Raising pre-teens really IS hell
January 18, 2010 3:56 PM   Subscribe

I need help sorting out if my son is behaving like a typical pre-teen or if he completely flipped the hell out. My oldest son turned 12 a couple months ago and now I have no idea who this child is. I'm at a loss to know what's normal for this age and what I should be concerned about. Books and the Internet are all over the map, so maybe the hive mind can help.

I need help sorting out if my son is behaving like a typical pre-teen or if he completely flipped the hell out. My oldest son turned 12 a couple months ago and now I have no idea who this child is. I'm at a loss to know what's normal for this age and what I should be concerned about. Books and the Internet are all over the map, so maybe the hive mind can help.

Background: I'm a single mom to three kids. Dad's out of the picture by choice since our divorce about six years ago. Although he's welcome to take them any time, he only sees or contacts the kids once or twice a year. I have no family in the area, and my kids definitely lack a group of consistent, strong male role model but I try to counteract that by keeping them enrolled in sports and other activities where they can be around other men.

I am not a bitter ex-wife and, though I don't care for my ex-husband personally I don't bad mouth him so there's no reason for my son's behavior to be rooted in some sort of anger or defense of his absent father. I've had a steady relationship with the same man for about three years and he treats me with the utmost respect and kindness, and we don't air our disagreements in front of my kids. My partner spends time with my kids (with and without me) and is an active part of their lives.

I am by no means a perfect parent, but I try very hard. I'm extremely involved in their education, we have dinner together every night, and they are not unsupervised or have babysitters on a daily or regular basis. They have chores and allowances, aren't over-scheduled, aren't under-friended, I'm not a helicopter mom, and essentially they have what I hope is a pretty standard existence.

Yet, my 12-year old becomes a raging lunatic on a regular basis. It's been building up for the last year or so and now it's coming to a head.
I can deal with him storming out of the room, eye rolls, dramatic sighs, and all the other me stuff he does because I remember what it was like to be that age, and I get it. What I can't deal with or figure out is his aggression and anger.

He can be the sweetest kid, but the second he hears "no" or is told to do something he doesn't want to do, he flips completely out. To say he's argumentative doesn't even begin to cover it. Example: When I give him a clear warning that ignoring X request will result in Y consequence, he will ignore me anyway, then go completely apeshit when he gets in trouble. Screaming at me, kicking the wall, punching doors, etc. He shrieks things like, "What is wrong with you? I didn't do anything!"

Lately, he's been swearing and calling me names. Most of the time, I simply turn and walk away, but sometimes I lose my cool and we end up in a shouting match ("You will NOT speak to me that way!"). Nothing changes.

He goes from being the nicest kid around to absolutely screaming and raging at me when he doesn't hear the answer he wants. He never does this with anyone else, or in any other setting. In other situations, he can be very disappointed but just deals with it. If I say he can't have an extra cookie, he flies into a rage that's totally incomprehensible. I'm not talking "he gets mad." I'm talking about a screaming, violent, hysterical kid who's shouting obscenities and losing his mind.

Punishments range from confiscation of video games and cell phone to grounding. I won't raise a hand to him because, regardless of my beliefs whether or not that would work, the one time I did spank him he told my mother I "hit" him and she came down on me with both feet. She has threatened to call the police on me if I ever "abuse" him again. Yes, I get that he's working that to his advantage but there's nothing I can do about it.

Clearly my son can behave when he needs to because he is the sweetest child to others. He opens doors for people, he helps people pick up things they've dropped, adores children and animals, is very polite to others. He treats me like crap, but I know he can control it. He won't do it when people are around, or even when I'm on the phone. It's as if he doesn't want witnesses.

Random, possibly relevant info:

1) His father is a bully (the reason I left him) and absolutely despises me. His paternal grandfather is a card-carrying misogynist who thinks women are a subspecies.

2) A couple of trusted male relatives and friends have talked to him about how "uncool" it is to treat your mother like this, to no avail.

3) His younger brothers treat me just fine. Great, even.

4) I have the sense that he trots out the screaming furies in an attempt to get his way (think Bridezillas). He doesn't do this with anyone else, in any other setting. I don't give him his way or give in so it's not working for him but, rather than give up the attempts, he's ramping it up and getting more aggressive.

5) I'm not a doormat and my kids have seen plenty of occasions of me standing up for myself or us.

I know this isn't a bipolar issue because he's so clearly able to control his temper in other situations. I'm 100% sure he's not drinking, doing drugs, or anything else. I know all his friends and all his friends' parents so this isn't something he's picking up at someone's house. I try very hard to give him his independence, but still pay careful attention to what he's doing, watching, playing, etc.

