My 16-year-old daughter has been invited to go on her boyfriend’s family vacation to a foreign country. He is a good kid from a kind, loving family. They have been dating for a year and a half. My concern is that my daughter is too young to go abroad and that being together may tempt her and her boyfriend to become sexually active. My gut says she shouldn’t go. Am I being too over-protective?
This is a very difficult decision. Five points come to mind that we think should guide your decision-making process with this situation and other difficult ones that arise in the future.
- The boy’s family is going on a vacation that should be reserved for their family. Your daughter is not part of that family, so it’s really not right for her to go, even if she has been invited.
- The fact that your gut tells you “No” should not be overlooked. If you are honest about the temptations you remember facing at 16, you know that being far away in a foreign country can make the temptation to become sexually involved even greater.
- News stories frequently recount how dangerous it is for young females to travel abroad. You are right to be concerned about letting her travel without you.
- If you do decide to let your daughter go with her boyfriend’s family, discuss all of your concerns with his parents. Talk about situations she may encounter and make sure they have a plan for keeping her safe.
- If you decide not to let your daughter go, make sure you lovingly explain your concerns and how you came to your decision. Tell your daughter you trust her and that put a lot of thought into the decision, and that you are saying “No” because you think that’s what’s best for her.
Follow a similar process for future difficult decisions, clearly telling your daughter how and why you arrived at a decision. Discuss your thoughts, and hers, together.
I just caught my 15-year-old daughter with a 17-year-old boy in her room early this morning. I’m concerned about her having sex before marriage, pregnancy and STDs.
It's important that your daughter understands that the choice she made was wrong. You can make this clear by issuing a consequence. Connect the consequence as closely as possible to the behavior and match it to the seriousness of the misbehavior. Also, try to get an idea of what went on that led her to this decision. Ask questions like:
- Did this boy ask to come over and she didn't know what to say?
- Was she the one who invited him over?
Then help your daughter learn and develop her decision-making skills by teaching her how she could have problem-solved this situation better.
Have the ‘Sex’ Talk with Her Again
This is one discussion with your daughter that can’t have often enough. The more she hears your concerns and advice, the more likely she is to think and make better decisions when faced with similar situations in the future. It's natural for a teenage girl to be hormonal and curious, so talk to her about ways she can avoid being stuck in a "convincing" situation and have her practice ways to say "No" that make her feel comfortable.
My 13-year-old stomps to his room, slams the door and destroys things in his bedroom whenever he’s upset. How can I teach him to control his temper?
We are our children's first and most important teachers, and our goal should be to teach them the skills they will need for success in future situations and help practice them these skills before they need to use them. Your son doesn’t yet know how to use the skills of “Accepting Criticism” and “Accepting Consequences.” Both of those skills can be taught and practiced. If your son continues to express himself through anger and aggression, he will eventually get in trouble at school, lose a job, get kicked off a sports team, lose friends or a girlfriend, or experience other negative consequences. Here are a few things that can help you communicate this concern to your son.
Talk to Him About His Anger When He’s Calm
Approach your son at a time when things are calm. Start out with something positive, like a recent conversation you had with him when he looked you in the eye or a time when he and his brother worked on something together with no problems. Thank and praise him for that positive behavior.
Tell Him It’s Okay to Get Angry
Tell him your concern, but explain that the emotion of anger shouldn’t lead to unacceptable behavior. It is okay to get angry. People feel what they feel. Let him know it is how he handles his anger that counts. The goal is to teach him to do something else when he feels angry, something that is more socially acceptable than tearing up his room.
Help Him Handle His Anger with Better Actions
Think about the times you’ve see his anger building up – maybe he clinches his fists, moves in close to the person, hits the person, screams or starts breathing heavily. He must learn to change those physical actions and replace them with behaviors that will help him maintain self-control. You can teach him to open up his hands, take two steps back, keep his arms to his side or take three slow deep breaths. Have him practice these behaviors and have a code word that you can say to him when you see his temper escalating.
Set Consequences for Future Tantrums
Consequences are one of the most powerful tools you can use to help change your son’s behaviors. Teach your son the skill of “Accepting Consequences” (look at you, say “Okay” and stay calm), then tell him what negative consequence he will receive when he does not handle his anger appropriately. Maybe he loses access to his electronic devices for the remainder of the day if he refuses to look at you when you’re talking to him or he fights with a sibling. Kids know how to push each other’s buttons, too. You might want to talk to his siblings privately to let them know their brother is working on controlling his anger, and that if they start an argument or fight, they also will earn a negative consequence.
