|Continue being firm even if I bully you.||Spend some quality time with me (I like you).|
|Panic less – don’t scream, talk regular.||Respect me – no gros mots.|