Q: My 12-year-old grandson has become obsessed with
things he wants, including a cell phone (the most expensive, mind
you), an iPad, and expensive designer jeans. He begs, throws
tantrums, pouts, refuses to speak to his parents, and the like.
When told not to say another word, he leaves them notes, draws
pictures, or comes to us or the other grandparents. These
obsessions and his very manipulative behavior are a mystery because
he's never been given an excess of material things. My daughter and
her husband have addressed this with common-sense talk about greed,
excess, obsessions, and self-control. What should we do to solve
A: First, I feel obsessively compelled to
point out that talking to a 12-year-old about greed, excess,
obsessions, and self-control is not an example of "common-sense
talk." These are not concepts that the average 12-year-old
understands. An example of "common-sense talk" would be as follows:
"We are not going to buy that for you, ever, no matter what you say
or do. When you are older and are earning your own money, you can
buy it for yourself."
You would probably tell me that his parents have told him words
to that effect and he continues to obsess and pester and pout and
throw tantrums. Pardon me for speculating, but I have to believe
that his parents have been less than unequivocal. My guess is
they've occasionally (perhaps rarely) told him "No" in no uncertain
terms, but then at other times they go on and on about greed,
excess, and so on, trying to persuade him to accept their decision.
If that's the case, then allow me to point out that your grandson
(like all children) perceives persuasion as a weakness. He can
simply refuse to be persuaded and even though he doesn't get what
he wants, he's "won" that round.
Even though obsessive thinking is often indicative of a
psychological problem, I think you're describing a power struggle.
Your grandson's parents need to stop participating. They need to
make themselves perfectly clear, and accomplishing that is going to
require some "drastic" measures on their part.
Drastic Measures: When he's at school, his parents remove
anything and everything from his room that isn't completely
necessary, including favorite but unnecessary clothing. When he
comes home from school, they sit down with him and inform him that
he's going to live that way until his inappropriate requests,
tantrums, pouting, and the like have completely stopped for a
continuous period of two weeks and that until that happens, he is
also going to bed at 7:00. This "conversation" should last no more
than two minutes, during which they should stick to the following
facts: (1) Your requests are inappropriate (I recommend that they
present him with a list of those requests). (2) We're not going to
buy you those things. (3) Because you obviously don't appreciate
the things you already have, you are going to live without them
until your inappropriate requests have stopped.
If, during the next two weeks, a request occurs, or displays any
of the manipulative, self-dramatic behaviors you listed, the two
weeks begins anew. He should have his stuff back within six weeks.
Those six weeks will be some of the most memorable weeks of his
life. That is, after all, the point.
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