Question:

I have a fourteen year old son. In the past year he has become very verbally rude. He is not doing well in school. He cannot get along with his little brother, who is seven. He used to be so sweet and loving and now I'm so worried about him. I know drugs are not an issue; we have checked into that. He just doesn't want to do anything.


Answer:

Ah, the wonders of the teenage years. Both boys and girls go through a period of extreme moodiness during adolescence. Girls tend to lash out verbally, having bouts of extreme anger, pouting, tears, and giddiness. Boys tend to be surly, gloomy, and communicate at a minimum. There are reasons behind these trends, but it doesn't mean parents should throw up their hands in surrender.

Nine times out of ten you get what you will tolerate. You will also find that he will imitate what he has seen you and others do but to a greater extreme because he hasn't learned self-control fully. Let's look at each issue independently and see what can be done.

Doing Poorly in School

Is this a continuation of poor work habits in earlier grades or is it something new? As children progress through the grades, the work gets harder and the work load increases. A level of effort that allowed a child do adequately in grade school won't work as well in junior high or high school. Here you need to play detective a bit and decide where the problem lies. Observe his study habits and talk to his teachers about what they have seen:

  • Is it a lack of time being spend on work?
  • Is it procrastination and trying to get things done only at the last minute?
  • Is it that he thinks it is useless and so doesn't apply himself?
  • Is it that he doesn't get it so he pretends?
  • Is it something more basic like having trouble reading because of eyesight problems?

Rather than trying to apply a one-size fits all solution to the problem, we need to narrow down the possibilities. For example, if he is squinting when he reads, punishing by sending to his room until he gets his reading done isn't going to help the problem.

Not Getting Along with Younger Siblings

A part of this is because adolescence causes rapid changes in the way a person feels and thinks. His younger brother doesn't understand what is going on and wants to treat him as if he was still a child. But he is maturing and wants to be treated like an adult. Yet adults look at him as still a child. Many children wrongly believe that who they associate with is how they are treated, so they push away their younger siblings so as to not be thought of as a child.

Once again, most of what you get is what you tolerate. Give the older boy assignments where he helps his younger brother. Make sure you tell him that it is because he is older, more capable, and that he can help teach his younger brother. Don't make it into a punishment or he will resent it. If fights break out, squelch them immediately. Don't take sides, judge each situation fairly and evenly.

Verbally Rude

At times parents, especially the mother, will interpret a teenage boy's behavior or lack of communication as rude. Boys tend to be less verbal than girls and during the teenage years the contrast often increases before it eases. One reason is that their emotions are running wild and many boys figure it is safer to keep their mouth shut than to say something wrong. Another reason is that their voice is changing, they literally don't like hearing their own voice for a while.

Once again, you can ease the situation by laying down your expectations clearly. Don't expect more than you can get, but you can lay out guidelines of polite behavior. For instance, if an older person says "Hello," the polite thing to do is to respond in kind. Ignoring another person or pretending to ignore him is rude. If it happens in front of others, then apologize to your guest. At a later point, take your son aside and tell him that he was rude, tell him why that particular behavior was rude, and then tell him what the consequence will be. Allow him to have his say, but let him know you weren't asking for excuses, you are expecting politeness. Since his behavior is anti-social, a good consequence is to spend the evening in his room without a phone, computer, television, or other communications device.