What is going on with my son? Help me get him back. I miss him. Throwaway email: HelpMySonNotHateMe@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (64 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
At first blush it sounds like oppositional defiance disorder, but even the therapists here can't diagnosis him for you. You need to take him to a therapist, preferably one that works primarily with children.
posted by amro at 4:01 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

defiance = defiant
posted by amro at 4:02 PM on January 18, 2010

He sounds very much like me at that age. It's mostly hormones. He's having, uh, new feelings that he doesn't know how to handle yet, and the surges of testosterone amplify his already precarious emotional state. Getting him a lot of physical activity will help to an extent, but still expect blowups. On the upside, he'll grow out of it by 22 or so.
posted by Oktober at 4:03 PM on January 18, 2010

I would be careful about sending only him to therapy. You should both (or all) go. Sending him alone will continue to label him as the problem, when chances are it is the system he is living in.

Hormones are probably involved, but he's angry about something. Therapy would give you all tools to know how to work with each other.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Jandasmo at 4:08 PM on January 18, 2010 [11 favorites]

I think a visit to a psychiatrist or similar would be worthwhile. I'm a former 12 year-old boy and so are most of the friends I've kept from that age, and I can't remember any of us ever acting like that. I think the worst we got up to was the occasional 1-minute fistfight with our peers and generally being mopey and unreasonable toward our folks.

/my kid-free lawn, let me you show you it
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:09 PM on January 18, 2010

I am not a parent and have never been a preteen boy, but I remember a thread here at some point in the past where the child in question was a girl, and a lot of posters made the point that she can lose her shit with her mother because it's her mother and she can trust her. He doesn't do this with anyone else because he can't, he knows it's simply not an option, but it's got to vent eventually and he knows you're not going to punch him in the face or expel him from school or arrest him, all of which would be possibilities with just about anybody else.

Which isn't to say that some sort of action isn't necessary, and hopefully other parents or former pubescent boys will have some suggestions, but this might be easier for you if you reframe it as something other than deliberate. If he was that good a manipulator, he'd be doing it to other people too.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:15 PM on January 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Sounds like my partner's 10-year-old. This isn't sudden behavior for him -- he's been doing this for a while. We've been working with a social services agency who recommended The Explosive Child and we've been working with that model. It is not a panacea -- for instance, a haircut last weekend turned into a 1.5 hour screaming and shouting tantrum -- however he didn't hit anyone or break anything, so there is progress...
posted by elmay at 4:15 PM on January 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

I think you're certainly doing everything that you, as a person, possibly can to try and help him to be well-adjusted despite his father's voluntary near-absence in his life. However, that is something he is probably VERY angry about, and you are the closest person to him -- you aren't his father (who he likely wants to rage at), but you are his parent, and he can rage at you safely -- you won't abandon him. I'm sure he's terrified to let his real feelings and anger at his father out on the rare occasions that he does see or communicate with him for fear that he'd never see him again; although he's not necessarily consciously aware of that. He's just PISSED, and you're a safe surrogate for his anger.

He probably won't want to go to therapy, but if you can afford to find someone who specializes in working with tween boys with this all-too-common problem, he might be very well helped for it. Good on you for finding ways to get him positive male attention and support in his life, but there is healing for him to do with regard to his actual father, and you can't do that for him, he has to do it himself. A trained professional will probably be much more able to set him on the right path for that than you will.

Also, if there IS something chemical and not emotional going on, a trained professional will be more likely to notice and diagnose it appropriately.

Good luck, and you sound like an AWESOME mom, he's lucky to have you!
posted by pazazygeek at 4:15 PM on January 18, 2010 [31 favorites]

nth-ing therapy. something is going on in his head and he's probably just as confused as you are. let him talk with someone impartial. make sure he understands that the therapist can't tell you what they talk about and make sure the therapist follows that (i have a problem with therapy in general since as a crazy teenager my therapist told my mom all sorts of things i was told wouldn't leave the room which helped none at all with my trust issues).
posted by nadawi at 4:18 PM on January 18, 2010

Considering the circumstances, this is both normal and something you are going to want to get some help with. My suggestion is to find a family systems therapist. They treat the family unit as a whole (which will help with not singling him out) but they will also see you individually (which will give him a chance to talk to the therapist alone.)

Your son is angry plus the hormones are hitting. Not a pleasant combo. By the way it's true you bear the brunt because he feels safe with you.

(I have raised three children one of whom is a boy. He had his moments here and there and so did the other two. It's normal, but in your case particularly because you are having to deal with this alone and because he more than likely has some issues because of his dad, you need and are entitled to have some help with this.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:30 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Let it be clear that I am not a parent and that the following is probably bad advice.

