Hijacking begins with the belief that I know you better than you know yourself. Could anything make you happier than knowing I think I possess that power?
This is how an awful lot of adults (and not just a lot of awful adults) regularly treat the kids in their lives. Come to think of it, there are adults who treat each other this way and I don’t know anyone—adult or child—who enjoys it even a little bit.
Hijackers assume that, left to themselves, kids will end up in the wrong place, or at least try to get there the wrong way—meaning a different way than the adult would, which of course makes it wrong. No matter how accomplished the youngster actually may be, she will be tempted to feel childish in the presence of a committed Hijacker.
“Do you have your lunch money?” is an insult from the mouth of a Hijacker because it means I’m pretty sure you’d starve if it weren’t for me. Remember that time you forgot your lunch money? You were hungry weren’t you? I wouldn’t want to let you make that mistake again. There’s very little chance the child will feel like eating at the end of such an exchange, as she’s probably had about all she can stomach.
Most people mean no harm when they Hijack. Their goal after all is to head off undesirable consequences. But Hijackers do considerable harm to cherished relationships because Hijacking undermines the worth of those they care for. The received message of Hijacking is something like:
You’re helpless without me. You need me for the most trivial matters. I’m saying this for your own good. You’d lose your mind if I didn’t hand you a piece of mine you on the way out the door every morning. Never forget that. And, honey, have a good day at school.
Hijacking fosters dependence instead of encouraging intelligent independence. The Hijacker insists on looking after details like what to wear, what to eat, how to study, when to sleep and wake, how, specifically, to get from point A to point B. Then, if children make the mistake of relinquishing control in any of these areas Hijackers blame them for not looking after the little things any fool can accomplish. It’s a dirty business, Hijacking.
You don’t understand! It’s for his own good!
Blah, blah, blah.
No, really; he’d forget his head if it wasn’t attached!
Not more than once.
Kids have an amazing capacity to learn new tricks. They don’t allow themselves to get extremely cold or hungry or lost more than once without very good reasons.
One very good reason, of course, is to get under the skin of a Hijacker. On frosty Colorado mornings I watched a lot of kids on their way to school without jackets. Sometimes I imagine conversations that may have occurred on their way out the door:
Interior. Morning. Kitchen. An eleven year old boy runs a cold slice of bread around the rim of a jelly jar and chews thoughtfully, having decided toast was too much trouble.
From another room we hear an adult voice: Are you wearing your jacket?
There is silence in the kitchen. The adult speaks louder: Are you WEARING your JACKET!
The boy speaks, his mouth full of bread: Snot Cold!
Adult: What? I said, are you wearing your jacket?
Silence in the kitchen. After a moment the adult hollers: ANSWER ME!
The boy glances up at the clock. Indeed, he is not cold at this moment. He is tired of being yelled at from another room. In an instant the boy decides he will placate the adult but, for reasons he hardly understands, he will not satisfy her. His voice rises with the patronizing tone he will use again in 50 years to explain to his mother why she must eat her strained vegetables: Mom, it’s too hot to wear my jacket in here. Don’t worry about it.
With that, the boy dips his finger in the jelly, rubs it on another slice of bread which he folds neatly in half, then walks past his jacket and out the door into the cold, clear day of his youth.
Remember the 30-Day Guarantee. If for a month you steadfastly keep your mouth closed about things that should be your child’s responsibility, said child will have to begin thinking about things for which you’ve been taking responsibility. And she will, once she sees you’re seriously backing out of responsibilities that would be hers to manage if, say, you were hit by a bus.
You may be relieved to know you don’t need to be hit by a bus for this to work. It’s better if it’s not abrupt. It’s better if your offspring doesn’t feel as if he’s been ambushed. Hand off responsibilities with grace and good humor. Try something like: It has occurred to me that neither of us is getting any younger, and that I’ve been looking after some details that you’ll have to handle sooner or later...and I’m thinking sooner is better. I still sleep in the room just down the hall, so I’ll be around to coach you on the finer points of (sandwich-making, calendar management, transportation arrangements...whatever you want your kid to know how to do before she heads into whatever’s next in her life). I just want you to know it’s important to get some things off my plate and onto yours.
Back to the 30 days of silence: in the beginning, since you won’t have been—dare I say—nagging her, maybe your daughter will talk with you about her experiences in those matters. She may want to blame you because she forgot something. She may try to shift responsibility back to you. Don’t give in to your need to be needed. Do this: Express your sympathy about whatever inconvenience she suffered and, without moralizing, decline to take back responsibility. The truth is, each time you take responsibility for details your child could be covering, you leave something else undone. It may be something nonessential like working on your watercolors, or something significant like getting to bed at a decent hour. Any chance your personal health and development might be important to your child?
Instead of Hijacking a kid’s opportunity to learn intelligent independence, go offline and work on your watercolors. Go to bed on time. Remain engaged but don’t hijack your child’s need to develop appropriate responsibility. Keep doing this for a month and tell me if things don’t improve.
— from Raising Adults