We Need Your Advice
Dr. Bradley Ė Iím writing to ask your advice about my 12-year-old son. I hope you can give suggestions on what my husband and I should try next, or if the best thing for us to do is pray, hold on tight for the next 8-10 years, and hope that our son will outgrow this phase. The specific behaviors Iím concerned about in my son center around his lying, sneaking, and sometimes even stealing from his brother or my husband and me.
Let me give you a little background. Our family includes my husband, me, our 12-year-old son that Iím writing about, and our 10-year-old son. In general, weíre a loving family. However, sometimes I feel as if my husband expects too much out of our oldest son, to which I respond by being a bit too lenient. My husband and I are aware of this cycle, and weíre both working hard to find a middle ground. Iíve seen an individual therapist, and weíve seen a marriage therapist together, to address this cycle, but we still struggle with it at times.
Now, let me give some examples of the behaviors Iím concerned about in my 12-year-old son.
- A month or so ago, he forged my husbandís signature twice on slips sent home from school regarding incomplete homework assignments.
- Within the last couple of weeks, he lied and said he stayed after school for mandatory study hall to re-take two tests he did poorly on.
- In the past, he has taken money from his brother, and even from my husbandís coin jar kept in our closet, when his own allowance ran out.
- One to two years ago, he started attempting to view porn on the Internet. We installed very good parental control software that prevents him from doing so (and also talked to him about the dangers of doing so). Recently, we discovered that he had again attempted to go to bad websites, which fortunately our parental control software notified us of and prevented.
- He often lies about relatively minor things that he must know my husband and I will find out about; e.g., whether he picked up his room.
Iíd like to add that I believe with all my being that my son is a good kid at heart. Heís compassionate and soft-hearted and very good with young children. When there isnít a task he has to do (such as homework, practicing music, helping mow the lawn and around the house), for the most part heís still fun and loving and a joy to be around. But when he must do a task he doesnít want to, heís strong-willed, argumentative, and combative. And unfortunately he struggles some in school, which makes homework even more of a battle than it probably is for most kids.
Finally, weíve already attempted to address concerns about our son in a few different ways. Starting when he was in kindergarten or 1st grade, he has seen three different therapists, none of whom have been able to truly connect with him and get him to open up. Heís been diagnosed with ADHD (distractibility subtype) and was on Concerta for a couple of years (without noticeable improvement) until we discontinued it because it seemed to cause him anxiety. And he went through a 40-week vision therapy program after being diagnosed with convergence excess and retained primitive reflexes. My husband and I arenít sure we see much improvement in spite of the investment of time and close to $7,000.
Sometimes my theory is that my sonís brain is firing neurons, but connections are not being made. This theory would seem to explain his impulsive lying, sneaking, and stealing. Is it possible thatís the cause of his behavior? If so, how do we address the bad choices? Or do you have any other ideas? Iím particularly concerned because my son is approaching the age where the stakes get significantly higher Ė when he enters high school and eventually starts driving a car and being exposed to opportunities to try alcohol and drugs.
Thank you so much for your time.
The Good Enough Mom
I would not simply ignore these behaviors and hope for better since you might get worse--a lot worse, given that the demands on your son will increase dramatically in the next few years and that his parents are not on the same parental response page.
There are so many possibilities to explain your son's behavior that it's pointless to speculate about them; however, one option that might help you get closer to the root would be family therapy where you guys all sit down to address these issues and the shrink can make observations about how you function individually and collectively which might help you to sort things out. Individual and couples therapy often can't get at these sorts of problems.
Dr. Mike Bradley
im not a professional at this but i have experience being around a lot of kids and seeing a lot of kids being parented...I think you and your husband should be firm with your son...when you tell him to do something you have to make sure he knows you want him to do it...but don;t stress him out or anything...just be a little strict with him but to a limit...i mean most of his behavior seems normal for his age except maybe the stealing which a lot of younger children sometimes do things like that as well...porn is something that probably comes from being so curious...I think you guys should talk to him and see what hes going through maybe he wants attention but just don't push him to a point where hell do things behind your back which is worse...
As someone who has issues with homework, I'd like to add that he might be lying about schoolwork is because he's afraid of your reaction. I have lied about homework just because I didn't want my parents to get mad at me or disappointed or get on my case too much. Once they told me they were more upset over the lying as opposed to the late work (though they weren't happy about that either) and made it clear that if I was honest they would do their best to be supportive instead of getting mad right away, being honest became the preferable option. Kids don't like getting yelled at; the best guilt trip is the one that seems to completely support them without remorse (i.e. guilt-tripping only works if it doesn't seem like guilt-tripping).