If you live with a teenager, chances are you have been a victim at least once or twice. What do I mean by a Gotcha War? It is a battle of opposing wills. One person has right on their side. The other person doesn’t care about right or wrong; he or she wants to keep you arguing until you blow it and look like a fool.
Even dogs can play a Gotcha War game. We have had Punky the pup for about two months now. He plays a hard and fast game of Gotcha War when off leash at the dog park. When you want to put him back on the leash he’ll run up to you prancing and dancing, but not near enough for you to get the leash on. You can almost hear the little rascal laughing as he dances away. Unlike human Gotcha Warriors, however, he can be bribed with a piece of cheese.
Why do kids play this game? For many reasons, but I think the majority of my foster kids had a strong sense of honor and often had to pick what I call “A Guilt-driven Gotcha War” when torn between honor and wanting to do something forbidden.
I describe Jamie in the book. He wanted to go to a party back at his home town. His probation officier had nixed all home visits. The morning of the party Jamie began his Gotcha War. He didn’t get out of bed when called, he didn’t do his chores, he refused to leave the house when we wanted to go to the local swimming pool. All the time he was breaking our rules, he moaned and groaned about how awful it was living with us.
Now I knew what was up and worked hard to remain above the fray and follow the advice I give most when a Gotcha Warrior is out to get you. I shrugged my shoulders, I sent the others to the swimming pool and retired to do some work on my computer. Jamie kept up his harrassment, I kept my cool until I was heading for the bathroom and Jamie grabbed my arm.
He said plaintively pulling on me, “I need to talk.”
I replied a angrily, jerking my arm away, “And I need to go.”
That was all he needed, “You’re paid to care and you won’t even talk to me. I’ve had it. F… you.”
And out the door he went.
I managed to yell, “Come back when you’ve calmed down and thought things over.”
Come back he did, the next morning. He was in trouble with his probation officer, but he had gained lots of respect from his peers, spent time with his girlfriend, and forced me to get angry enough so he could use me as an excuse to do what he wanted.
What Is A Parent to Do? The less the better. Minimal response, an indifferent or bemused air. Quiet restatement of rules. Timing yourself out by absenting the scene. The more you argue or get upset, the more the Gotcha Warrior is fueled.
When I directed crisis teams we were called to an elementary school to help deal with a Gotcha Warring ten year old. His favorite trick was to run out of the classroom and head for the roof saying “I’m going to jump.” Scary stuff for any one to deal with. He would often end up restrained and hustled off to the psychiatric emergency room. The consensus was that he was not at all suicidal, but attention seeking. I was able to convince the school not to react. I stationed staff where they could see and not be seen.
With everyone ignoring him, the young man wandered the hall for a few minutes and then returned to the class room. This youngster had major problems, and was referred for a full evaluation. Turned out, he had an undetected learning disability and when that was properly treated, he stopped being a Gotcha Warrior.
Think staying above the fray is easy? Not if you have ever met a determined Gotcha Warrior. Through the years it has helped me to remember these lines from the movie Bull Durham: “Some days you win. Some days you lose. Some days it rains.”
Every good kid will play a few Gotcha Wars, if it is constant and destroying the family atmosphere, help is needed. Find a good family therapist. Things can be better.