Teenage Son - Good Kid, but Signs of Trouble

caf123August 14, 2006

My son, age 17, and about to be a senior, has been a role model teenager until recently. As our second child, but first son, we weren't sure what to expect, but have been proud of his GPA, his choice of friends, his outside activites, and his overall disposition. Until the past year.

He is bright and popular and athletic, and his circle of friends are similar. However, his grades last semester fell, although he still stayed on the honor roll. He has been caught drinking and sneaking out, and needs to be reminded more than once to do his chores, and even then, he is not being as thorough as he once was. He admitted to trying pot, failed a drug test we gave him, but has passed the random testing we give every few weeks since that first incident in the winter.

His father and I are very concerned and have grounded him for the entire summer, which seems to have only driven him to hiding more and becoming more sneaky instead of 'turning around'. He complains that we expect more chores from him then his friends do, and in talking with their parents, it is true. He does all his own laundry, cleans the kitchen when we cook, is responsible for cleaning the cat litter and vacuuming 1/2 the house at least once a week. This is an addition to mowing the lawn and taking out the trash. It boils down to about 2-3 hours of chores per week, but we are not willing to cut back on those chores just because his friends don't have that much assigned responsibility.

My quandry is that some friends of ours and relatives, feel we are smothering him too much and being too tough on him. After yet another 'sneak out' incident over the weekend, we have taken his car keys, computer privledges, cell phone (except when at practice), and are now installing ADT security to keep him honest, since he continues to make poor choices. My mother said 'you make it sound like he is an ax murderer, not just someone who snuck out and hung out at a friends pool'. Point is, he has broken, and continues to challenge and break, our rules.

Thoughts or advice? With this limited information, are we doing the right thing by holding him accountable for his actions or are we truly being the parents from hell?

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I think you are being responsible, and in turn, are trying to instill some responsibility in your son. Being a vigilant parent is not easy, but it is the right thing to do. I think he sounds like a typical kid, trying pot, sneaking out, I remember being there once! He seems like he is trying to push his limits with you, and I think you are doing right by him to push back. He knows what you expect of him, there are consequences for his actions. If he feels like he has more chores than his friends, well too bad, that's not the way YOUR family runs. As long as you have left the lines of communication completely open, I don't see any harm in taking away privledges for behavior you find unexceptable. You are teaching him that in life, you are accountable for what you do.

The only problem I see with this scenario is once he turns 18, then what?

    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 11:43AM
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I think you are giving him more chores that most parents.....and good for you. I don't think you are expecting too much.

On the other hand, maybe grounding him for the entire summer was too much as when a child has no freedom they do break rules more, as they need some freedom. MAYBE, you could tell him that trust was broken, and trust is given freely ONCE, after that it has to be earned. He has not earned it yet. BUT you are willing to let him earn it back SLOWLY. Next time he wants to go out, let him, but check up on him, check with the parents (god willing you will have good parents--we didn't--that he is going to), and IF he proves himself trustworthy, you will give hmi more and more priviledges. BUT once that trust is broken, he will AGAIN have to start over.

A teens job is to grow an dbecome independent, and it sounds like he is doing that. BUT some teens do not make wise choices. I see that you are tyring to get him to make wise choices. Sad thing is that unless he gets the chance to make choices he cannot learn. Scary I know.

Again at 17 you have to think about what happens when he turns 18.

