A mother says, “I caught my thirteen-year-old surfing a pornographic site. What do I do?” From the way she looks, I could tell she’s distraught. She says she has been telling him off, but it doesn’t work. The boy in question is her eldest, she has three other children. She’s super stressed out, she feels like leaving it all behind and starting a new life on her own.
First off, let me assure you that this can happen to the best of parents, those who work day and night, focused on raising their children right. So don’t be quick to say, “It won’t happen to me.”
Let me introduce you to the idea of consequences. A consequence is a direct result of a behaviour. For example, your two-year-old grabs a shoe and puts in on one foot. You see it, and clap your hand. The child looks up, smiles, she’s happy. She knows the consequence of putting on a shoe is a clap. She’s encouraged to do it more and more. Over time, it becomes a habit.
The idea of consequence is simple. Good behaviour brings about good/positive consequences. Bad behaviour results in bad/negative consequences.
In the case of the 13-year-old who is caught watching a pornographic site above, the only consequence he gets is a scolding. In fact, that’s the only thing he ever gets each time he does something wrong – a scolding. The child knows there will be nothing else. It’s likely he has learnt to shut down, he’s literally not listening to his mother’s angry words as she stands next to him.
The next question is, what is fair consequence for this misbehaviour? This is the tricky part, something both parents need to discuss and agree upon. One possible consequence is taking away the computer at least for a week as a start. A 13-year-old is big enough to be responsible for this kind of actions. Nobody is forcing him to surf the site. Nobody is holding a gun at him, to put it bluntly. He did it because he wanted to. As parents, we need to teach them that “action speaks louder than words”. Literally.
Now, think about which behaviour you want your child to change. See if the consequence he or she gets until now is reinforcing that particular behaviour. Humans are creatures of habit. Focus on growing good behaviour with positive consequences, reduce bad behaviour with negative consequences. Don’t overdo it. Be fair. Over time, the behaviour will become a habit. Come up with a consequence that’s suitable in terms of the child’s age and maturity. A child’s behaviour is like plasticine, mould it gently but firmly.
It’s good to remember that nurturing good behaviour is more than just about consequences. Be honest if you’re giving the child your undivided attention he deserves, if the child has healthy alternatives to fill up his time, if deeper issues are at work here. But never, ever give up. The older the child gets, the more you need to build a strong relationship based on trust and conscience. After all, who will police your child when he’s thirty?
Thought of The Moment
“Adversity builds character. After a storm, things will stand on more solid ground than they did before.” – Japanese quote.
Read the article in Malay: Perbaiki Akhlaq Anak Dengan Strategi ‘Akibat’