The Defiant

Q: We have an 11-yr-old son who is disobedient and defiant. He simply won’t do what he is told. He is chronically late getting ready for school, often telling us he isn’t going (6th grade private school), as well as many other things. He has had all privileges taken away (extracurricular activities, computer, time with friends). Do you have any suggestions regarding his getting ready for school? My husband has to take him and his sister to school before going to work. It often puts him in a position of being late for work.

A: The wonderful, wacky world of tweens. One minute, they’re little kids, the other, they’re acting like teenagers. It can be infuriating to have a kid who can’t get moving in the morning, can’t it? And tweens start wanting to sleep in more, which can make waking them up harder.

You don’t say how much sleep he gets, but I would move his bedtime to no later than 8:45 p.m. He might want to stay up later, but he still needs at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night.

For the morning, have him make a list of everything he has to do to get ready for school. Examples include: get dressed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, get shoes/coat on, get backpack ready, and any morning chores (feed an animal, make a bed, wash dishes, make lunch, etc.). Now look at that list and see what he can do the night before. If he has trouble getting dressed, perhaps he lays out his clothes before bed. If he gets bogged down making breakfast, he can get the bowl, spoon, glass and cereal out on the counter before bed. That sort of thing.

Then use a kitchen timer set at 10 minute increments to prod him along. Give him the list so he can check off his morning duties, and tell him he has 10 minutes for each or something like that. Then instead of telling him what to do, simply set the timer. When it goes off, he needs to be on to the next task.

This will take some training and patience on your part, but you need to shift the responsibility onto your son’s shoulders. If he makes your husband late to work, then he should have a consequence, like directly to bed after supper that day.

One final thing: instead of saying to your son, “It’s time to do X,” simply tell him that he needs to do the next thing on his list. That helps you to step back from micromanaging and helps him learn to manage his own tasks.

Teen Chaos

Q: I have a 17 year old, a 15 year old and a 13 year old all whom believe life completely and utterly revolves around them. The oldest (boy) refuses to look for work and has let his learners license expire, so he could not finish his driver’s education class nor ask us to allow him to drive. We even offered and he refused. Has to be reminded to do his laundry and his chores on a daily basis. He gets angry over anything especially when he is corrected.

The 15 year old does not want to come out of her room unless she is made to, only puts partial effort into doing her chores or does very little. The 13 year old is starting to show disrespect as well as only half an effort in the chores.

We are not the parents that run our kids to all kind of extracurricular activities, so they are not involved in any. I don’t let friends come over very often (I have 3 teenagers I don’t like at times—why would I want to add someone else’s teenager??).

For restrictions, I’ve kicked them out of the garden (for an explanation of how this works, visit the discipline methods section of my website). However, short of clothes, none of these kids have anything to take away. We have even gave them a limited personal supply of towel (2) and wash cloth (3) with the kids having their own color so I know who has left the mess in the bathroom. I’m not sure what to do from here. These kids don’t have cell phones, tablets, video games etc. I threw the last video game in the trash a year ago. And no electronics. Any advice is welcome!

A: Ah, teenagers! They can be vexing creatures, can’t they? I see a couple of things to address in your question.

First, why on earth would you not want to have your teen’s friends over? To me, this is a golden opportunity to gauge just who your teen is hanging out with and also to see how your teen interacts with his or her friends. Is she a leader? A follower? Is he trying too hard to be liked? these interactions viewed from afar can provide a parent with important clues as to your teen’s emotional and mental health. Yes, I know that’s more teens in your house, but you have them such a short time as teens that I think you’ll miss them when they’ve flown the coop. So I implore you to reconsider your stance and start encouraging your teens to have friends over.

Second, by your description, I see that you’ve basically stripped down their lives to the bare minimum…and it sounds like this has been going on for a while. Since you haven’t seen a corresponding lift in attitude, I’m going to surmise that your teens have given up on pleasing you. My gut reaction is that you’re expecting too much from them and they can’t deliver, so they’ve stopped trying.

We never want our kids to feel like they have no hope, no way to get better. If we nitpick on their attitude all the time, then we can create an atmosphere of hopelessness that leads to despair and not caring. That’s the most likely reason for them not “improving” despite your restrictions.

While I applaud your not giving them electronics/screen time, I think things have gone too far in the other direction. I also sense from your tone that you’ve lost a connection with your teens, that you’re so focused on correcting their attitude/behavior, you’ve let slide your relationship with them as their mom.

We have to love our kids, show that love in tangible ways that speak to their particular love language. When we skip that and focus only on the correction, our kids start to not care about straightening up. So here’s what I think you should do.

Return all their stuff. Have a family meeting. Tell them you’ve been too focused on outward compliance and you want to hit the restart button. Ask them to come up with a chore chart for the family, for example. Then start showing them love. Cook their favorite meals. listen more than you talk to them. Show up with a smile at their events or games or concerts. Ask about their friends. Rebuild that connection.

And if they’re doing their chores, let their attitude slide for now. You have some repair work to do, but I think you’ll find it worth it.