Pester power

April 15, 2013

I’ve never heard anyone go all gooey-eyed and say, ‘oh, I’d really love a teenager. They’re so cute, all those empty cups in their rooms, the piles of dirty clothes, the 3am phone calls …’ Just as well, when you have a baby, that the teenage years are a long, long way away. By then, that lovely bundle lying in a pristine moses basket on day one will have trained you up so well that even having a gangling creature from the black lagoon of hormones around the place is a joy (sometimes).

But not for everyone. I suppose I’d heard vaguely of Adolescent to Parent Abuse, or APA, but I thought it was mostly the sort of thing that crops up in gritty dramas, shortly before the adolescent in question runs off to a sticky end in the big city. Apparently not – it’s now a ‘thing’, like cutting, which I’d never heard of until a few years ago, and is now almost literally all the rage at one of my daughters’ schools.

Obviously, APA is a very disturbing trend, if trend it now is, and that’s why I am writing about it, having been asked to by documentary makers ZKK TV (they are not paying me for this, by the way). At the bottom of this article are the contact details if you have your own story of APA to tell.

You can see how APA could easily grow out of the ‘pester power’ that smaller children deploy so ruthlessly in order to get parents to shell out for all manner of rubbish. If it works with a Barbie when you’re 3, it will probably be an effective way of prising an iPhone or whatever the lust object is out of an exasperated parent later on. And then, according to the experts, it’s not such a great leap from verbal to physical abuse. Psychologists say there is a lot of it going on – but that parents don’t speak out about it. I can see why it could become taboo. Parents no doubt feel guilty, ashamed, desperate and alone.

I can imagine it’s a hard cycle to break. Better not to get there in the first place. I don’t claim to have any answers, really, about parenting. I just know what has worked for us, so far, and I’m touching wood as I say this. Just in case it’s useful to you, I’ll tell you my way of coping.

It’s not easy to say no to your children. You want them to be happy, and, if you’re like me, you want to avoid too much conflict. There’s nothing worse than a constant war of attrition with a whining child. But the easiest way to avoid conflict is a firm NO. Any chink in your armour and the child knows, by some unholy sixth sense, that it can push at the weak spot until the parent gives in. It’s your job to pretend you don’t have any weak spots. I’m afraid I adopted a Thatcherite mantra when my children were at this annoying age (from about 2 to about, er ….), which was, ‘Say No to Terrorism.’ The Lady’s Not for Turning would have been as good, but I liked the juxtaposition of armed aggression and pestering/whingeing. If you’ve spent more than five minutes with a child determined to have the latest My Little Pony or bust, then you know all there is to know about terrorism, believe me.

Unfortunately, even in the teenage years, you have to hold the line against various new forms of terrorist demand … ‘just half an hour more at the party, pleeease …’ ‘but everyone except me has Uggs/a pony/a tattoo ….’. Try to hold the line. Remember: No Negotiation with Terrorists.


* ZKK TV are making a documentary about parents who face violent behaviour from their teenage sons and daughters. 

Do you feel your teenager is out of control? 

Have they ever hit you? Or are you concerned they might do? 

Does your teenager wreck your home if they don’t get their own way? 

Does it feel like you are losing your child? 

We have begun filming with a small number of parents who have decided to tell their story in the public arena and we would like to talk confidentially to more parents and teenagers about their experiences. 

If you would like to know more (no obligation and completely confidential), or if you would like to be involved in the programme, please email

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  • janerowena April 16, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I can see how it happens just from observing my own sister. I hated the way she let her children do whatever they wanted and have anything they wanted because it upset my own children, in many ways. It got to the stage where I didn’t want us to spend much time together which was hugely sad. I was very good though, and never commented – unlike her. She frequently told me that my children were repressed, while I had to watch her lovely little son turn into a manipulative machiavellian bully and his sister turn into an instant invalid, if thwarted.

    Until five years ago when she moved away, close to me, and sold her house in London purely so that her incredibly spoilt adult children would have to move out and find flats and no longer treat her as the housekeeper. She loves them dearly, but one evening as my son got up and cleared away the dishes without being asked, she suddenly admitted that she had got it very, very wrong and had raised incredibly selfish, thoughtless children. She told me some of the things they had got up to (truly appalling) and I very nearly felt sorry for her – but couldn’t quite manage it as I had had to sit through so many critiques of my own bad mothering.

    Giving in to badgering may seem an easy option at the time, but my God you will have to pay for it later.

    • Dulwich Divorcee April 17, 2013 at 1:53 pm

      Gosh I don’t know how you managed not to say anything to your sister! You must have huge reserves of restraint. At least she realised what she’d done eventually. I hope your niece and nephew turn out all right in the end. Few people will indulge them out in the real world and they’ll probably learn quite fast, though definitely the hard way, poor things. Your son sounds lovely 🙂

      • janerowena April 17, 2013 at 11:21 pm

        My son is lovely. I am already suffering empty nest syndrome, in advance. My niece and nephew are indeed learning the hard way, through relationships that aren’t working out the way they thought they should. It’s very interesting to observe. The reason I said nothing to my sister is partly because she has a quick temper – it just isn’t worth arguing with her! She has such a strong personality that it seems strange that her children can walk all over her the way they do.

  • Naomi Richards April 18, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Yes the pester power I think gets worse as they get older given the influence they have from their peers. I plan to continue to say no and hope that the more I talk to them now about how we live our life and what is acceptable the more they will listen – yes I am boing hopeful. I see many young teens who have volatile relationships with their paretns because their parents did not say no from an ealrier age and they have become scared to say no. It is not a good place to be and anyone going through this should seek help to get back in control I think.