Saturday, July 24, 2010

Our son's troubling behavior

Knowledgeability Clarity of Response Timeliness Politeness 

10                       10                           10             10

Comment: Thank you for your though provoking and meaningful response. Although we already have many of your suggestions in place, there were a few nuggets of wisdom we need to work further on. Thank you once again!

Questioner: Cherie

Subject: Our teen sons troubling behavior

Question: Our son, age 14 (15 next month) is currently in the 9th grade and is not doing as well as we hoped he would. He has always scored in the very high range on standardized tests and demonstrates a high aptitude in the Mechanical/Engineering fields. He is very well mannered and spoken, gets along well with his peers, and has never gotten in trouble at school for being disrespectful or disobedient. We've always stressed the importance of the best education with the expectation that he will go to college.


Our son comes from a family of six children, brought into our family biologically, through adoption and foster care. He, as well as his younger sister, were adopted at birth (transracially, we are white, he is biracial, she is black). He is the only boy, with four older sisters who are all grown and married, and one sister who is a year younger than him. We speak very openly about their adoption, as well as the challenges of being a racially blended family living in the deep south. Our son was diagnosed with ADD (without the hyperactivity component) three years ago and takes Adderall XR. Other than the ADD, he is a very healthy young man.

He son has been less than motivated throughout his academic career, with a long history of doing "just enough to get by", in spite of our best efforts to motivate him toward wanting more for himself. He attended a magnet middle school, where a 2.5 gpa was the minimal for acceptance, and hovered near that GPA but only with intervention from school staff and concerned parents. Historically, his "pattern" (for lack of a better term) is to goof off the first part of the grading period, earning very poor marks, get an academic progress report for that grading period, panic, begin applying himself and bring his failing grades up to an acceptable level, see-sawing between A's and F's to average a "C" overall. Clearly, he is capable of A & B quality work all of the time, but rarely does he perform that well consistently without strong-arm motivation from us and his teachers. Transitioning to high school, where more independence is expected, he has not done as well balancing his see-saw routine and has 2 F's and a D in core subjects in his first six week grading period. After a conference last week with his science teacher (one of his best, and most enjoyable subjects) it is likely that he will fail this grading period and perhaps other subjects, too.

We've struggled with our son over issues of character since he was a young child. He has been reared in a family that values the truth, believes in working hard to reach ones goals, and demonstrates strong Christian moral and ethical values, yet he lies when telling the truth would be easier. Because of his charming, engaging personality, often he is able to "con" his way through the consequences of his behavior at school. He has a lazy streak and consistently takes the easiest way out of anything expected of him both in the home and school setting. As a result of his behavior and grades, he�s grounded from all social activities and the telephone until he brings us written proof (letter or report card) that his grades are at the school minimum of a 2.5 gpa. We have a no television during the school week policy and don�t have a game system. He�s recently began sneaking the telephone, has been caught looking at porn on the computer, and his lies have escalated in severity and frequency.

Frankly, we're afraid ... afraid that unless our son sees the light soon that he will not see it at all and that if he does, it will be a train! We've come to the difficult point of realization that although we've tried everything we know of to motivate him, that he's not "hearing" us. We want nothing but the best for our son, love him deeply, but are at our wits end.

We are open to any advice you may have to offer. Thank you for your time!


Answer: Dear Cherie:

Hm.....I am not sure you will like my responses however, I am not hear to tell you what you want to hear.

First thing I noticed about this message was how many negative descriptors are used to describe your son's behavior, i.e., "lazy," "con" etc. I am reading he is disappointing you. Is he a disappointment to you? Often when we are facing challenges with our children's behavior the hardest task is to deal with our own grief of the loss of dreams we had for them. What we fail to realize is they were our dreams and not necessarily their own dreams. Your son is an individual and probably has his own dreams. What are his dreams? Have you asked him?

First before we deal with his behavior let's get you back on track as this is crucial in dealing with your relationship with him and will increase the level of success in dealing with his behavior.

Please sit down and make an exhaustive list of your son's good qualities. I want you to focus on this list whenever there is conflict of some sort.

As for his lying all children will lie when they feel the need to avoid extreme pain. This maybe the emotional pain of disappointment, confrontation, or some other negative behavior they wish to avoid and more than likely the responsibility for the behavior which brought them to this point.

Children are like banks and you need to make alot of positive deposits before they reach the teen years and then increase them by double during the teen years to get you both through the rough times.

It is very easy for any parent to become more negative than positive when their children start down a path that scares them. I can hear the fear in your message as you are afraid he is going somewhere you won't be able to protect him from the consequences. You need to relax a little as we can make our worst fears come true just by over reacting.

I want you to focus on setting your and your son up for some positive experiences and then be very verbal about what you liked about the experience and what you liked about how he handled the experiences. Some one on one quality fun time!

Next, check with his teachers to determine if there is any possibility there is a learning problem which is starting to come to the surface? Rule this out. Also ask if he could be unmotivated because he is very intelligent and is not stimulated by the work. If this is so there are more techniques to help gifted children along in their academics.

It sounds like you have done a wonderful job of communicating on the issues surrounding racial issues and all of the challenges regarding his up hill climb. Be careful this doesn't become his excuse for not achieving.

All in all it appears to me you have done a wonderful job with this young man. He is 14 years of age and you didn't mention any prior problems up until now. Relax and realize you have done a good job. Have faith your efforts were good and things will turn out for the best. He may have some bumps in the road he has to deal with sometimes the best teacher is experiences and you have to get older to realize how smart your parents were.

Please feel free to post again if I can be of further service.

M Kay Keller