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How to help a son with a careless attitude?


​I have a 16-year-old son who is in the 11th grade. He has had an attitude that he doesn't care, so yesterday I took his PlayStation away. When I got home, he said he didn't understand why I took it away and I told him because of his “I-don't-care" attitude. He also has been missing school a lot, has few credits and struggles to get assignments done. Last night, he became aggressive and threw objects at my other son. I called the police and they told me when he has the disrespectful attitude to take his car and phone away, which I did. But when I did this, he told me he's not going to go to school. I don't know what to do anymore as a parent. I can't get him to leave the house for counseling, and he won't go to school until I give him his things back, which I'm not going to do until he starts behaving better. What do you suggest?



First, great job using consequences for negative behaviors! Misbehaviors need consequences or they will not change. Also, kids need to be taught what to do in place of negative behaviors so they know how to avoid those consequences and choose to use appropriate, alternative behavior. You are right on target with the loss of PlayStation as a consequence. We also agree with the police officer who suggested your son should lose his car and phone as well. Because it seems like he is trying to punish you into changing your mind about the consequences, it would be a good idea to set this all up and present it to him ahead of time. By that we mean writing down what your expectations are for your son. This should include getting to school on time, completing assignments, doing assigned chores around the home and participating in counseling sessions. When those expectations are met consistently, then the privileges he will have available are the PlayStation (after homework is completed), use of his phone during certain hours of the day (then it is turned in at night to you), spending time with friends and possible use of the car (as approved of by you).

If expectations are not met, all or some of these privileges will be lost until consistent behavior change earns them back. Then we recommend you ask him if he understands these expectations and what will happen if he meets them or doesn't meet them. Based on what you have shared about his behavior, he may say he thinks this is stupid or not fair or some other comment out of anger. Calmly let him know you are not asking for his approval, only whether he understands what is expected and what will happen with privileges based on the choices he makes.

You can likely predict how this is going to go and the resistance he will likely present. Be ready for it and stand firm. Be consistent with your expectations and your use of consequences. If he resorts to damaging property or threatening to harm others, call the police. If that type of situation arises, manage three things: first, manage yourself so you can stay calm and be effective; second, manage the environment, making sure your other son is away from his brother and safe, keep yourself at least a leg's distance away in case he lashes out and call the police if needed; and third, manage the misbehavior by calmly telling your son to calm himself down and that his current behavior is not going to get him what he wants. And that in fact, it is getting him farther away from what he wants.

Is counseling available through his school? If it is, maybe that would be more convenient than having to take him to counseling out in the community. We are really glad you are reaching out for help for your son. He may think you are being mean or that you don't love him. The truth is that if you didn't care, you would simply ignore all of this and let him fail school and everything else.