Good luck, you sound like you truely are good caring parents who only want to do what is right, something that really isn't seen much in this day and age.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 1:48PM
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The whole summer seems a little harsh. I think that when a child, who has other wise responded to your parenting, all the sudden stops responding you need to begin to think outside the box. I have a challenging teen as well, she does great in school but it seems that the more we escalate the punishments the worse she responds and the more she escalates the bad behavior. Which is exactly opposite of what we want. So we have turned to extremely concise punishments. If there is an issue with the car, then the next opportunity she wants to use it, we don't let her. Almost a one for one proposition. She has seemed to respond better to this type of consequence. And we never refer to it as a punishment, we only use the term consequence. But the consequences are short and concise and tie in to the 'crime' as much as possible. When asked about the escalation issues, she explains it as, 'when there is no reasonable period for the punishment to be over or when I lose all privledges because I did one thing wrong then there is nothing else left to lose'. We have changed to the consequence type system and that has really helped. We also don't administer it as a punishment, no yelling. When she comes home late, we acknowledge it, ie, 'we were really worried you should have called' and drop it. Then when she asks to go out again, we say, 'we would like to let you but we got so worried last time you went out with so and so, so why dont' you skip it this time and catch up with them next time.' Or you can go this time but you werent' really good about getting yourself home on time so tell the driver that we need to talk with him before you go so that we can give him your time to be home and get his parents number.' So we really try not to stop her just make more requirements of her since she didn't really abide by our wishes in the first place. In reality what I would like to do is ground her for the whole summer but when that doesn't work how much more of an escalation can there be? At some point they either win out or you have to kick them out, it is a no win for you. Good Luck.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 3:42PM
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It sounds like you've got a basically good kid who is experimenting and testing his limits in a normal way. He feels your rules are too strict, your expectations too demanding, and your consequences too harsh. (Don't they all?) But you've still got a good kid there, and you need to make sure your son can still view himself as a good kid, and that you can view him that way also. Grounding him for the whole summer labels him a 'delinquent' and that's just not right.

Just my opinion, but I think it's time for some new ground rules, and an agreement with him that you will relax the rules *a bit* if he will agree to follow them. If he won't agree to a slightly-revised set of rules that you can live with, then the flip side is the same rules he dislikes so much.

ChloeMichelle gave some great advice above. That type of approach is called "Natural Consequences" and it's fabulous. No need for yelling -- in fact, no real need for long discussions. You follow the rules, everyone is happy. You break the rules, bad things happen -- cause and effect. Simple, concrete, finite -- firm but short. Whatever the 'problem' object/activity is, it's removed.

"'when there is no reasonable period for the punishment to be over or when I lose all privledges because I did one thing wrong then there is nothing else left to lose'"

Great insight into a teen's mind.

One suggestion that my mom used on me, and that I've already informed my son I'm going to use on him. Curfew was at ___ time. (Varied with age.) Whenever I got home, I needed to come in to the room where my mom was waiting up for me, and tell her all about the evening's activities. Who was there, what we did, etc. Now, being the normal teen, I certainly didn't tell her everything. But what she did learn was who I was with (most of the people, most of the time), that it conformed to the plan (which was discussed and approved in advance), and mainly -- that I was sober/straight enough to carry on a cogent conversation with my mom at the end of the evening. Now I won't say that kept me from experimenting, but it DID keep me from getting blitzed, and helped me learn my own limits. A very valuable lesson.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2006 at 7:12PM
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Your son does have a lot of chores. As long as he is getting lots of time with doing leisure things, lots of encouragement, lots of love, lots of happy times.

My daughter had a friend who had of lot of chores to do at home. When she went around to this girls house, they often spent time doing the chores together, with my daughter helping. This eventually ruined the friendship. I felt very sorry for this child as she was inside ironing when other kids where outside playing like kids should.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 11:52PM
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While I don't think you are "the parents from hell", I think you've given him too many chores, with not enough breaks. For a 17 year old that is active in sports. The reason I say this is that he's in school "x" number of hours a day (8?). Then at practice "x" number of hours a day (2?). I'm sure, if he's a good student, he has "x" number of hours of homework per day (1?). If he goes to sleep the same time my teenagers do, that leaves him with maybe 4 hours of "free time" per school day. Things like laundry, kitty litter boxes, and trash can't wait for the weekend. Neither does cleaning up the mess you make when you cook supper--something he has no control over. I assume he doesn't have a job, because he certainly doesn't have time for one!

Our children have chores, but they are time-weighted to be mostly done on weekends, when the completion has a direct effect on their extra-curricular activities. That way if they have some extra homework or games during the week, they still have some down time during the week. Everyone needs down time.

I agree with chloemichelle about the consequence needing to be very specific and atuned to each situation. "The whole summer" is extreme.