It will take a lot of practice and patience before your son catches on and begins using appropriate behaviors when he gets angry. But with teaching and consistent use of consequences, his tantrums will become less intense and less frequent.
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My 14-year-old son has recently developed a very troublesome attitude, which is new for him. For example, he recently called a female student bad names at school and refuses to follow instructions at home. How do I address this and discipline him in a positive way?
The teenage years are some of the most difficult to navigate. Keep communication open and talk with your teenager on a regular basis. We always encourage families to eat dinners together each night if possible; this time together is critical to good communication and healthy parent-child relationships. It's also a perfect time to reflect on the day, confront certain issues and discuss positive events. Your son has made some poor choices, but it's not uncommon for kids his age to test the limits and boundaries of others around them. It's also quite common for freshmen to try to fit in at school, and sometimes go to great lengths to be accepted or gain respect from upper classmen. Talk with your son about positive values like respecting others and how they shouldn’t be compromised just to fit in. Discuss what it means to be a follower and the strength it takes to be a leader.
Strongly encourage your son to make a personal apology to the girl he called bad names, either in person or in a letter. This will make him take accountability for his actions and help him understand how his actions affect others.
If he refuses to apologize, then take away his privileges until he does so. If his negative attitude and behavior continues, have him start working as a volunteer in your community. This is a good way to instill empathy, acceptance and giving back.
My 17-year-old daughter is not making friends at school. She does fine academically but she doesn’t hang around with her old friends because they’re doing drugs. How can I help my daughter develop new friendships so she has a social outlet without seeming like I’m trying to control the issue?
Your daughter has made a good decision to stop spending time with friends who are doing drugs. Unfortunately, that decision has come with the consequences of not having any friends for a time. You may want to encourage your daughter to get a part-time job. It could help her to adjust to a new routine and provide the opportunity for her to meet a new set of people who are different from her old friends at school.
The more social settings your daughter experiences now, the better she will be able to handle things when she is on her own, perhaps in college or supporting herself with a job. Help your daughter identify her God-given talents and interests. Then, help her find activities that involve those interests. A club, group or job that is centered on her interests will help her develop her natural abilities and make new friends.
I found marijuana in my 14-year-old son’s room. I don't know how to respond or what to say to him. He is entering high school and I am worried that the problem is going to get bigger.
As a teenager, your son is trying new things, is easily influenced by his peers and doesn’t always exercise good problem-solving skills. It’s your responsibility to keep him safe. Smoking pot is unsafe, so you want him to stop using it. Like any negative behavior he may engage in, we recommend you teach to it. There are four steps to follow when teaching:
- Stop the problem behavior by calmly describing what happened. "Son, I found pot in your room when I was in there this morning."
- Describe the consequences for what happened. “Because you had an illegal substance in our home, you will be required to attend a substance abuse class beginning on ____ and we will search your room on a regular basis.”
- Describe what he should do instead of using or bringing pot into your home. "The next time you are out with friends and someone offers you some pot, it would be a better choice for you to say, ‘No.’ If we find pot again or find out that you’ve been using it, it will cost you the privilege of going out with your friends.”
- Have him practice what you have taught him. "Okay son, show me how you will handle the next time you are tempted to use or bring pot home." (Your son should say something like, "No guys, if my mom finds pot in our home again or finds out I’ve been using it, I probably won't be going out with you again."
Let your son know this is a trust issue and he has broken your trust by using or bringing pot into your home. Let him know that if his using it or even having it in his possession continues, the consequences will be more serious and his free time will be restricted. He can rebuild trust by being honest, obeying house rules and being respectful.
To find substance abuse prevention classes, call your local police department or the local United Way 211 and ask for substance abuse prevention programs.
After graduating from high school, my 18-year-old son suddenly seems depressed, antisocial and angry. He won't accept suggestions about things to do, including working to keep him busy. He refuses to talk to a counselor or professional about his issues. What should I do before sending him off to a college out of state? Is he ready for college?
As our children get older, they want to be treated more like adults. At the same time, they often don’t seem to be able to make decisions any better than when they were 10. Given your son's age and the fact that you support his going to college, you should use the time you have left together to get him the help he needs.
Please do NOT allow him to go off to college unless he is stronger emotionally. Even young people who are confident, outgoing and real leaders of their peers struggle to handle the pressures of college life. There are academic pressures far beyond anything he has experienced so far, and the social pressure is far beyond perhaps anything even you as an adult have experienced. Let him know that if he doesn't get help, you will be unwilling to support his college in the fall. As his parent, your number one responsibility still is to ensure his safety. In this case, it is his emotional safety that you are concerned about. If he claims to be "fine" and says he will be all right, let him know that you will need a professional opinion to verify that.
My 15-year-old daughter refuses to attend school. I’ve taken her to a psychologist but she is uncooperative. She was always a good student, liked by her teachers and active in sports. That all changed when she started high school. I know changing schools can be challenging, especially for shy children, but I am at a loss as to how to help my daughter.
Your daughter's behaviors are unacceptable regardless of the reasons behind them. In many states, it is illegal to not provide your child with an education. If a youth misses school, the parent is contacted by the county attorney and a court hearing is scheduled.
Your daughter's status in life at this time is a full-time student. She should not be getting a message that she can "call the shots" in your family and can break the law without consequences. As a parent, you want her to grow up healthy, physically and emotionally, and to be happy in the world in which she lives. That’s not going to happen if she doesn't get back on track.
If she had a medical issue and refused to go in for treatment, would you allow that? If she is not willing to go to a counselor, perhaps you could have someone come to your home. Another suggestion is to make home a less fun place than school. Require her to get up and begin working on her studies at the same time school is in session. During a break, she should complete chores. There should be no TV, computer, video games or other fun activities.
Your goal must be to help her control herself and go back to school. Your attempt to schedule follow-up therapy is exactly what needs to occur to help her make that decision if she can't get there without help.
My 15-year-old son has difficulty focusing, and this deficit is affecting both his schooling and his life outside of school. For instance, he just failed his driver’s test this morning. I have talked to him about focusing on one step at a time to prevent him from getting overwhelmed with the “big picture.” But when he becomes flustered or when something gets out of kilter, he disassociates from the situation as a coping mechanism.
I know that I need to spend more time with him. I can relate to his issues, but I need some ideas on how I can address this problem with him.
Your son’s lack of focus will not likely get any better on its own, and so professional intervention is recommended. You have a few sources of help to pursue. The first is his school. Nearly all school districts have school psychologists who can help pinpoint what is going on with your son’s lack of concentration. Tutoring services may also be an option to help your son stay on track with his schooling and to learn some new study skills.
Another source is a counselor or therapist who specializes in helping young adolescents who struggle with self-confidence, goal-setting and follow-through. Your family doctor can make a referral. You can also call the Boys Town hotline at 800-448-3000 for a referral in your community.
My husband and I have three children, ages 17, 12 and 11. I’ve inherited my father’s business, which is located four hours away from our home. For almost a year now, I have been required to be away from home for several days at a time. My husband also works hard, often six 10-hour days a week.
Our children do nothing around the house, and as a result, it looks like a pigsty. There are clothes, dirty dishes and garbage, etc., on the floor. They admit to being lazy but don’t seem to care. We’ve tried rewards, punishments, yelling, etc., to no avail.
Your children are certainly of the age when they can help out around the house. And hopefully, your work situation is temporary. If Mom and Dad are never home, then it is difficult to have a happy home. The longer this situation continues, the more disconnected your family will be.
Serious problem-solving is in order. You need to explore your options:
- Move closer to work so you don’t have to be out of town for long periods of time.
- Enroll the younger two children in school in the town in which you are working. The three of you will be able to ride together during the mornings and evenings.
- The three of you live there during the week and return home on the weekends.
- Sell your father’s business and invest in something close to home.
Whatever you do, your family has to know that you are working toward a solution. Your problem is more than just that your children are not doing their chores. Your family is functioning without a mother. The amount of time their father is around is not enough either.
The 17-year-old may be OK with the current arrangement, but the younger two are not. The behaviors you are seeing now will worsen and possibly lead to undesirable activities.
The consequences are not working because the parents are not around to enforce them. The children are not motivated to do their chores because there is no one present to monitor them.
Many families who own small businesses include all family members on their staff, and the family members earn wages. If this option is explored, a housekeeper could be paid to keep the house in shape.
The bottom line is: Your family needs to come together to discuss a plan for change.