My son is using school attendance as blackmail!

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Question:

I have a 15 year old son who is in grade 10. He asked me last weekend if I would get Broadband, and I told him that I couldn’t afford it and it was an un-necessary expense. Because of that he refuses to go to school until I get it on. What can I do??? Don’t say contact the school because I have and they don’t care…….

Answer:

Thanks for your question, 15 year old boys can be so much fun can’t they!

Firstly, as a bit of background to his reaction: mid to late teen boys are very clever (some would say devious). They are smart enough to know when logic won’t help them win an argument so they resort to either cruelty – saying hurtful things in loud ways – or blackmail, or both. Every time they win an argument this way extends the amount of time they will use the same method the next time.

The good news for parents in this is if they are strong and: 1) don’t escalate the problem by responding to the boy in the same way, and 2) don’t give in; the emotions will ease reasonably quickly and the issue will pass. Then in a couple of days (or hours) either a new issue and new battle will arise, or the boy might give the old one a go again. Another piece of good news is that by the time a boy is 18 this approach fades pretty quickly.

Now to your particular situation:

Assuming that the issue is just broadband perhaps there are some questions you could ask yourself and discuss with him.

Is his need for broadband related to school? If so this could be quite a reasonable request. Broadband access is fast becoming an integral part of secondary education.

The teacher of nearly every class he attends will at some point suggest using the internet to research something. The point here though is that by staying away from school to protest not having broadband he his defeating his own argument. Perhaps you could suggest that he demonstrates his commitment to school and learning first by his attendance, attitude and application till Easter and then together you will make a decision, with the following question in mind:

Is he able to make some sacrifice that will contribute to the cost? Share a portion of his pay from his weekend job (if he has one, if not maybe he should get one), buying lunch at school on fewer days, or no days. Settling for ‘lesser’ brand clothes etc. I am aware that this will mean a sacrifice on your part too but with broadband plans available for $29.95pm with no upfront cost it may be possible – it means each of you have to find a way to squeeze, say, an extra $4 per week. By the way, if you do go this way be very careful to get a plan that is ‘slowed’ after you reach your download limit, that way you can be certain to never pay excess usage charges.

If that is not possible do you have access to an alternate solution: is there a neighbour or family member or library close by the he can use to access the internet for study?

On the other hand, if he wants broadband for non-school issues (MySpace & MSN, downloading music, etc) then I would be putting to him that he pays for it himself. To protect your budget you might like to suggest that he saves the first 3 months of subscriptions before you sign up for anything and then he pays monthly in advance. You might be able to contribute a small amount if you and other members of your family will be using the internet.

With either option it will important to work out some usage rules first. The internet – especially for teens – can easily be a black hole that sucks in time. Discuss reasonable usage that allows him time to complete his school work and some school performance measures he must attain. Put that into a contract he signs before any broadband plan is taken. The contract won’t guarantee that he will use the internet sensibly, it will just help you when you have the argument with him about over use or inappropriate use.

My concern, though, is that his reaction has been so severe I wonder if broadband is the issue or an excuse to take a stand.

Is he having problems at school he hasn’t told you about? Is he struggling academically? Is he being bullied or socially excluded in some way (and not having broadband could be contributing to that)? Is he nervous about achieving the results he needs for the future he wants?

Is he struggling at home? Are there some unresolved issue between the two of you that he can’t talk about but can’t ignore? Is he angry about some issues in his life and this is the simplest way of express the anger without talking about the issues.

If you suspect this might be the case then I would suggest you give him some time to calm down and when both of you are calm have one of those “hey mate, what’s really going on here?” conversations. These can be hard to initiate, with a sullen teenage boy it can seem impossible, but if you are calm and choose a time for the conversation when are you both least likely to be stressed, over time you will get to the heart of the matter.

These are just brief thoughts, I hope they give you some ideas and encouragement. If the problem persists or, more importantly, escalates, I would strongly suggest that you seek a family counsellor. Life Line and Centacare are two organisations that provide excellent service at a very low fee.

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