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Parent Puzzler: Sixteen and Mean

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Dr. Meg Meeker

This was a tough one, readers! But I think most of you that commented were right on point. Scroll down below to see what I told Emily to do about her son…

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Disciplining a teenager can be tough, especially when the child is bigger than you are (literally!).  The parent of a patient had this problem recently.

Sage is 16. His parents divorced when he was 11 and he hasn’t seen his father in two years. He is an only child and his mother, Emily, describes their relationship as very good. As a matter of fact, she says, that until recently, she and Sage were very close.

Two days ago she and Sage had a fight. He wanted to go away for the weekend with some friends and she said no. He was so incensed that he hit the wall, putting a hole in it and threatened to go away without his mother’s permission. After the argument, he ran up to his room and slammed the door so hard that it fell off of its frame.

Emily came to me asking for help. She said that Sage is physically a lot stronger than she and that she was frightened. His anger was getting out of control and he hadn’t hit her, but she was fearful that he might.

What should she do?

Click below to read my answer.

Answer: Teenage boys need men in their lives. As they mature physically and psychologically, they gain a sense of power that is frightening. They feel physically stronger and they feel more intense emotions arising.  Healthy development through the teen years is about boys gaining a sense of self control over every aspect of their lives- their feelings, their physical abilities, their sexuality. If they move through the teen years and feel that they are not gaining control, they become angry and never fully mature. (Ever met a forty year old adolescent?)

Here’s what I recommended that Sage’s mother do. Since Dad wasn’t around, and Sage needed a  strong authority figure in his life, she had to really step up to the plate and make some changes. Many boys do not perceive their mothers to be authority figures- particularly he, like Sage, has been “close” with his mother.

Emily revealed to me that she had leaned on him as the “man of the house” after her husband left and that she had confided in Sage with many of her own troubles. Their relationship had really been more of a husband-wife, rather than a mother-son.

I told her that since he was out of control that she had to amp up her authority. Sage was testing her to see how badly he could misbehave until she snapped. We came up with a plan of discipline that included very clear instructions. If he yelled, his iPhone was taken away. If he hurt things around the house, the car was taken away. And if he threatened her, he was out of the house and would be staying with grandparents for a while.

Our plan worked and Sage got himself under control within several months and their relationship dramatically improved. I told Emily that keeping open and honest communication was healthy but that she needed to continue to be the authority in the home and that she should not confide in him regarding any of her troubles. He could not be “the man of the house” until he was a full grown man.

Have you had trouble with your teenager? Write to me and tell me your story.

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