My son came into my room the other day. He was clearly upset. He is fourteen on Saturday, and the seeds of rebellion grow stronger roots everyday.
Sitting beside me, he expressed his anger with a punishment he’d just been sentenced. To my honest fascination, I watched him employee a strategy I’d not yet seen from him. That was, to try to sway me to his side of the argument in the hopes that he could gain an ally in his struggle against his mother.
I let him try his best to sway me for a bit, to see where it would go, if he would impress me with a clever argument. Unfortunately it became a cliché teenager whining session summed up by “its not fair,” and I stopped him.
I asked if he really believed that I was going to retract his mother’s decree, if he actually saw a scenario of our conversation that would end in his being pardoned. As is his usual response to a question he doesn’t like the answer to, he didn’t respond.
I tried a few explanations to show him how A had lead to B, what actions he’d taken and how it had ended poorly for him. Of course, it didn’t reach him, because he was angry and didn’t want to hear anything other than that he was right. So I tried something else, it went a little like this:
“Lets assume for a moment that I believe you. That I think you mother is being unreasonable. We already know I will not intercede with her punishment. For one, I wasn’t present, and I bet that if I heard it from her perspective, it would likely be a very different story. Two, no cohesive parenting unit can operate if the child can get one parent to revoke the punishment of the other.”
Still nothing, but this is when a light bulb went off: Appeal to his sense of, let’s call it “cleverness.”
“You see, you are focusing your attention on the wrong strategy, you aren’t playing the long game. You received a punishment, then you got angry and talked back, and now your punishment has quadrupled. As you put it, your punishment no longer fits the crime, it has become unreasonable. So where did you go wrong… strategically speaking?”
He shrugged, but it wasn’t the “I don’t care” or “I’m not listening” response I’ve grown used to.
“You see son, you entered into the arena with no power, while your mother yielded supreme power. She controls all that you hold dear. Worse for you, she knows what you hold dear. She controls the internet, the television, all the electronic devices. She controls everything that is not a life necessity. So do you see where you went wrong?”
He shrugs, but again, I have his attention.
“Imagine that your mother is a bomb. When you anger the bomb, it becomes armed. If the bomb detonates, shrapnel will wreak havoc on all you cherish. It will cut through the power and internet lines, it will blow the television, the PlayStation, the iPod to pieces. Everything that matters to you could be destroyed. So where did you go wrong?”
“I detonated the bomb,” he says. “But it wasn’t fair!”
After a short speech about how I never understood where the concept of life being fair had ever gotten any traction. I returned to the question, “where did you go wrong?”
He shrugs again, but at least he is smiling, enjoying the lecture for once.
“Your strategy, was to blow up bigger than the bomb, to consume the explosion with your own explosion. All you succeeded in doing was triggering an atomic blast (one day turned into a week). So next time this happens, I want you to be thinking something else from the get go. Do you know what that is?”
He shakes his head.
“HOW DO I DIFFUSE THE BOMB! You don’t get out more explosives. You get your blast gear on and find your wire cutters. You should be thinking, ‘oh man, oh man, do I cut the blue wire or the red wire? How do I put the pin back in the grenade? How do I freeze the timer before it reaches zero and the C4 puts a hole in my world?”
He was still punished for a week, but at least he seemed to get the point.