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The parents of a 12-year-old daughter tell me she’s intelligent and did well in school up until the seventh grade, at which time she stopped doing the required work and her grades, consequently, went down the proverbial tube.

My response: Who cares?

The parents of an eight-year-old son tell me he still has four or five “accidents” per week in his clothing. The child’s pediatrician has determined that there is no physical problem.

My response: Who cares?

The parents of a 15-year-old boy want to know what to do about his refusal to keep his bedroom and bathroom neat and clean. His possessions are strewn everywhere, he doesn’t hang up his towels, he disposes of food by shoving it under his bed, and so on.

My response: Who cares?

Don’t mistake my meaning here. I am not trivializing these problems. In each case, the parents have a legitimate complaint. I’m simply asking these parents to identify who’s upset by the problems in question, because it’s a simple fact that the person who’s upset by the problem is the one who will solve it. The reason why these problems aren’t being solved is that in each case, it can only be solved by the child.

So, who cares that a seventh-grade girl is not accepting her academic responsibilities? Who cares that an eight-year-old frequently messes his clothing? Who cares that a teenager refuses to keep his living space orderly and clean?

In each case, I discover, it’s the parents who care. They are upset. They are the ones pulling their hair out. And in each case, the child does not care. The problem is that the wrong person cares. The wrong person is upset. Therefore, the only person who can solve each of these problems has no reason to do so. Only when the children themselves are forced to become upset about the problems—only when they begin to care more than their parents do—will the problems get solved.

So, the girl’s parents confiscate her most prized possession: her cell phone. She will get it back when her grades come back up to par and stay there for one entire grading period. When she is informed of this, she throws a tantrum like she hasn’t thrown since she was a toddler. Good! Now she cares.

The boy’s parents tell him that his doctor says he’s messing his clothing because he isn’t getting enough sleep. Until the incidents have stopped for a continuous period of 28 days, the doctor says he has to go to bed right after supper—even if that means canceling activities—seven days a week. He’s horribly upset by this sudden turn of events. Good! Now he cares.

And the teen comes home one day to discover that his parents have thoroughly cleaned his room, thrown away whatever they felt like throwing away, and stored his most coveted possessions in a storage locker to which only they have the code. They tell him to take a close look at the job they did because he must keep his room and bathroom to that standard for two straight months before they will return his stuff. He’s furious, goes to his room, and won’t come out for dinner. Good! Now he cares.

Each of these problems will be solved very quickly when—and only when—the right person cares.


Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, please contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at tracyjahn@sbcglobal.net or (817) 295-1751.

Living With Children: Who Cares?

by John Rosemond
  
From the January 2013 Signs  

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