Q: We have rules at our house — no pop, no M-rated video games, no 14+ movies. Is it realistic to expect my nine-year-old to say no to these types of things when he is at a friend’s house? Should I talk to the friend’s parents?
A: At age nine, a group of boys should still be mostly under the supervision of an adult, so it’s fine for you to discuss your concerns with the parents.
That said, you need to think about what is really important and why. If you allow him some autonomy on less vital issues, you are more likely to have him comply with the “no M-rated video games” rule and others that may actually be bigger concerns.
Believe it or not, he will be influenced by your modelling, although he may experiment with other behaviours. To express your own personal values, you can say, “I don’t like pop. I think it’s unhealthy. However, that is me. If you are at a friend’s house and they allow pop, that is a decision you can make for yourself.”
Social acceptance and self-identity are the developmental tasks for this age group. Groups of boys often watch violent and gruesome movies to prove their toughness. That means you will have to talk candidly with your son. Help him know what to do when he is being forced to do something he shouldn’t or doesn’t like. Have him rehearse some scenarios that allow him to save face so his social acceptance isn’t compromised:
• “I’d love to play Grand Theft Auto, but I’m on my third warning and I will be grounded for like a month. No can do.”
• “Hey, my mom just texted me [yes, there are some good reasons to give kids cellphones early]. I have to go home now. That sucks!”
• “I’m tired of gaming and sitting around. Let’s go skateboarding or play a little pickup.”