Keep in mind that it's only my opinion, based on the very few facts you gave. I wonder what he would write, if you showed that to him? Perhaps you should have him write "his side" of the story. I always find it interesting to hear how my teenagers see things. BTW, I have an 18 year old (almost 19) son. Been there. Things will smooth out.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2006 at 2:49PM
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Sorry - I have to respond. I usually do not check out this forum but I was blown away by the amount of chores this boy has to do. Having responsibility is good - yes, but he sounds like the maid to me. And he is 17!! He is almost out on his own.!! Home should be your soft place to fall, the place where you want to be - with your family and friends, a place you want to return to. He will move out the first chance he gets and not return. I think the time has come that you have to depend on what you have taught him up to this point. You are losing control now and you will not have control when he lives independently from you. By grounding him for the summer and taking his car keys, what in the world does he have to look forward to? WHY SHOULD HE be good? For what? I think you need a discussion with him and a new starting point with the expectations made clear and start over from here on out. Consequence and move on, don't dig him deeper and deeper into the hole. Just my 2 cents.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2006 at 3:51PM
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I cannot believe how many people feel the amount of chores your son does is too much, unless you're horribly messy when you cook, he does NOT have to many chores. If he gets an allowance, he is definatly earning it, if he doesn't and your feeling is that he is earning his keep in the family, he is definatly doing that also. I think you're doing what a good parent does..trying to teach him responsibility!

I said it before and I'll say it again "Good luck, you sound like you truely are good caring parents who only want to do what is right, something that really isn't seen much in this day and age"


    Bookmark   August 25, 2006 at 7:22PM
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In our house, we did less "assigning"of the chores, but more "doing the chores together." Look, certain things have to be done in the house to make it run well, but it is a more relaxed and less confrontational house if the family works together as a team. By doing work around the house together, it is a very valuable opportunity to talk to your kids while you putter around. Sometimes it's hard to pin kids down with their busy schedules or to keep up with what is going on with their friends, so I always used this time to talk to them. For instance, why can't your husband use the weedeater while your son mows? This would give them "guy time," a chance for your husband to talk about some of the recent issues that have come up in your house with your son's behavior--and the lawn would still get mowed!! If he does his laundry, wander by and help him fold and try to get closer to him and talk to him. Let him help cook, then clean up together. I guess I'm saying that too much control and punishment can backfire with a teen, but quiet, firm patience and a willingness to keep communicating can often do wonders. I don't mean to sound like this is a simple answer, but it seems that you have a wonderful son and I would use careful consideration before this turns into too much of a power issue. I learned one thing from parenting teens--you NEVER win in a power play. Hold your ultimate power, which is money, car control, electronics, whatever, as the VERY last card that you might have to play, not the first.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2006 at 11:04AM
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Geez, those are not too many chores! I had more than that when I was a teen. If a kid isn't expected to do something every day, what happens when they become adults? They'll have even more chores to do then when they're on their own, so they should be taught to get used to it.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2006 at 8:48PM
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So let's see, your son is a honor-roll high school senior with a high GPA, has good friends, is in good physical shape, does his own laundry, mows your lawn, takes out the trash, and cleans up after you as well as after himself. And what does he get in return for his helpfulness and responsibility? Grounded for the summer, his car keys taken away, his computer and cell phone use revoked, and an alarm system installed to keep him on your side of the Berlin Wall. Frankly, i'd be surprised if he doesn't plan a permanent "sneak-out" the day he turns 18 (which is, what, only a half year away?) given how you treat him. And he'll remember how you treated him years from now when you get old and start asking for *his* help.

As for his recent slight slide (it is normal for grades to fall late in the last year of high school, especially after already being accepted into college), your own actions are likely only encouraging more of the same. If I were a 17 year old locked into my parents' house behind alarm-trapped doors, cut off from the outside world by travel, phone, or computer, I'd want to sneak out too. IMO, your behavior and actions incited his, not the reverse. Unless you think forcing your son into being a social recluse will help him find a job or do well in college (hint: it will have the opposite effect), it's time to let up on him.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2006 at 10:16AM
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Great wisdom from you. I need to remember this with my kids. It's just hard in the teen years - you know they do better with structure and a schedule for things, but you want them to want to help. My son has actually come around a bit. He seems to see how much I do and expresses appreciation and willingness to help. I hope I can cultivate a helpful attitude instead of resorting to forcing him to accept responsibilities. I was just thinking that your house sounds like a happy place to be; my goal for our home.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2006 at 5:11PM
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I can't believe that no one has commented on the fact that you drug test your son. Is this a common thing where you live?

