Oluwatomisin was a bit edgy that Saturday morning. He sat on a raised edge by the garden in front of his home wearing a vicious look. Looking downcast, he sighed deeply and hissed unconsciously at nothing in particular, he stood up pacing up and down the garden.
As an adolescent in his twelfth grade at Avi Cenna International School, Tom, as he is fondly called at home, has had a difficult time trying to get his parents understand him. This morning is not different from other days, as he has always ended up having a row with his parents.
Talking back at parents by their children can be a major problem for the parents of an intelligent and articulate child like Tom, because his verbal skill may have outpaced his parents’ social skill. A verbally gifted child may not yet have the empathy and diplomacy he needs to raise an issue or express his desires without appearing to challenge his parents.
Bamidele Ogunronbi, a child psychologist, warns that parents are often too quick to interpret the talk back behaviour in their children as disrespectful, when it may simply be a reflection of the child’s normal development. In fact, a child who never talks back may be at higher risk of getting into serious trouble later on.
“For an adult not to challenge what people say is a good thing let alone a child, even though we don’t always want our children to do it to us,” says a professor of psychology at the University of Lagos. In psychology, this skill is called ‘standing up for yourself’ when you’re with your friends and ‘talking back’ when you’re with your parents. “We want our children to question what their friends are saying, and not to go along automatically with social pressure,” he explains.
All children are impudent and cheeky at times. Yet, they may view the situation and their behaviour quite differently than their parents do. “I cannot and don’t tolerate talking back from my children. It’s really rude. They must learn to obey me,” Chinyere Obi, a parent, says.
Some psychologists attribute this skill to the developmental changes in children. “A child’s skill in logical thought increases dramatically during adolescence. They also develop a new-found interest in talking about issues and seeing them from different perspectives. Their feelings are suddenly more intense, so they easily get carried away by their emotions. Because of these changes in their feelings, they are more likely to challenge their parents and question the reasons behind decisions that never bothered them before. But that doesn’t mean it’s done to hurt the parents,” says Linda Uduak, a developmental psychologist.
A sudden increase in back talk can also be a sign of a deeper problem that the child feels uncomfortable expressing directly. For example, if parents are having difficulty with their marriage, a child may talk back as a way of distracting them from the arguments that are making the child nervous. The same way an only child whose mother becomes pregnant may suddenly talk rudely to both parents. “He cannot think of other ways to get the extra attention he craves, so he does what he is sure will provoke a reaction. Television is also a great influence. There’s a lot of rude, cheeky behaviour on television sitcom that gives children the idea that it’s not only acceptable, but it’s funny,” says Ogunronbi.
Every child talks back at some point, and every parent becomes angered by it. But for some, the problem quickly gets out of control. “In a two-parent family, the calmer parent should respond to the talk back,” advises Uduak.