If it were me, I would be tempted to hide a camera in the living room and film some of these tantrums, then sit down with him and review them later. Maybe he doesn't fully realize how out of control he appears when he goes into these rages, and seeing it on tape will give him some perspective. Additionally, he'll probably also realize that you can easily expose his shameful behavior to others with the footage and act a little more civil.
posted by Menthol at 4:30 PM on January 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Maybe his hormones are making him feel that he's an adult, and he's insulted that you're still disciplining him as though he's a child. Obviously he's not acting like a reasonable adult, or even a reasonable adolescent, but maybe he's upset because genuinely feels that he's too old to be told what to do.

I'm not suggesting you relax the rules - you still need to be his parent, not his friend. But is there any way you can change your tone to make him feel as though his perspective is being taken into account? Try treating him as though he's a reasonable person and see if he rises to the occasion?

Part of being an adult is that when you screw up, your actions have actual consequences, not manufactured ones. In the real world, if you scream at someone for no reason, your video games don't get confiscated, but the person you screamed at might stop doing nice things for you (Like, say, laundry?). Is there any way you can rearrange your system of rules, chores discipline so that the consequences of his actions affect him more directly?

Maybe you could have a house meeting about how it's in everyone's interests if you all keep to certain rules. Enlist the younger kids' help. Be prepared to make small concessions of your own. Make it feel like an accord, not a decree. He might be more willing to obey the rules if he feels like he has some stake in them.

Or you could just wait 10 years...
posted by embrangled at 4:40 PM on January 18, 2010

I was going to drop in and say something. Instead I want to favorite what pazazygeek posted a million, bajillion times.

Jandasmo also has it with the advice to either initiate this as a family going to therapy OR you should go yourself first. You may not be the root of the problem (and you sound like an amazing mom), however, you are part of the system he functions within. I would have a hard time being in your shoes and not immediately thinking, "OMG, I'm getting bullied all over again!" considering what you mentioned about your Ex. Maybe not, I could be off base here. But I think it is important not to think, "He needs therapy, that'll fix it, the rest of us are fine." Because, well, things are not fine for any of you right now as it stands.

A little self-disclosure to give you insight into the complexity of these systems (not to suggest that this is you). I was the "rage'r" in my family as a kid and as a teen. Which is just bizarre because I was also painfully shy and polite with strangers. I grew up believing with ALL of my heart that I was a really bad kid. That I was unable to form healthy attachments with family. Until the day that I was describing that "bad kid" to my therapist. And she stopped me right away with, "But wait! You told me that your parents fought quite a bit. What did they do during your rages?" Huh. I can't remember my exact answer but the gist of it was, "Well, they stopped fighting and joined forces against me." She nodded,"So it was your job to stop the fighting and bring them together?" A great peace swept over me at that moment, and I burst into tears. Because, yes. Exactly. I didn't realize it at the time, but exactly. Whenever there was tension in our house, I was a human radio antennae, gathering all of the anger to me. My relationship with my family members began to change in dramatic ways after that realization. Anyway...I guess what I'm saying is that it can be complicated. Even for very thoughtful, smart, brave moms like yourself. Reach out.
posted by jeanmari at 4:44 PM on January 18, 2010 [9 favorites]

the one time I did spank him he told my mother I "hit" him and she came down on me with both feet

Well, you did hit him, after all.

At first blush it sounds like oppositional defiance disorder.
I think a visit to a psychiatrist or similar would be worthwhile.

Sweet jumping jesus, there's a lot of bad advice in this thread. Does everything have to be so damn clinical?

Your son sounds like a pretty normal twelve-year-old. Adolescence is a pretty shitty time for a lot of people- you feel powerless, you're not necessarily as grown-up as you think you are but you want to be grown-up. You don't get treated that well by adults at school, either.

What your son needs is something to do so that he feels in control. He needs respect, not to be looked at as a clinical case. If you lock a young dog up in a cage where he's being poked with sticks, you shouldn't be surprised when he bites you.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:44 PM on January 18, 2010 [12 favorites]

If I'm not mistaken, I think this is the post Lyn Never was referring to: Can I Give My Kids Back?
posted by invisible ink at 4:48 PM on January 18, 2010

When I was 12, I flipped the hell out on my mom on a fairly regular basis, basically whenever she didn't let me have my way. I never really punched or kicked anything and I don't think I swore, but I did scream and stomp and pursue her relentlessly. I mean to the point that she would lock herself in the bathroom and I would stand outside the door yelling at her. I only behaved this way toward her, not toward my dad, who was in the home, or any other authority figure.

I don't think I was really all that angry about anything in particular, I just remember being completely frustrated about not getting my way and being convinced that if she would just listen to me, she'd give me what I wanted. She didn't, and I eventually learned how to deal with my feelings of frustration and figured out that yelling didn't do me any good.

