Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sassy Pants

Tensions were high this morning in my house. The holidays are looming, as are homework and school project deadlines. Staying up late with visiting family members, and the unwelcome actions of younger siblings just add to the stress. Top it off with everyone having a head cold, and I could understand why things went as they did at breakfast.

"Jacob, it's late. You need to eat something before it's time to get the bus."

"I don't like any of the cereal we have."

"Then have a yogurt and a banana. You can't go to school with nothing in your stomach--you have a test today."

"Watch me."

Granted, backtalk like this is likely considered welcome dialogue in the homes of families with older teens. But I'm a beginner at this teen thing; indeed, Jacob is just on the hormonal cusp of 'the ugly years' and still shows his sweet and thoughtful side most often--especially to me.

So this was unexpected sass to my virgin ears, and I spun on the poor, unsuspecting kid and pounced like a cat.

"Don't you dare talk to me that way, Mister," I said right into his face, holding my finger up for emphasis. "You can save the sassy mouth for the bus because it is not gonna fly in this house. Now go eat something."

I admit it was probably a bit harsh, and I could give you plenty of excuses for it. But I also had to wonder what really sparked it. Was it because I was feeling sick and therefore out of control of my own body, so I needed to assert my control over my kid? Perhaps. That long-buried need from my own middle-school years to fight back when pushed rather than back down? Not impossible. But later in the day, I read an article about arguing with your teen and discovered that--surprise surprise--it can actually help them.

According to a study of 157 13-year-olds and their parents, parents and teens who were able to have a calm and civil dialogue about tricky subjects like school, friends and troubling situations--without the teen giving up early on--produced positive results later on. Those teens who held their own in these discussions were able to stand up to peer pressure about drugs and alcohol.

This was good to learn. Not because I plan to turn everything Jacob says into an argument. But what I will do is make sure our exchanges turn into discussions and not fights. Listening is just as important as stating your case, no matter how loudly, when it comes to any interaction. The main point of the study is that "each person in the discussion needs to feel that they are being heard and they are using arguments and reasoning to have a calm back and forth,” according to study co-author Joanna Chango, a graduate student at the University of Virginia.

In my defense, though, I also think letting Jacob know as I did this morning that he cannot talk to me the way he does to the kids at school, much as he'd like to, will maintain what respect he does have for me. And that will be equally as important as listening when things really do get tricky down the road.

No comments: