Question:

Hi. I'm talking to you because I don't know what to do. I'm a widower and father of a 12 year old son. He started about two months ago to be disrespectful and rebellious, he backtalks to me, has had two fights at school, and sometimes hits things. I've tried grounding like always. I think that works, but I discovered he sneaks from it when I'm not home. Normally I'm home when he back from school, but with my new job I come home two hours after him. My wife died when my son was four. It has been pretty much just he and me. I'm religious and I started to visit your web site a lot before my problem. I read some of the other questions from parents with similar problems and spanking seems to be a possibility, but I never spanked him other than a swat or two when he was little. I never was spanked in my childhood and my son never gave me trouble to consider spanking until now. I'm afraid if I hit him, he'll start to hate me or worse be afraid of me. I tried to talk with him to know what happens, but he says nothing happens and then he yells at me to stop bothering him. Now I'm really close to get him to a child psychologist.

Please, I need your help because I really don't know what to do.


Answer:

I find numerous small items in your tale that suggest you are not being fully truthful. Generally people, and children, don't change personalities. A child, during adolescence might do more or less than what he has done in the past, but he will follow the same general direction. Dramatic changes would point to a dramatic cause. You claim this started two months ago, but make no mention of any dramatic event two months ago. I would conclude that this disrespect for authority has always been going on, but it was milder so you ignored it. You claim he's never given you problems until recently, but again that isn't how people behave. He might have given you less trouble in the past, which you didn't correct because it was easy to ignore. Even if you put it down to adolescence as you are hinting at, these things build up over time -- two months is too short.

You claim to be concerned about him, but then say you are concerned about his hating you or being afraid of you. If he is treating with disrespect as you stated, then he already hates you. If he doesn't have some fear of you, then he has no respect for you. Both would say that you have been a lazy parent, but a lazy parent would not interested in becoming a dictator type of parent, which is what you are hinting at wanting to do.

Let's get back to some fundamentals. You are being a irresponsible parent for leaving a twelve year old child to be on his own for two hours every day after school. That you expect to "ground" a child but leave that child to enforce his own punishment is foolishness on your part. "The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother" (Proverbs 29:15). Find an after-school program or a home with a responsible adult that your child will go to when you are not home. Do not expect those places to enforce your punishments for you. They are there only to make sure your child stays out of trouble during the two hours you are not there. Any grounding is done while you are present. Spanking isn't going to solve bad parenting.

You'll have to make up your mind if you trying to be buddies with the boy in your house or if you are a parent responsible for his actions while he remains a child and responsible for guiding him into being a solid adult. Until you are certain of your role in his life, you will just make a mess of the situation.