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Whose Problem Is It?

Many of our problems as parents come from misdiagnosis of a problem as the child’s behavior when our anxiety about the child’s behavior is more to blame.

Recently the PBS Newshour aired a piece on a documentary made by a physician-film maker about kids, their “alleged” addiction to hand held devices and what parents allegedly should do about it.

Both the news report and documentary focus on so called “Screen Teens” and assert that overuse of hand held devices is the problem. It is NOT the problem. The “problem” since time immemorial, regardless of the technology, is the issue of a power struggle between parents and kids.

What caught my eye was when the doctor-film maker turned the camera on herself and her daughter. The mother is concerned that the daughter spends too much time on her hand held device. The mother asks daughter: “What should the rules be?” The daughter, thinking that the mother has asked a true question, responds: “I think the rule should be there is no rule.”

With that response the mother clearly shows her irritation and tension breaks out between mother and daughter as it does every day in their home.

One reason for that is that the mother’s “question” is not a true question. It is a demand couched as a question.

The doctor says, “I was really having a hard time as a mom.” I’ll bet she was! She added “I felt out of control.” I would agree with her there, but I think she meant “I felt out of control” because she couldn’t get compliance from her daughter.

When questions are not true questions but demands couched as questions, tensions rise between parents and kids, screaming starts, and if I were a kid I would want to escape the daily tension by using my hand held device!

So many of our problems as parents comes from misdiagnosis of the problem. Is the problem really the child’s behavior or parental anxiety about the child’s behavior? If we misdiagnose the problem we will respond in exactly the wrong way and make things worse instead of better.

Gilbert Marsh

Gilbert Marsh is a psychotherapist in Bloomington and is married to Moira Marsh who is a folklorist from New Zealand.

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