Learning to handle a teenager

Learning to handle a teenager

SINGAPORE - When my 10-year-old daughter recently borrowed the book How To Handle Your Mum from the National Library, we had a laugh about it. The breezy paperback was clearly written tongue-in-cheek.

Even so, there were one or two handy tips. In the chapter Training Your Mum To Be Reasonable, it had a piece of proven marketing advice for the child to get what he wants by going "over the top."

In his book Principles Of Marketing, Philip Kotler described this as the door-in-the-face technique, harking back to a time when it was common for salesmen to pitch their wares from door to door. The idea is for the salesman to make an initial pitch so outrageous, it is rejected out of hand and in danger of having the door slammed in his face. This is quickly followed with a more attractive offer that seems so much more reasonable by comparison in order to hook the buyer.

Take the following example:

"Mum, I want an iguana for a pet."

"Ugh, no way! I will not have a lizard in the house."

Cue brief tantrum. Child appears to concede defeat but moves in for the kill.

"How about a puppy then?"

"Oh, all right."

While the book was a lark, the fact that Yanbei had bothered to check it out at all was sufficient to set off a distant warning bell in my head.

Yanbei and her older sister Yanrong are hitting their teenage years, a period some people have described as the age of rebellion.

While I would not want to tag them with such a negative label, there is no denying that new tensions have cropped up between parent and child as they test the limits of parental control.

All at once, it struck me that I am entering a new phase of parenthood, one in which my daughters are no longer malleable beings to shape as I deem fit. This sounds manipulative, but true in essence.

In imparting values to our children, what are we doing if not shaping minds and behaviour, with a regular prescription of dos and don'ts and the occasional whys and wherefores thrown in?

The older my daughters get, the less they are willing to accept my dicta as the gospel truth. This is to be expected as a natural process of growing up. But the yearning for new freedom has created vexing battles, the biggest of which is in the area of social media.

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