How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
The ChangingMinds Blog!
I wrote last year of troubles with my teenage son and have since had several helpful conversations with others with similar experiences. Parenting problem teens is a trial by fire but although it has been far from plain sailing I know that it could always be worse.
So here's a synopsis of the past year.
After dropping out of school (which was after failing a year and being let back on a promise of knuckling down), he announced he was going to live with a friend in London. I felt we needed to stay in touch so helped him move. I got him a job with a friend in IT, but that lasted a little over a week - he quit after being told off about something ('they're all idiots').
The London stay lasted about a month then he came home again, soon to go and live 'permanently' with a bunch of friends in a faraway town. For several months the only contact was when we phoned and when he deigned to pick up. We were careful here to remain positive and keep calls brief. After living on their charity for a while he fell out with them and left, moving to a series of friends with a similar pattern of dependency until Christmas, when he was on the point of being put out onto the streets.
He asked to come back. We said yes, but with a few conditions, like getting a job (and with the motivation of no internet until he had held one down for a month). He also brought a friend who would otherwise have been homeless. The friend had a transferable job and agreed to a nominal rent (which never got paid). When they fell out, we were left to clear up and lever the friend out.
The biggest frustration for a long time has been that he just takes what he wants and gives pretty much nothing back ('I don't do housework'). He also distorts and uses anything you say against you ('You said you wanted me to be happy'). Our frustration at the selfishness has boiled over now and again but with little effect ('Get off my back!'). Largely, though, we've tried being tolerant and patient. Occasionally we see a gently and funny person peeking through and hope that this is the real person.
Several friends who know the whole story have expressed surprise that we haven't kicked him out, but despite all he has (and has not) said and done, we believe there is a fundamentally good person in there waiting to emerge. I think the biggest issue is that he is terrified of growing up and taking responsibility for his life. Like Peter Pan he has been clinging to the safety of childhood, where somebody else provides and he can play in his make-believe world.
Even as I write this, a new chapter may be beginning. He has got a job as a trainee butcher at Tesco's, the UK's leading grocery superstore where he starts today. He hasn't lasted more than a few days in any job yet, so I'll believe what I see, though I've got my fingers tightly crossed.
This is what will happen to your son if you continue to enable him: he will
eventually find someone and marry them. Then his wife is straddled with his
irresponsibility. She marries him because she feels that she "understands" him
and can "help him."
It is sometimes difficult to realize that children and others in my life have
free will and free choice. With the free will and free choices come consequences
such as being homeless (almost) for your son and feeling the inner turmoil of
wanting good things for someone who would rather walk their own path for your
Not that I have had experience raising a son, but I have put a lot of time in
One part of the psyche tells one, "Spare the rod, spoil the boy". But there
is always a danger of building a strong and irrational reactance, which seems to
already be a part of the case here.
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