Middle School

9 min Read

Attitude Adjustment

Cell phones, Facebook, sexually aware tweens – welcome to the world of parenting where eight is the new 13.

convincing her parents to give her a cell phone so she could call them
when she got to school and after soccer practice, Sarah, 11, managed to
triple her family’s monthly phone bill with a texting habit that
extended into the wee hours of the morning. When her parents took her
phone away, she resorted to her father’s work phone. Soon her parents
discovered her Facebook page, which included inappropriate photos of her
claiming she was 16. Whether it’s cell phones, sexual activity or cyber
bullying, parents today are not only being hit with tougher issues than
a generation ago, but earlier, according to author and parent expert
Michele Borba. “We’re living in a world where eight is the new 13. We’re
seeing depression in three-year olds, eating disorders in six-year-olds
and some 13-year-olds are having oral sex,” says Borba, a mother of
three grown sons and a former teacher.

her latest book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to
Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries, Borba aims to give parents
solutions to the problems facing their kids from three to 13. Her book
is intended to be an alternative to what she sees as the overload of
conflicting parenting information on the market – much of which doesn’t
offer commonsense, research-based advice. She recently spoke to

PC: Why do you devote an entire chapter to electronics?

Parents need to step up to the plate. Our kids are the electronic age.
What I’m really trying to do is educate parents so they can set
standards and expectations in the home. Develop ‘netiquette’ at an early
age. For example, preschoolers should not use a computer without adult
supervision and their daily screen time should be limited. At this age,
you can begin teaching Internet safety rules such as never giving out
your name, address, phone number or birthday and using a computer only
with an adult. Our tweens are saying the best way to connect with us is
by texting. ‘Just learn to text, Mom, and I’ll be better connected with
you.’ We’d better start learning how to text.

PC: You also devote a section to sex. But isn’t your book aimed at parents of kids between the ages of three and 13?

MB: We are waiting far too late to have the sex talk with our kids. Kids are already having sexual
encounters before we have had the sex talk. That’s why we have to sit down with our kids at age
We don’t have to talk about all the big words at age three. We can
start talking about body parts then so that they’re more comfortable
when we do have the talk.

PC: Parents often seek advice on how to change their child’s bad behaviour. Why do you tell parents that they must first change how they respond to their children?

If you’re really pulling your hair out and your child keeps doing the
same inappropriate behaviour, then your current strategy is not working.
You have to come up with a better response.

PC: Such as?

Most parenting books start with step one, here’s how to intervene, and
step two, here’s your new response. They’re big on the discipline and
big on the punishment. But they leave out step three. In step three you
need to develop new habits that will change behaviour and bring real and
lasting change. For every desired change, always think: “If my child is
to stop one behaviour, what will she do instead?” No behaviour or
attitude will change unless you teach another behaviour, skill, or habit
to replace the current, inappropriate one. Without this step, chances
are that the child will revert to using the old misbehaviour, and no
change will take place. For example, a child has trouble recalling
directions or needs repeated reminders to do what you’ve asked. You
could use any of these Step #3 options:

  • The rewind method:
    ask your child to repeat your statement to make sure he understood what
    you asked. If dealing with a younger child you would have him practise
    by telling his stuffed animal or family pet what you just said. An older
    kid might repeat the direction over in a low voice until the task is
  • The reminder method: Have your child write a note or
    put a sticker on their hand to remind themselves of the task they need
    to do.
  • Visualization: Have your child picture the task in their
    mind. For example, “See your clothes on the floor and the hamper next to
    it. See yourself putting the clothes in the hamper. That’s what you
    need to do.”
  • Teach your child to use his hand as a “task counter” with each finger representing one thing that he needs to remember to do.

tweens are saying the best way to connect with us is by texting. “Just
learn to text, Mom, and I’ll be better connected withyou.” We’d better
start learning how to text.”

PC: What about a child who whines. How would you handle that?

Make sure you are talking to your child as you would to your best
friend. Be polite. Ask yourself; is it possible that my child is
resorting to whining because I am speaking disrespectfully to her? Then
praise your child every time she uses the right tone. Usually kids will
stop whining if they know you refuse to listen to the tone. Set a
consequence and follow through. For instance, every time a younger child
whines put her in a whining chair or the whining room. For older
children, take away a privilege such as the Internet or require that
they contribute part of their allowance to the family “fees for
complaining jar”. Hang in there. If your child has been in the whining
habit for a long time don’t expect change overnight. Be consistent. The
bottom line is to do one thing at a time. Don’t take on too much. Focus
on one behaviour whether it’s whining or homework battles. Once you say
‘ok, it is not working’ then you move to step two, which is a rapid new
response. And then step three, teach another behaviour, skill or habit
to replace the current inappropriate one. Otherwise, kids will hit you
with the same behaviour because they don’t know how to act differently.

PC: You make it sound so simple.

The challenge is to use the new response consistently. A big parenting
mistake is not sticking to a behaviour plan long enough. Whatever change
you want, commit to your plan for at least 21 days. If you really want
to stop bad behaviour, the fastest way to change it is to reinforce or
applaud your child for what they are doing right. We are so good at
staying ‘wrong, wrong wrong’. But how often do we say ‘Good for you! You
used your knife and fork correctly!’ ”
The good news is that decades of research on developing positive behaviours has proven it’s never too late to change.

PC: What about the role that education plays in our children’s success – are parents focussing too much on outside help or is there more that we can do at home?

We are overlooking simple things such as family meals. Family meals not
only boost grade points but lower incidence of eating disorders and
depression. They also lower your child’s rate of risky behaviour
patterns. It’s not sharing the macaroni and cheese that does it. Eating
together sends your child the message that family matters. The core
skill kids need to succeed in school is listening. Where do they learn
listening best? At dinner hour. That’s where we learn how to recall and
retain information.

PC: If our ultimate job as parents is to prepare our kids for the day when they will

leave home, what’s the best way to do that?

Imagine your child at age 20. What are the character traits you hope he
or she has? What skills do you want your child to have developed? Now
start to work backwards. Number one rule: Never do for your child what
they can do for themselves. The goal is baby steps along the way and
what is tangible and appropriate for your child’s level and skills. At
age four, they can learn to throw the comforter on the bed. By age seven
they can put the sheets on the bed. A tween can learn to do the
laundry. Many of our children are having a tough time coping without us
when they leave us as adults or students. The latest statistics from
university counselling centres show that the first year dropout rate has
reached an alltime high at more than 26 percent, and four out of 10
students reported feeling depressed to the point that it was difficult
to function. Depression, stress, and dropouts peak during the second
half of the first year. You have no guarantee about how your kids will
turn out. But you have a far greater likelihood that your kid will
reduce risky behaviour, be more resilient, be more confident and bounce
back if you and your child have a healthy relationship. That’s the
bottom line.

Published June 2010

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