Ask Your Counselor

Should I buy my teen a Smartphone?

My 14-year-old daughter is furious because I have denied her a smartphone until she turns 16, even though most of her friends own one. She uses our home computer — placed in the dining room — to access the social media. I worry that buying her a phone will mean unlimited access to the Internet. Please advise. — Rishita Sahoo, Bangalore

Personally, I feel you are a responsible parent because you have prescribed practical rules to ensure her online safety. Parents need to be firm on important issues. 

However, teenagers, especially girls, need to chat with friends and are entitled to a modicum of privacy. You could allow her to use a landline/cordless phone at home. It’s important that you discuss the many dangers lurking in the Internet world with your daughter — online abuse, identity theft, bullying, etc, and explain why you have restricted her access to a smartphone and the Internet. Making time for rational and non-judgmental family parleys will go a long way in reassuring adolescents about your bona fides.

 

My 10-year-old son stopped throwing tantrums when he was three years old, but his six-year-old sibling still screams and shouts and hasn’t outgrown the tantrum stage. How do I stop him from misbehaving? — Shailaja D, Mysore

Little children often use tantrums to communicate messages. Parental response determines whether tantrums will escalate or pipe down. Tantrums will continue and escalate if your child is receiving the response he wants. For instance, you get off the phone or give him what he wants when he misbehaves. But it’s okay to disappoint your son when he is throwing a tantrum. You need to be firm, calm and tell him you will only listen when he communicates his demands without yelling and screaming. This will convey a message to desist from displaying exaggerated emotions. 

If the misbehaviour continues, you need to make it clear that there will be consequences to temper tantrums. Be patient, tantrums don’t disappear overnight. It will take a good 60-90 days to see a difference in your child’s behaviour. Also bear in mind that lack of sleep, unbalanced diet and too-little outdoor play, prompt tantrums. Introduce regular outdoor playtime with peers; reduce screen time and exposure to violent television and cinema.

 

My son, a class V student, is an above average student and likes to self-study. I help only when he asks for it. My mother-in-law, however, insists on teaching him maths. I worry this will confuse him. Do I need to intervene? — Gayathri M., Trichy

The goal of all schooling is to nurture and develop the skills of self-study and self-learning in children. But self-study and self-learning are two very different skills, and parents need to encourage both. In self-study, children set aside regular time periods to manage academic challenges on their own, developing the skills to do homework and excel in examinations. For self-learning, curious children explore and enhance their understanding of concepts, situations and events. Independent learners show a good balance of both skills — self-learning and self-study. 

Acquiring this balance is an essential life skill. But this skill is often deficient in children who are packed off to tuition classes and constantly spoon-fed. Try and communicate this to your mother-in-law. It will be wonderful if she is able to appreciate that children need to be encouraged to self-study and self-learn. If she doesn’t, you must stand up for your son. Ensure that you support him by creating a home environment conducive to learning.

(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the Child Guidance Centre and Counseling Clinic, Salem/Chennai)