The Healthy Family Connections Podcast
Episode 158 · Duration: 00:13:53
Our Contrary Son Is Making Family Life Miserable
How do you get your contrary 15-year-old son to cooperate and be positive when you have to fight with him to do anything?
Today we’re hearing from Justin of Helena, Montana. Justin writes:
Our 15 year old son is mean to his younger sister and argumentative with us. He resists chores and homework although he cares about his grades. He has been diagnosed with ADHD but medications weren’t helpful and we work with him to stay focused on his homework. That wears us out and the fighting is hard on all of us. It’s hard to take his privileges away since the one thing he cares about are computer games and he needs his computer for school. What do you suggest?
Thanks for your question Justin and I’m glad you’ve written in. The Control Battle in your home is clearly taking a toll on everyone. Parents are burning out, daughter is being hurt by instead of supported by her older brother, and your 15-year-old is learning to fight and resist rather than learn to be cooperative and responsible. And I’m hearing that you’re concerned that there are no privileges that you can withhold since the computer is such an integral part of life. So, let’s see what we can do here.
Remember, our goal is not to change your son’s behavior. That’s his job. But if we end the control battle going on between parents and son, he will be in a much better position to do his job, namely being responsible and cooperative. The control battle is taking a toll on his self-esteem. He’s learning to think of himself in negative terms so we want to do something different here.
Addressing the Control Battle
Remember, there are two essential parts of ending a Control Battle. One element that you referenced is being sure that kids have earned the privileges that they receive and they don’t get privileges they haven’t earned. They earn them by managing their responsibilities and having a good attitude. Having a good attitude includes two things, being respectful and cooperative.Teenagers earn privileges in two ways: by managing their responsibilities and having a good attitude. Having a good attitude includes being respectful and cooperative.Click To Tweet
Justin, while it’s completely feasible for you to take away or limit access to computer games and still have access to school connectivity, it’s important not to forget the other element critical to ending control battles, the element of having a healthy vision of your youth. Not only having a healthy vision but actively communicating it out.
I’m not hearing that your son is a discipline problem at school. In fact, you said he cares about his grades. I’m guessing that when he is over at his friends’ homes that parents aren’t calling you up and saying don’t bring your kid over here anymore because his behavior is bad. I’m guessing he’s a good kid.
So, Justin, you and your wife can make a lot of progress by focusing on your son’s healthy qualities and appealing to his better side. One way to start that is to have “the talk” to change the whole tone of your and your wife’s relationship with your son.
It’s important to keep in mind that issues like ADHD can lead to Control Battles and injure youth self-esteem. I think you can change the whole tone of your relationship, end your Control Battle, and have your son acting more responsibly, simply by telling him he’s capable of it and we can do that by appealing to his desire to feel respected and mature.
Having A Talk With Your Teenager
Here’s how I would have "The Talk." I’m going to call your son, Michael.
Michael, I want to talk with you about the struggles that Mom and I’ve been having with you, particularly of late. We are not happy with it, and we think it’s mostly our fault. Mom and I know you are a great kid. You’re smart and talented in many ways and are pretty darned responsible in many ways as well. You are liked by everyone, so the fact that we’re fighting all the time at home is just plain dumb.
Your ADHD makes getting your schoolwork done independently a bit challenging. That’s understandable because ADHD affects focus and impulse control. But that shouldn’t lead to fights and it’s nothing that you should feel ashamed of.
I think if we work together and you give things your best effort, you will be able to manage your homework with less and less of our help over time. You know the skills to use: take frequent short breaks, make a work plan, ask for help when you need it, and keep obvious distractions away, such as no gaming until homework is done. Make sense?
There are other areas that we can all do better with, too.
Your relationship with Madison has lots of room for improvement. You might not be aware of this, but she really looks up to you. And being an older brother is a very important role. You will have a very significant impact on her self-esteem as she grows up. If you treat her like she doesn’t matter and she’s just a pest, that will affect her very deeply. On the other hand, if you are kind to her and give her some positive attention, that will have a hugely positive impact on her. She will be grateful for that, believe it or not, for the rest of her life.
Another area that we can all do better with is when we ask you to do something for the family, such as pick up after the dog, feed the dog, walk the dog, empty the dishwasher, set the table, or take out the recycling and the garbage. You know the usual things. You’re a young man now and you know those things are important and you can do all of them extremely well. It will mean the world to your mother and me to have our maturing young man simply be more cheerfully helpful. Mom and I both work. We struggle to get dinner put together and make time to help you and your sister with your homework. It’s ridiculous for us to have to put work into getting you to help. As I said, you’re a young man; we love you, we respect you and I really need you to step up. I think it’s all the fighting over homework that just carries over into us asking you to do chores and then you fighting us on that. It’s time for all of us to get over that childishness and to acknowledge that you’ve grown up and are extremely capable.
So, Justin are you getting the idea? Kids in general, and your kid specifically, want to be respected and appreciated.
If you were actually having this talk with your son, he would have responses to a lot of the things that I was role-playing you saying. But if stay with these themes and validate what your son says in response, a talk like this can go very well. If we can offer him respect and appreciation, and catch ourselves when we start to go into Control Battle patterns you can turn things around and have family life be a much more rewarding experience for all four of you. Sure, limit or even remove access to gaming, but having and communicating a healthy vision is even more important.
So listener, are you taking this in? What’s your take away? What I’m aware of is that parents have a natural tendency to look for the privilege to take away before they look to having and communicating a healthy vision of their youth. That should always be the starting place and very often that, all by itself, will produce a miracle, or at least what seems like one. That is if you consider your teenager acting consistently positively a miracle.Parents have a natural tendency to look for the privilege to take away before they look to having and communicating a healthy vision of their youth. Communication should always be the starting place.Click To Tweet
Thanks for tuning in today. And a special thanks to you, Justin, for your important question.
My heart goes out to all those teenagers and young adults who are being limited in their chance to be with peers, pursue careers and live independently. This will end, but for right now, it’s really hard, so don’t hesitate to reach out and get help and support. Your local mental health resources are very much there, mostly using video platforms, and that works just fine, phones work too, and sometimes you can be seen in person as well.
I’m offering folks an opportunity to sign up for a free 15-minute Zoom consultation with me, so don’t hesitate to take advantage of it. If you’d like to meet me and get a brief consultation, sign up here.
If you're looking for a resource to help keep you productive at home while also helping you become a better parent, I've prepared a free gift just for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially and emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.
If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website neildbrown.com and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.
Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.
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