As the mother of three boys (19,16,13) I cannot imagine doing something like that in response to my child admitting trying pot. When my oldest was 15 he began coming home smelling of pot and when we discussed it with him he admitted he had used it periodically.

My DH and I told him we were disappointed, informed him he was not to use it at home or discuss his use with his younger brothers, and went over the health implications (which he already knew). We also discussed the possible legal consequences which here in Canada may be somewhat less than in other jurisdictions. We knew that trying to forbid a 15 year old from doing anything is hopeless. It breeds a need for rebellion and defiance in most of us.

He respected our wishes and compied easily since they were not presented as rules and they were arrived at by discussing the situation with him. He no longer uses pot at all and he drinks only a few times per year despite now being of legal age here. He is an honour student at university and we are very proud of him.

I know that every child is different but I can only imagine how my son would have reacted had we tried to drug test him and lay down the law. I hope for your sake that your son is a lot more easy going about this kind of invasion of his privacy.

How long do plan to continue doing drug tests? You say that after the first test the others have all been clean. Will you keep on testing him as long as he lives at home? Or will he someday win back your trust? I find this fascinating as I am sure that someday soon this will become an issue with both of my younger sons.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2006 at 1:58PM
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Oh my goodness. I was so lucky!! This is a very hard problem and I sure hope it works out well for you and your family.

I hardly feel able to comment because all I know is what has been posted so take this with a grain of salt. I may have missed something.

I do agree with Vickey who said: "On the other hand, maybe grounding him for the entire summer was too much as when a child has no freedom they do break rules more, as they need some freedom. MAYBE, you could tell him that trust was broken, and trust is given freely ONCE, after that it has to be earned. He has not earned it yet. BUT you are willing to let him earn it back SLOWLY. Next time he wants to go out, let him, but check up on him, check with the parents (god willing you will have good parents--we didn't--that he is going to), and IF he proves himself trustworthy, you will give hmi more and more priviledges. BUT once that trust is broken, he will AGAIN have to start over."

Although...come to think of it, with my kids...trust wasn't given freely even once. It has to be earned.

On the night of my son's graduation from high school we sat at the kitchen counter and talked til around 2 a.m. And it is one of the most precious memories that I have. He told me that he "got it". He said that his friends were given all kinds of leeway and "trust" when they reached high school and then they had no way to go but down. One infraction and they were pretty much back in 5th grade. "You did it right, Mom," he said. "You gave me a little freedom and if I handled that you gave a little more. And if I messed up I only lost that bit...not all of it. I felt that I was working my way to the light! I could become an adult and be independent. I just had to deal with each step." Well. Halleluiah! He got it!

Let me add to that that I never was a fan of "chores" as punishment. Chores are what adults do because they don't want to live in squalor. It isn't punishment. It's just the way it is for those of us who don't have servants. I didn't pay my kids for doing chores. They were just expected from members of the household. Period.

Punishment was loss of freedom. Or loss of money. (Same thing, kinda.) Loss of transportation...oh, mercy...that evening when my son and I had the loooooooong discussion on the driveway and I held his car keys in my hand the whole time. (Ya gotta have nerves.) O.K. You say yourself that the chores as punishment thing isn't working. He isn't responding to the grounding.

Have you talked with him about the whole situation? What is causing this? Has he fallen in with friends who are leading him into this behavior? Are there other things going on that are causing him to act out? If you are very, very careful would he be willing to tell you his side? That's assuming he doesn't expect even more chores if he does. If he WAS as good as you said then I'd have to think that something is going on. Something you will have to learn from him. And the only way to do that is to have an open line of communication.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2006 at 8:20PM
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Lindakimy....you are a terrific Mum. I have learnt a lot from reading your valuable input to this forum.

