Dear Mom with a View,
My teenage son is going through a very difficult phase right now. He ignores most of what we say, disobeys many of our rules and recently threatened to pierce his lip. Besides causing his father and me stress and anxiety, I'm worried about the impact of his negative behavior on the other kids in the house.
A Frazzled Mother of an Adolescent Son
Dear Frazzled Mom,
Secondly, although his actions may suggest that he is ignoring what you say, I can assure you that he is not. The advice you give, the words you use, the manner in which you speak them and the ways in which you act are all having an impact on him. Our children are very heavily influenced by the values we express -- both orally and through our deeds. When they emerge from this phase (I know, it can't happen too soon!), you will be surprised to seem them modeling themselves after you. It just takes a lot of patience and a lot of trust.
The most important thing is never to give up, never to lose hope.
While we, as parents, are busy worrying about the negative impact of this defiant or inappropriate behavior on our other offspring, we want to be careful not to give them something deeper and more serious to be concerned about.
All of our children -- and particularly our difficult ones -- need our love.
All of our children -- and particularly our difficult ones -- need our love. They need to know that we will never, God forbid, abandon them, that we will always be there for them.
If we feel we need to push away one child to protect the others, we are making a serious mistake. We are teaching all of our children that our love for them is conditional, that there are things they could do that could lead to some type of disinheritance. We have introduced an underlying layer of fear and anxiety into everyone's lives. We have made all of our children feel vulnerable and insecure.
On the other hand, if our children (including the adolescent himself) see that although we may disapprove of certain behaviors and attitudes our love for them remains firm, everyone will be strengthened. The home will embody security.
A difficult teenager who is never allowed to forget how much his parents love him and believe in him has a much better chance of emerging successfully from that phase.
Additionally, we shouldn't discount the support of his siblings. Instead of separating them from each other or even worse, turning them against him, the love and closeness of siblings can be a powerful force in keeping this recalcitrant teenager firmly entrenched within the bosom of him family.
I'm not saying any of this is going to be easy. Or magic. Or that there won't be stumbling blocks along the way. But, just as the Almighty loves all of His children and we are empowered and united through this knowledge, so too will our children be empowered and united through the recognition of our unwavering love and commitment.
You may still be frazzled but don't worry about his negative influence on his siblings; worry about them responding negatively to him. He is lost and frightened and their support (and yours) needs to be at his back. A hole in the ear (or lip or nose) will easily close and is easily repaired. A hole in the heart is much more difficult to mend.