Why Doesn’t My Brilliant Son Care?

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 063 · Duration: 00:13:47

It often happens that highly gifted youth aren’t fully challenged in school. This can lead to some problems in the family.

Ann From New Haven, Connecticut writes:

My dilemma is my teen is an excuse maker. What gets me though is he will give the same answer and same excuse for the same thing over and over and over again. The excuse is "I don't know why I did it". The problem in my son's case is when he tells me for the One-Millionth time he says it with no emotion and with the conviction of someone that actually believes it's a valid answer. And has been giving it for 2-3 years for the same issue? Come on. Lack of passion...... Let me try and explain . A letter came in from one of the Ivy league schools encouraging him to apply based on his achievement. He read the letter as if he had received a letter from Walmart !!!!!. No excitement, no smile, no nothing. Yes my son is an academic achiever. He happens to be one of those who can just throw the grades up. So what's my issue? My issue is he is one of those people who has all the talent in the world but plans to use it for nothing. I guess I'm just wondering if perhaps he is on the Asperger's scale. What worries me is, though he is academically talented, he has developed the awful unnerving habit of making excuses over and over again for the same thing after a plan has been set, that everyone has sat down and agreed to.... I highly doubt this will translate well outside of his parent's house. Sure when it comes to the books, he is prepared. When it comes to dealing with people and his interpersonal commitments HE IS NOT. When confronted he states "it's a simple mistake," knowing full well that he blew off his end of the deal. In the professional and personal relationships, if you keep dropping the ball on the same task and calling it a "simple mistake" and further making that statement with a lack of emotion, when you can clearly see that the other person is fed up... well you know where this will lead. Tell me... is this guy Asperger, ODD. Try to get an emotion out of him. I dare you. What's going on here? Sincerely had it!!!!!!!!.

Well Ann I can see you are profoundly frustrated so let’s get started.

First of all, if you are concerned that your son my have Asperger’s syndrome, which we now refer to as high functioning autism spectrum disorder, then you should have him tested by a psychologist. If that were the case, it would have been present throughout his life and been evident in his peer relationships in elementary school. Most kids get screened if there are issues showing up in those years.

Secondly, we have your frustration with his unwillingness to keep agreements and his chronic answer of “I don’t know why” as an answer to why he did or didn’t do something is important.

Your son is clearly quite gifted, gets good grades, good SAT scores and is invited to apply to Ivy League schools, and you say he can easily throw the grades up. Just to be clear, some extremely gifted kids can do well on tests without doing the homework or studying, but to get good grades, they have to do the work, so your question about Oppositional Defiant Disorder doesn’t quite fit.

One Hell Of A Control Battle

Why Doesn’t My Brilliant Son Care

So Ann, what we really need to talk about is your son’s oppositional defiance of you. You and he are in a Control Battle and you are beyond frustrated to the point where you say you’ve “had it!!” You get angry and he gets passive and unemotional and walks away. This has apparently been going on for years, so it really is one hell of a Control Battle.

Ann, why have you been accepting his non-answer for not keeping agreements for years? If our teenager doesn’t keep an important commitment and has no answer, we simply invite them to think about it and come up with some ideas. When they do, we have a full discussion with them about the responsibilities they aren’t managing, the importance of keeping commitments, and withhold privileges until they are taking responsibility and are committed to and demonstrating the change.

I’m guessing your son has a smart phone you’re paying for and a ton of other privileges, despite not living up to his agreements.

There’s another issue here Ann, and that is a problem for many parents of gifted kids. Often these kids aren’t sufficiently challenged in school, so they never learn to apply themselves and do their very best. One of the things we want all kids to learn is to embrace challenges and learn that by applying themselves, they can get better, get smarter, and get more skilled. This applies to academics, sports, art, music, social skills, anything you can think of and this is key to personal and professional success. The research in this field was championed by Carol Dweck of Stanford University, and you can read about it in her best selling book, Mindset.

We want all kids to learn to embrace challenges and learn that by applying themselves, they can get better, get smarter, and become more skilled.Click To Tweet

Time To Take Action

Your son sounds like he takes academic success for granted and I’m not sure if he has other interests or not that he applies himself to, but this is an area that can hurt him. You didn’t mention his age, but since we’re talking college, and this is May, I’m guessing he’s a junior and you have a year to improve things with him.

Ann, first and foremost, you’ve got to change your attitude towards your son. You are frustrated and angry and he feels that, resists that, and manipulates you. You need to be the adult in this relationship and see your son in a much more positive light. In last week’s podcast, I gave an example of “The Talk” which you can use to completely turn your relationship with your son around. Essentially you are angry and see him in a very negative light, and as near as I can tell, are taking no action. Reverse that! Take a positive view, and have a positive supportive tone, and take action.

This has been going on for years, and changing relationship patterns is difficult, but it can be done. For starters, get your stress and frustration levels down and think positive thoughts about your son. Stop taking his behavior towards you personally and focus on some of the more rewarding elements in your life. Don’t make his negative behaviors the most important thing in your life.

Stop taking your teen's behavior towards you personally. Don’t make his negative behaviors the most important thing in your life. Focus on some of the more rewarding elements in your life. Click To Tweet

Second, identify the behaviors that are most important for him to address.

Now, when he doesn’t make the required change, ask your usual question, but ask it differently; ask it like a question that you really have curiosity about, don’t ask a question that is really a statement.

For instance, a question that is a statement is: Why didn't you keep our agreement?

Making it truly a question would be: I’m curious, why did you decide not to keep our agreement?

When he says “I don’t know, it was just a mistake,” you’ll say, “Yes, it was a mistake and one that you make too often. To change something, we need to understand it and you are an absolutely brilliant young man, so I’d like you to please take your time, think about what got in your way for keeping the agreement, and what you can do to see that it doesn’t happen again, and then come to me and talk about it. Until then, we’ll be suspending your privileges.”

(And Ann, I’m not sure what they will be but computer use, smart phone, car use, money, are common ones.)

Make sense? Ann, the number one thing you need to address here is your attitude and your tone. With a positive attitude and a safe and supportive tone, you’ll be able to help your son grow and improve before he goes off to college.

With a positive attitude and a safe and supportive tone, you’ll be able to help your teenager grow and improve.Click To Tweet

If you feel you need to understand his issues at a deeper level, get some psychological testing. It will cost a few thousand dollars, but then you’ll know what his issues are more specifically, and how to address them strategically. With a healthier relationship with your son, you’ll enjoy parenting a heck of a lot more, and your son will grow and improve a lot more in the year left before he goes off to college.

So listeners, Ann is offering us an opportunity to be aware that most things we do with our children and adolescents in frustration or anger will be unproductive or counter productive. Parenting isn’t for sissies, and we need to learn to not take things personally and keep our stress levels under control so that we can stay positive and help our kids learn and grow from their mistakes. So let’s ask ourselves, “Is the tone and attitude I’m using as a parent or, for that matter as a spouse, positive and safe?” I’ll bet if we are honest with ourselves, we can all benefit from improvement in this area.

Parenting isn’t for sissies. We need to learn to not take things personally and keep our stress levels under control so that we can stay positive and help our kids learn and grow from their mistakes.Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in this week listeners and thanks to Ann from New Haven Connecticut for her question!

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And please remember, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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Posted in The Healthy Family Connections Podcast.