I Wanted to Rage at My Son’s Behavior, But I Found a Better Way

My son is struggling to keep his grades above passing right now. It’s been a tough year for us to say the least. He continues to think his job, his new car, and his friends and are the end all be all.

teen boy on road
The last thing I wanted was for my son not to come to me when he was hurting. (Twenty20 @moloneymike)

My son wants high school to be over.

He’s in the middle of his junior year of high school and wants more than anything to get it all over with so he can have the freedom of working. He no longer wants to feel as though he’s tied to his computer doing homework after school, when he’d rather be at the gym or hanging out with his buddies.

This isn’t a case of him struggling in his classes. This is a case of him simply not doing the work because he clearly doesn’t fully understand the ramifications.

Somewhere between the beginning of last year and the holidays, he went from average grades to barely scraping by. As his mother, I am struggling with his nonchalant behavior. I can’t stand the shoulder shrugs. And when he tells me to “Calm down, it will all work out,” it’s all I can do not to grab his shoulders and scream in his face. To let him know that he is going to ruin his future if he doesn’t buckle down and get to work.

It would be so easy to vent my rage at my teen.

It’s hard to talk to him some days. I love him but I don’t want to be around him lately. My frustration level is running at full speed and it would be so easy to explode, but I know that that kind of scare tactic, or emotional display doesn’t work on my son.

We’ve been here before–he’s struggled with the rules in school a time or two getting suspended for fighting and smoking pot. Those were my first experiences with have a “bad” kid who didn’t want to follow the rules and I handled it as any first-time parent would: with zero grace, a lot of anger, not much compassion, and a lot of embarrassment.

It didn’t work. Instead, it backfired right in my face and the mess it left came very close to driving a permanent wedge between me and my son.

I am lucky enough to have a very gracious brother-in-law who is also a principal and knows a lot more than I do about the way teenagers operate.

“He needs to know that can earn your trust back,” he told me one night when I was texting him out of desperation. “If you hold a grudge and ignore him, or go a day without speaking to him, he’s going to shut down and never feel like he can come to you.”

I felt those words shoot through my heart. The last thing I wanted was my child to not come to me when he was struggling, hurting, or deliciously happy about something.

Oh but it is hard, really, really hard.

It takes everything I have to react calmly to my teen’s misbehavior.

It takes everything I’ve got to shut down and ignore him when I feel like his stubbornness is so strong it’s going to ruin his life and nothing I say makes a dent in his mind. It’s hard to act as though I am calm and cool on the inside when I fell like he’s making a horrible decision.

The first time we spoke about his grades after I’d checked the parent portal, he wasn’t concerned and promised he’d bring his grades up and hand in all his work by the end of the week. That didn’t happen and I wanted to bring it up again. And I don’t mean in a calm way. I mean in a yelling until my head almost popped off because I didn’t understand why he wasn’t concerned.

I’ve learned though, you can give your child consequences without losing your cool. You can be angry with the way they are handling life and not hold it over their head. When I react badly, I see my son slinking further away from me. As much as I want him to listen to my words and change my actions, he won’t if he thinks I’m mad at him. This makes him shut down and tell me nothing because he “doesn’t want to deal with me or my reaction.” Those are his words and I believe him.

When we hold a grudge against our kids they, know it. While it may make them straighten up for a bit for fear of letting us down, I’ve found it doesn’t work long term.

They need a safe place to go where they feel they can be themselves and get actual help instead of judgment. They need to know we still love them. They need to know we accept them as they are and that we are here to help them.

Instead of showing him how mad I was, I hugged him and told him no more friends, no more working, and I took the keys to his car because getting his grades up needed to be his main focus right now and it was clear he needed help.

He didn’t talk to me for a day or so, but I still talked to him as if nothing had happened. By the end of the week he’d stayed after school, on his own accord, and passed in all his missing work.

This is one way I can show my son that no matter what, I have his best interest in mind and if he screws up I won’t hold a grudge, but I will always help him.

And it feels a lot better than losing my cool and holding on to those negative emotions.

The author of this post wishes to remain anonymous.

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About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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