QUESTION: I have
a 15 year old son who thinks he can do what he wants whenever he wants.
He is a sophomore in high school and plays varsity football and basketball
and runs around with upperclassmen. His grades have fallen from a's
and b's to c's and d's we know he smokes and drinks occasionally. He
tells his mother one thing and tells me something else. These lies are
causing problems between us and he also says he doesn't care what the
rules are because he is going to do what he wants most of the time anyway.
We have tried grounding him but he begs to be off early by making deals
and then later says he never made a deal or he won't be found after
school or at practice.
son has got you by the tail! He is right to say that he does not have
to "go by the rules" since "making deals" has effectively sidestepped
consequences in your parental system. However his lack of respect is
most damaging to his own self-discipline and esteem. It is time to turn
You are the parents and you make the rules by which
your son can succeed. No doubt things will not be easy to change.
But being willing to "go the distance" with your son instead of taking
the path of least resistance for short term relief, will be a marker
for his future development. He will be able to look back on his adolescence
and make corrections later if not sooner, if you are willing to make
a stand now.
Talk with your wife about the importance of consistency
and consequences. Strengthen your parental team by agreeing to "stop
making deals" with your son. He has learned that he can come between
the two of you to "get what he wants" in the immediate sense. Though
you may want to achieve a sense of emotional closeness with your son
by "giving in", what you are really doing is contributing to his acquisition
of skills to "get around" things instead of taking full responsibility.
This will lead to inevitable failures for him ahead. Do not sacrifice
his future for short term relief. Your current approach is undermining
his respect not only for his parents, but for himself.
Establish clear rules and guidelines to help him
get back on track academically. Let him know that you care about his
future, and that since he is not attending to the consequences of
his current actions, that it is your job as parents to step in to
assure that he has choices open to him in the future. Let him know
that you are available to provide help if he has fallen behind in
his studies. Visit with his teachers to assess his needs and get an
accurate understanding of his current situation independent of what
he tells you, since he lies. Do this with his full knowledge and invite
Invoke clear guidelines to help him achieve success
in getting focused on his best interests. Let him know that while
you very much support his sports activities, that a certain gradepoint
average ("B" perhaps with nothing below a "D") is necessary to maintain
his status on the football team. Inform his coach of your standards
and follow through on consequences. He may return to sports following
the attainment of your academic requirements for him.
Provide similar guidelines that relate responsibility
to privileges in other areas. For example, being able to use the car
should be predicated on completing family duties, such as taking out
garbage, washing dishes, mowing the lawn, etc. Consequences should
be firm, but neutrally carried out. Do not match his emotional hysteria
when things change. Simply explain that you realize your mistake in
not helping him achieve his responsibilities in the past, and you
and your wife are learning how to correct your own mistakes.
Take responsibility for your errors, clearly state
your apology for having failed him by not teaching him that lying
doesn't work, and set clear expectations for his future behavior.
Overtime you will gain his respect for not "giving in" to the moment.
But do not take your cues from your son! You and your wife must turn
to each other for strength and nurturing.
Be prepared for his initial resistance! After all,
it is your own actions that have left the door wide open for disrespect.
You and you wife have inadvertently rewarded your son for using deceit
to get what he wants. His flaunting this "advantage" by saying directly
that he will do only as he desires, is a clear indication that he
is crying out for help. It is as if he is waving a red flag in front
of a bull. He is trying to get you to react! If he cannot respect
the actions of his father, how will he ever be able to internalize
the self- respect that is based on his identification with you as
the male authority figure in the family?
Talk with your wife about how this pattern of division
instead of teamwork developed between the two of you. What parental
role models did each of you have when it came to discipline and respect?
How did husbands and wives interact with one another around parental
decision-making? You may find that you have repeated patterns of parental
division, resulting in disrespect in your own childhood relationships,
or you may be overcompensating as a result of feeling your own parents
were overly strict and unyielding. Either way, you need to redirect
your course in order to answer your son's emerging developmental needs
to develop the skills necessary to succeed as a young adult man.
Talk with other parents, especially fathers, and
refer to the website "fathersforum.com"
for further insight into strengthening father-son relationships. Develop
an emotional connection with your son, based on what interests him,
what his talents and strengths are, and what his dreams for the future
might be. Develop at least one new shared activity which allows for
consistent positive interaction time (playing basketball, going to
a special sports event, etc.). This activity can serve to keep you
in touch with one another through otherwise trying times. Do not let
"consequences" interfere with these activities of connection. Choose
other areas for setting limits.
By taking charge of your parental duties, you teach
by example. Your own changes in behavior not only express true caring,
but offer your son a role model he will come to respect.
It is not easy to face your weaknesses, to learn
from your mistakes and to set things right when they have gone astray.
It will no doubt feel like quite a battle, initially. But keep in
mind that when you "win" this one, your son "wins", too!
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