13 year old son slipping out of our grasp - FamilyEducation
13 year old son slipping out of our grasp
08/06/2007 at 08:46 AM

Hi everyone, I am a Mum of two beautiful kids, my daughter aged 9 and son aged 13. Our son has always been a really bright kid, happy, funny and popular. Unfortunately the popular bit became his main focus at around age 11 and by 12 we were seeing quite a drastic drop in his grades, along with the usual teen attitude, talking back, arguing with everything and anything . In year 8 when he had to attend high school (that is the required age in Australia) I had grave reservations about him attending the local high school, as I felt with his grades having dropped already he would need the extra attention that kids get in private school. He was dead set against it and got his Dad onside, and he begged me to let him go to the public school where nearly all his friends were going. I relented, outvoted and defeated, and as his friends were a great bunch of kids I hoped that if he was happy he was much more likely to do well. Boy was I wrong, within just over 1 semester all of his grades except maths (that was a B) dropped to an E, a grade that I didn't even know existed, and he had ditched all his old friends for the worst trouble makers in the school.. Before the arrival of that awful report we had several letters of concern sent home complaining that he was refusing to do work, distracting the class, etc, each time he was grounded with comp, fone etc taken away, trying to let him know that this was in no way ok. After that came an in school suspension which resulted in a promise of any further bad behaviour and he would be removed from the school and placed in a private school. Bingo, then came the out of school suspension so we followed through and placed him in a private school close to home where he knew a few students so as not to completely alienate him. He was doing relatively well there finally until last week when his current school had swimming and he got to mix with his old trouble maker friends from his previous school again. Since then we have had constant fights and arguements as he has continually stated that he hates this school and wants to go back to his old school again. When we told him that he had blown his chances with the old school and that we had invested much time and money to put him in this school because we care about his future so it was a waste of time to ask to go back there as it was never going to happen. In response to that he put his hand down a girls top at school (on a dare he said and he wouldve been called names by the boys if he didnt do it)and he was given an in school suspension today at his new school and I think his way of thinking is that if he plays up enough they will expel him eventually and the state school has to accept him back. He actually admitted to that fact, after we found out about it. We all had the most awful fight tonight that almost resulted in violence between my husband and my son and me screaming in the middle of them trying to stop it. I am at my wits end and feel like we are losing control of him completely. I have read many of your posts and have taken on board all of your advice about letting them make their own mistakes, but he is still so young and this is such an important turning point in his life to let him throw it away. My poor beautiful daughter who thank god mercifully is an absolute angel is witnessing this horrible war zone, and it is very difficult to stay happy and not let the fall out of this affect her also. My son laughs in our face when we try to talk to him, calls his father names and has no respect what so ever for either of us and I just dont know what to do. We have done the positive reinforcement to death, with I believe over praising him for the smallest good deed or behaviour, he tore up the star chart as his sister achieved so much more easily than he did. He refuses to attend counselling, and now it is strained between my husband and myself also as I am very angry at him for his violent reaction, and name calling back to my son, although my husband has agreed to fully appologise to my son tomorrow, but I feel that really it is only because I am so upset and deem it totally unacceptable. I'm sorry that this is such a long post but it does feel better to let it out if nothing else.

Hey Natrad,


I am so sorry you are going through all this---I have had friends go through similar problems with their children and it is just hell.


It sounds like you are doing all the right things.  He just isn't responding in the way he should be.  I would force him into counseling whether he wants to go or not, he can sit there and say nothing but he would be going.  And I would continue to take things that matter most to him away from him.  He is so young to be starting this business already.  I would also make sure that he understands the consquences of his actions, that he could be screwing up his future for a long time.  I know that is hard for kids to believe but I feel we at least have to tell them.


The good news is that all my friends who have gone through this have had their children turn around and turn out to be good people with productive lives. 


Anyone have any ideas?






Dear Natrad,

My heart goes out to your family. You are in the middle of the most stressful situations I can imagine: the fear that the light at the end of the tunnel is a train headed your way. Marti is right, there is a good chance it will all work out in the long term, but, it is like setting a broken arm with no anesthesia, hurts like the dickens during the process, but, is worth it in the end.

I have little personal experience in this area, but it seems to me that counseling is not only the best bet, but is required. Even if only you and your husband go, or you go alone, it will lend support and guidance.

Also, it is important that you and your husband show a united approach and technique. Your son (all kids) can spot a crack in your wall and exploit to his advantage. You cannot let his attitude and actions elicit a response he can use to his benefit.

You seem to have replaced the desired strong positive reactions with strong negative reactions. Consider this: in reality, the opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy. The opposite of positive reaction is not negative reaction; it is no reaction or a neutral reaction. When you react with strong negative actions... warnings, threats, begging, bad words, aggression, or physical violence... he gets what he wants: reaction, attention, and best of all, you are under his control at that point, which suits him just fine because he is pulling your strings.

Talk this over with your husband, and don't let your son's behaviors get between you two.

And, by the way, "no" means "no" the first time, and doesn't need to be repeated. Warnings are useless. Kids are able to push you to the limit because you teach them to: what you allow you teach! When you follow a warning with another one before you actually follow through with what ever you "warned", he knows he can always ignore the first one because the only consequence is another warning.

Replace warnings with clear rules, and consequences for breaking them, then you must follow through EVERY TIME!

What you want your son to learn is that you set the rules (he may have limited input) and will enforce them; combined with the lack of his ability to manipulate and play you two against one another, this should have a positive effect on his interaction with  you.

 Children (and adults) learn from the consequences of their actions, and mostly from actions that fail. If you can, make the consequences related to the failure... make the punishment match the crime. For instance, when my son or daughter came in past curfew, they lost the privilege to "go out" the following weekend. They knew this in advance, and when they "failed" I reminded them of that, emphasizing the consequence was the result of their behavioral choice. I would say "I love you, but, you know the rules and I am sure you will feel bad about not going out this weekend." This takes the "bad guy" label off you and puts it on him. This can be hard to do and quite a strain, but, it looks like you are walking a hard road already. You need to change direction.

Don't forget to talk these ideas over with your husband and a counselor, pastor, or some other person with expertise in this area.

Remember to take care of yourself in the meantime, because when you are mentally and physically fit, you are better prepared to weather the storm.

The best to you and your family, and good on ya!

DaMoKi Bob