Here's a typical evening conversation with my son:
"How was school today?"
"Do you have any homework?"
"Are you sure? I checked your grades online and they're not looking too good."
"I did it in study hall," or "I left at school 'cuz I have study hall in the morning."
This is my kid, who has always been a really good kid. He sticks up for peers when they are being picked on. He works hard at school. He was in the elementary school Math Olympiad! But in junior high things are different. Not just different---they are exactly the opposite of what they were. Towards the end of second term I got a call at work from his school. Just seeing a school phone number show up on the caller ID makes my heart sink. (Believe me, I remember this feeling every time I go to call the parents of my students...) When I settled my panic and answered, it was the guidance counselor saying that they've been having some trouble with my son: a girl complained that he is harassing her each day at lunch; he got lippy with his German teacher and since he's pretty much failing anyway, can we just drop him from the class? He "locker-checked" another girl in the hallway; he's getting Ds and Fs in math. I wondered, Did they call the right number? And then she said, "He's right here in my office, is there anything you'd like me to say to him?"
Um...how about, You're grounded for life! No more electronics! Get your stuff together or I'm going to publicly humiliate you and probably scar you for life by coming to school with you all day, every day until we figure out what is going on! WHY IS THIS HAPPENING???? WHAT ARE YOU
As a parent, I think junior high is the roughest patch of road we've ever hit. The kid we see at home is not interested in the rest of the family. He wants to talk to his friends on Facebook, talk to friends on his XBox Live, or text friends on his phone. When he leaves the house on the weekends he is playing sports with his buddies, and he's a different kid than he is at home. He's lively, smiling, and in a great mood! But at home, he is almost lethargic. His peers seem to totally bring him to life while his family bores him to tears.
Sometimes I think it's great that he has a peer group that invigorates him like that! But I definitely don't think it's great when I get calls from school about his behavior, or when I confront him about those calls and get the age-old excuses that teenagers have spouted to their parents for millennia, "Well, so and so did it and THEY didn't get in trouble!!!!" Try as I may to be a unique, individual, caring and understanding parent--I cannot. Somehow, when I talk to him I am no longer a modern 21st century mom who knows Gangnam Style, accepts the fact that Old Spice is no longer for grandpas, and recognizes the value of designing a basketball shoe on NIKEiD. I revert. We travel through time to the Dark Ages of Parenting. Phrases from old movies and sitcoms swirl through my head: If he jumped off a bridge, would you do that too???? What were you thinking? Is there a brain in your head? If you think I was put on this earth to go around cleaning up messes after you, you've got another thing coming!!! I thought we raised you better than that!!!
Whether it's Beaver being convinced to "borrow" Ward's golf club by Gilbert, Vanessa trying to wear make-up when Claire said it's not okay (see Cosby Show clip below), or Chris trying to be "cool" it's really the same old, same old---peer pressure. Peer pressure seems to suck out all the smarts parents instill in their children prior to seventh grade. The million times we've said, "It's rude to be late," are all wiped out in one fell swoop when a peer says, "Hey, let's check out that girl during passing time!"
Cosby Show Season 3, Episode 4, "Mother. May I?"
Last week we got a call from his Language Arts teacher. He is being disruptive in class, not completing his assignments, being a general nuisance. She's tried talking to him, tried a new seating chart, tried everything she can think of--but nothing worked. She asked us for help. When we confronted him about his behavior, what was his response? "Diante is even worse than me! You should be yelling at him!" Um...kiddo...Diante is not our kid. You are! We care about you! Get your stuff together.
We've taken away his XBox power cord and hidden it where no self-respecting 7th grader will go--my underwear drawer. We've had him scrubbing walls, vacuuming stairs, and dusting hard-to-reach spots all over the house. At his final basketball team gathering this week, I talked to other moms and found out that many of us got that phone call from the Language Arts teacher. One kid is now only allowed to watch TV with his parents, who have decided to watch the History of the Bible miniseries each night. Another kid's parents have taken away all electronics and forced their son to play board games with them every night. We are not alone!
But even after doing all those chores, losing his electronics, and hearing about his friends' consequences for poor grades and bad behavior, do you know what he asked me yesterday at breakfast? You're not gonna believe it. The boy grinned at me with his most angelic face and asked, "Mommy, can I get an iPhone?"
Backtrack...think again..."Honey, you can get an iPhone when you earn the money to buy it yourself by doing chores OR we will buy one for you when you get straight A's this term." Yeah, that's it.
The boy says, "I'll never be able to do that!"
"Well, with that attitude--you're right. But we believe in you. The only one who thinks you can't do it is YOU. It just takes some sacrifice and some hard work. If you're willing to make the change, we'll reward you." We'll see if he makes the choice to earn something positive instead of all the negative stuff he's been getting lately. We'll see.
How do you (or did you) deal with your young teenager? Give up the goods in the comments. There have to be many stories out there. We parents are not the crazy ones, right? Even though they look at us like we are the most idiotic people on the planet, I am banking on the fact that we are not. Help me feel more normal--tell me stories...please!