Communication is the key. And talk. The more talk the better.


    Bookmark   October 30, 2006 at 2:04AM
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I have to agree with Lee676. You may as well start packing for him cause he will be moving out as soon as he is 18 (I know I would be!).

I'd cut out the majority of the chores and encourage him to get a part time job (they can do the drug testing then).

I also recommend the book "10 Best Gifts for Your Teen" by Saso.

He sounds like a great kid!

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 1:47PM
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Try starting with a clean slate. Your son is at an age of self accountability and should make decissions based on right or wrong, not on what his parents want. Of course parents want thier children to make the right decisions, so please don't take that the wrong way.

My suggestion is you sit him down and tell him all the good things you have told us about him, let him know what a bright individual you think he is and that you know he wants to be trusted. Tell him right now he has lost some or all of you and your husbands trust due to his recent action. Tell him you want to give him the opportunity to earn that trust back and you are wiping the slat clean and starting fresh to give him the opportunity to earn your trust back. Explain that he has chores because he is part of your family and in every family every one has to take part in chores so it is not left to just mom and dad to work and do all of the house work. Besides next year he will be 18 years old and can get a place of his own, then he will have to do ALL the housework with no one to split the duties with. Tell him you are giving him an opportunity to regain your trust by allowing him to start fresh. Lay down your rules again, but this time in writing and have him sign the agreement stating he understands your rules and is willing to abide by them as long as he lives in your household. In return he will experience more freedom by regaining your trust through making good decisions for himself. Put the ball in his field. He is after all 17, one more year and he can live on his own, he needs to be treated more like an adult then a juvenile. Concequences for adult decisions can be far more drastic then what you can hand out. Once he lives on his own, he will make the decisions for his own household and his outlook will be different.

For him to only now, at 17, to be acting out, he has done better then most teens who have acted out at a much earlier age. Much credit to you both as parents. He may be struggling between teenage and adult years in his own mind.

It's just a suggestion, toss it if you don't agree.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2006 at 12:36AM
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I agree with lee676. You seem to have a terrific kid. What you are doing now is obviously not working, and actually making things worse. I would sit down and have an open and honest discussion as Moni suggested. Start with a clean slate.

As for the chores, yep, I think they are a little much. I would not make him do his own laundry. I just think that sends a negative message. Does your husband do his own laundry? If not, specifically picking your son's out for him to do....well, it just doesn't seem right.

How about doing the dishes *with* him? Or how about cooking with him? A great bonding opportunity and a skill he will need!

    Bookmark   November 23, 2006 at 9:53AM
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Like others, I agree with lee676. Too much rigidity will push away many kids.

Unlike what works for weed30, though, it seems to me that doing his own laundry is an easy chore for a kid to handle. My kids all got a laundry hamper of their own for their 13th birthday (except the youngest who asked for his for his 11th so he could be like the others) and have done their own clothes for years now. Towels and stuff we all pitch in on. And while my husband doesn't do "his own laundry" he does do his and mine most of the time. We get to share a hamper since we share a room.

Guess what seems normal in one house doesn't always work in another.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2006 at 4:16PM
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Yeah...what's wrong with laundry? Fact is, I don't think the chores are the point. Caf said he does the laundry and all that. (It isn't going to kill him and he IS learning to take care of himself - a very good thing!) My kids did their laundry from about age 8 or 9.

The urgent problem is the alcohol and drugs. And the "sneaking". I don't agree with the season long grounding. That seems a bit much. And by just clamping down you don't learn anything about why he is doing this. I'd want to know why he feels the need to "sneak out". Is he not allowed to go out otherwise? Are there rules about how, who and such that he feels the need to evade? Just adding rules and penalties without gaining new information is a dead end as far as I know in parenting. Pretty soon you find yourself face to face with nowhere to turn. Communication is key. It is better to have open communication with a child who is messing up than to have strict rules for one who wouldn't tell you if the house were on fire.

