The Attitude of an Adolescent Boy

A few weeks ago, a mother brought her 14 year old son in to see me.  The presenting concern is the boy’s oppositional behavior, i.e., arguing over chores and not being as respectful, getting a couple “F’s” recently, staying in his room a lot and plays video-games “all the time”. He’d stopped inviting friends over and recently, when angry, he’ll hit a wall, putting a hole in it.  She did report, however, that he does keep his room clean, catches the school bus every morning and has been staying out of his room when asked without arguing.

The parents are divorced and both remarried. The son lives with mom primarily (and stepfather and 2 full siblings).  He visits dad (and stepmom and 1 step-sibling) once a week and every other weekend.

The son is the oldest of the children in both, his mother’s and father’s homes.

The father is described as impatient and easily angered. The step mother is also described as controlling; she is said to be “in-charge” of their household. The boy does not display the oppositional behavior at his father’s as much as at his mother’s.  The boy complains that at his dad’s, he is expected/made to do more chores than his step-sibling.

The mother reports she tends to worry too much about her kids; “If they have a problem, then I have to help them fix it. I don’t want them to fail.” She acknowledges she tends to “nudge” him to do things too much.

The mother believes their divorce was/is hardest on her son, of all the children, because of his having to go back and forth between the two households, the different atmospheres in the two different homes, the fact that he just began high school and the fact that she (mom) is pregnant.

There were no signs of depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, etc.

After discussing the situation with both, mom and the son, I made a number of suggestions:

To the mother:

  1. Stop “nudging”. Ask him to do something once, maybe twice. If he does it, great! Thank him. If he doesn’t, give a (natural and logical) consequence, non-emotionally, and move on.
  1. His problems are not your problems. I understand your want for him to succeed but he can, will and needs to fail….at times. This is how we learn.   It is never easy to watch this?  It is never clear when to intervene in a situation when your child is struggling.  But if you know you “nudge” too much, back off!
  1. Speaking of “nudging….ask him if he wants a reminder to do things when you see he’s not done things that he is responsible for. This reflects you are trying to show him respect. Also, ask him how he wants to be reminded and try to remind him that way.
  1. Acknowledge/praise when he does things when asked and when he does things without being asked.
  1. Consider his developmental stage. His body is growing tremendously right now; sexually, physically, etc….and he feels this. He is not accustom to feeling the physical strength he feels right now and he doesn’t yet know how to channel it yet.  Further, our society/media tells him he should be “in control” of all situations at all time.  So, his body is telling him he’s a mess (when he hits a wall when he is angry) and society is telling him he’s a mess as well (because if he was really in control, he wouldn’t let his mom tell him what to do…..Yeah, Right!) .  So, grant him some leeway.  Punching a wall is never acceptable but an occasional verbal outburst can be overlooked if you feel he is trying.

He needs education on how his body is making him feel, how this feeling is effecting how he acts and on how to channel these actions.  For                      example, you let him cuss in his bedroom, nowhere else in the house but just his bedroom. While I have some reservations about this method, I              suggested you gently remind him of this when you see him getting mad, encourage him to go to his room and yell and cuss until he calms down.           Also, consider you and he sit down, brainstorm some other ways to help him express his emotional energy physically when he’s upset….like                     riding his bike, shooting hoops, running, working out, etc.  These are excellent ways to channel one’s anger/emotions.

  1. When you say “No”, you needs to be firm and rational with him. If you are emotional, indirect or wishy-washy, he will begin to learn that women, important women in his life, are like this and will not learn to respect their responses. Fast-forward 3 or 5 years, he’s on a date and suggests doing something sexually; it is my belief that if he has had a strong/firm woman in his life, he is more likely to respect that “No”.

To the son I suggested:

  1. If you are taking the anger you have for your dad out on your mom because she’s an easy target, stop it! That’s like beating up the class wimp because you got bullied by someone else at lunch. How do feel about yourself when you bully your mom, especially when you are mad at your dad or step mom.
  1. I will do role-plays with him in session….helping him to stand up for himself and present his point, reasonably, with his parents/stepparents. Learning to speak up for one’s self is a learned skill. Yet, part of this skill is accepting “No” when that’s the answer.
  1. I listen to him in session and have him re-word what he is saying to his mother in more adult language. This will help develop the skill I spoke of above and get him in touch with how selfish he can appear as he examines how he thinks and speaks presently.
  2. I told him punching a wall when he is mad is NOT ACCEPTABLE behavior for a young man. I’ll ask him how he feels about himself every time he looks at the hole and explain that our behavior can strongly effect how we view ourselves. If we are in a tough situation and we handle it well, we will feel good about ourselves even when we did not get our way.

More later……