How do you get through to a 16-year-old boy who doesn’t seem to “get it.” He has been grounded for over a month, and during that time, we grounded him again and took his phone away for another month. He keeps ignoring what we ask him to do. He comes home late and says he is out with his friends. Life is miserable, and he says we are unfair. Have you seen this before, and can you help us?
Oh, yes, I have seen this before many times.
Your pattern of discipline is out of sync with his development and age. The most common mistake parents of teens make is to overcontrol and micromanage behavior.
Face it. He is no longer 10 years old. In my opinion, grounding is a maladaptive process. You are not teaching him anything, and he will punish you more than you will him. He will remember you as punitive and inflexible.
Changing your pattern is going to be difficult, because he expects you to come down like a sledgehammer when he doesn’t obey all the rules.
Decide what is important. For example, are chores an issue, and what would he consider fair?
Then, talk. That means addressing him with respect for his age. Keep the discussion ongoing. Your job at his age is to teach. If you do take away a privilege as a consequence, make it brief so he is able to see light at the end of the tunnel. For example, a cellphone is critical in the mind of a teen. Losing it for a day teaches. A month means the fight will go on and intensify.
Think and consider strategies before you act and, for heaven’s sake, listen to him, really listen.
If you find you are unable to make progress, get some professional help. Your pediatrician should be able to make a referral.
Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at lrryllrsn@CS.com.