Just my opinion.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2006 at 10:57PM
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I dont know...that is awful lot of work for someone who is also expected to keep good grades.Be thankful he is on the honor roll and lighten his load some.He is your child,not a slave.Obviously he is drinking and stuff because he needs to cut loose and have down time from too much responsibility.
The stricter you are,the worse he will rebel,hate to tell you.And I speak truthfully,cuz it wasnt all that long ago I was a teen and my parents did the same to me.I totally broke down.When he is in the real world he will have loads of responsibility.Let him be young and enjoy his youth while he still can.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2006 at 5:47AM
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Wow. I just stumbled onto this forum and happened to read this. I only have a 9 year old and a 3 year old and reading these posts are enlightening and a bit frightening.

FWIW (not much), I don't think caf123's son has too many chores but I agree with whoever suggested doing chores together as a family unit. Growing up, we all had to do laundry but we did everyone's laundry and everyone had their turn doing the weekly laundry. We all participated in cooking, setting up the table, cleaning up dinner chores and on weekends, our parents divided up the cleaning chores so that one child vacuumed, one cleaned the bathrooms and one did something else but I forget what (maybe laundry?). BUT, when caf's son leaves the house for college or whatever, he'll be grateful he knows how to do laundry - it was painfully funny to watch kids who did not know trying to do laundry for the first time. It might be nice if he got to cook dinner (e.g., make the mess) as well as clean up afterwards. Again, it's a great skill to learn (cooking) and no better place than home to do it.

I also agree with everyone saying that a whole summer's grounding and then taking away phone, car, computer for two infractions is just wayyyy too harsh. Geez - he made two mistakes. They were big mistakes but not out of line for 17 year olds - he experimented. By putting the kibosh on his entire life, he had no choice but to "sneak" around.

I really like how Lindakimy treated her children and hopefully I can as wise and thoughtful.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2006 at 6:49PM
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I happen to agree with lee676 on this one. Make your home a happy place to be, or once he hits 18, he will get as far away from you two as possible, and no one would blame him. Chores are one thing, that everyone should pitch in on together. Expecting your children to be your maid is quite another...and the negative yucky atmosphere where he is always in trouble is quite another. However, I do believe that drug use needs to be nipped in the bud. I have seen people really mess up their lives that way.

I have a relative who treats her kids as maids...requiring them to do all of the ironing, lawn, wash cars, dishes, clean the house, etc. etc. etc., and like your home, they are always grounded for the smallest infraction. I feel sorry for them. I think there is a healthy balance. Some of us are too lax, requiring nothing of our children, and some like you are too extreme. There must be a "happy" middle ground which is a much healthier home environment as your children only get to experience childhood once...it should be happy, as you build happy memories for them to draw on later in life.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2007 at 9:40AM
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"He is your child,not a slave.Obviously he is drinking and stuff because he needs to cut loose and have down time from too much responsibility.
The stricter you are,the worse he will rebel"


At 17, he *has* to make some decisions on his own.

If the only ones you "allow" are negative, then he's going to make negative decisions.

Here's a riddle:

What's the difference between your house & jail?

It's a trick question, there's no difference at all!

& your son's sentence is very nearly served.

I have 2 brothers, & our parents took the same micro-managing, punitive, controlling attitude you're taking:

over-reacting, checking up on us even though we were good kids, *trying* to "catch" us, severely punishing us for infractions of harsh rules, loading us up on chores so that we never had time to do normal things, controlling our every move.

We all got away.

& I finally realized that normal parents don't treat their children as slaves or as potential criminals to be jumped on & punished.

Normal parents realize that the teen years are the ones in which their offspring change from children to adults & in which decisions & control move from the parent to the young person.

Ease up & show him some love & some respect or lose him.

your choice.

    Bookmark   January 14, 2007 at 2:35PM
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"his grades last semester fell, although he still stayed on the honor roll."

& your complaint is...?????

    Bookmark   January 14, 2007 at 2:45PM
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Check out the book "Controlling the Difficult Adolescent," by Dr. David B. Stein. There's also a lot of good info on his website, linked below.


Here is a link that might be useful: DrDaveStein

    Bookmark   January 24, 2007 at 5:19PM
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