Choose This or That
Corey* just wouldn’t come home on time. His parents set curfew for the 15 year old at 10:00 pm on the weekdays, and he rarely abided by it. Now, I thought that 10:00 pm on a weekday was actually too lenient, but what was important wasn’t my opinion about their rules, but that their son followed their rules. So, I suggested to them that they take something from him that he valued.
They took his video game system from his room; he told them that he didn’t care. (Sound familiar?) Corey failed to return home on time the next night. “We can’t make him stay home!” his parents cried. I disagreed, but wanted to meet them where they were. They were willing to take things from home, so I worked with them on that approach.
“Take something else from him in addition to the video games,” I said. They took his weights. (Corey was very much into professional wrestling and hoped to be one someday.) “I don’t care,” said Corey. “Now what, big brain?” his parents nearly said to me. “Take something else each day until he abides by his curfew for 3 days in a row.” I wanted to see A.) how committed they were to this and B.) just how stubborn Corey was prepared to be.
Now this is important: they kept taking things from him without giving him anything back. In other words, they didn’t give him back his video games and then took his weights; they began stockpiling Corey’s things in their room (that they had to padlock to prevent him from entering) and didn’t give anything back until he abided by the curfew for three days straight.
They took his drums, they took his knives (he had dozens!), they took his wrestlers, they took his knick knacks. Partially, I think, just to prove to me that my way wasn’t working, Corey’s room was eventually stripped down to his bed and his dresser. “Now what, big brain?”
I have to admit that, at this point, even I was a little surprised that the kid hadn’t broken them. Up to that point, nearly all of the parents with whom I worked would’ve thrown in the towel. I wasn’t too surpised that Corey hadn’t given in—he was an incredibly obstinate child bent on establishing that his parents should let him do what he wants. Looking around his now empty room, my eyes settled on the bedroom door. “Take that,” I said. They took his damn door off the hinges.
Corey came home and hung up a blanket. It was only after they had removed the blanket that he had hung to replace his door (and the several replacement blankets that he successively hung) that I was able to finally get through to him. Sitting down with him in his near empty room, I said “Take a look around, Corey. This is all a result of your choosing to not come at by 10:00.”
“Well, I came home at 10:05 last night!” he protested.
“That’s not 10:00, is it?” I countered.
“Dude, whatever!” (This, by the way, is the most frequent come back I hear from teenage boys. Girls have a slight variation: “Whatever. It’s whatever.”) “I was, like, two minutes late!”
“Actually, you were five minutes late. You need to change your thinking if you want your things returned to you. Instead of thinking that 10:05 is okay, learn to think 9:59 is okay. 10:00 is okay. 10:01 is not okay. You only needed to come home four minutes earlier to start getting back your things, and you choose not to do it. Choose to be home on time, and you’re choosing to get your things back. If you choose to not return on time, then you’re choosing to not get back your stuff.”
In the end, Corey learned to abide by his curfew. It didn’t happen all at once, as you can see, and he didn’t get the lesson after they had removed one preferred item from him or even ten. Corey’s parents had to remain committed, stay firm, and hold the line. Throughout the time that they were taking his things, Corey often screamed, cursed, threw things, and generally attempted to make life miserable for his parents. That will happen. Hold the line, and help your child to see that you didn’t take his things, he choose to lose them by choosing not to follow the rules. Emphasize his choices, not your rules.
* All names and other identifying details in this blog are altered to protect client anonymity.