I tell you all of this simply in order to put a check in the "normal behavior" column. Or at least the "he'll still turn out okay" column. My mom and I have had a great relationship since I was in high school or so.
posted by PhatLobley at 4:49 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe he doesn't fully realize how out of control he appears when he goes into these rages, and seeing it on tape will give him some perspective.

Oh sweet god, no. I'm not a parent, nor was I ever a tween boy, but one of my nephews has just become a tween boy and just from knowing him (and having been friends with tween boys back when I was a girl), my gut feeling is that secretly filming a child when they're out of control like this will simply push a lot of shame/fury/vulnerability/trust issues that can only make the situation much, much worse.
posted by scody at 4:52 PM on January 18, 2010 [18 favorites]

Not a parent or a former twelve-year-old boy, but could you look into putting him into Big Brothers or some kind of mentoring program with a positive male role model? You sound like a fantastic mom, but maybe he needs an older guy to look up to and tell him that he's normal?
posted by pised at 4:53 PM on January 18, 2010

He's 12. You could change the pronouns in your post and it could have been about my daughter, who did the EXACT same stuff around that age. She's now 16, and it's finally getting a bit better. It's just hormones and growing up. Resist the urgings of others here, and don't medical-ize being a teenager.
posted by deadmessenger at 4:54 PM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think pazzygeek and jeanmari have indeed nailed it.

The "lol puberty" comments are not helping. Yes, being a 12-year old boy makes you want to masturbate, but, all other things being normal, it doesn't turn you into an uncontrollable ball of rage.

posted by drjimmy11 at 4:54 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a hard time believing that sending him to a therapist is going to help. You have to WANT help in order for it to do any good.

HOWEVER, I do agree that you going to therapy is a good solution. You want to solve this, the therapist can help you find better coping/sharing strategies. I would think that if the therapist were worried about the behaviors of the kid, he/she would recommend counseling for your kid. I would be very hard pressed to believe/listen to a therapist that, right off the bat, said yes, here's the name of another therapist without seeing you 2 together a couple of times.

As for it being a phase, I'm 32 and still, apparently, going through this phase, just better about dealing with it in more appropriate ways.

Welcome to the human condition- you are not alone.
posted by TheBones at 4:55 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your son is angry plus the hormones are hitting.

I recommend punk rock. Seriously. Or some reasonable facsimile thereof.

Sounds like there's a rational background explanation for your son's rage which you touch on in your intro, but good ole nature is also playing a significant part, offering up all that boiling pubertal energy. So much as things like therapy (for you, for him, for every darned human on planet earth) make sense, there's also something to be said for just encouraging the young MAN's passion. It might even lead to something beautiful.

Good luck. He's lucky to have such a thoughtful mom.
posted by philip-random at 5:16 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Wow @drunkadunk, I really think your advice is off base. I am a parent, I would put long odds that drunkadunk is not, or is a very bad (or lucky) one.

No, your son is not normal. Yes, you are right to be concerned. Rage in reaction to natural consequences is unwarranted, and not to be tolerated. For myself, (as a male) I would not tolerate that situation, and would take *whatever* steps need to be taken to end it now.

Hormones are not an excuse for acting like a jerk, please ignore the ignorant childless who tell you that it is.. After all, there will be plenty of situations in his life that he could use as and excuse to act like a big aggressive jerk, should you allow him to learn that this is an acceptable way to respond in that situation.

It isn't necessarily clinical, but I think you need help. I suggest a helpful therapist, maybe for you first, then for him if the therapist suggests it. Parenting is hard! My mother is a clinical child psychologist and yet she had problems like this with some of my siblings. Seek help, asap.
posted by Invoke at 5:22 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Personal anecdote time: a young male I know was sent to a therapist for anger management at age 11 or 12 for very similar behavior. He reacted to this by pretending to freak out at his parents, all the damn time, and then later laughing and laughing at the hilarious shit the therapist said about his "outbursts" with his siblings and buddies.

Thank god this was many years ago, or he would probably have been diagnosed as Defiant Child or Bipolar or Antisocial Personality Disorder and drugged, drugged, drugged.

He grew out of it fine, btw. Normal adult. Child therapists need to eat, too, though!
posted by shownomercy at 5:24 PM on January 18, 2010

I highly, highly recommend the book How to Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk. I use the techniques described there when I'm working with high school students (I know it's not exactly the same but they definitely display the same sorts of behavior), and it's extremely helpful. It might help your son understand that you're listening to him, and understand better what you are feeling when he is acting in a certain way or doing something that he shouldn't be doing.
posted by violetish at 5:24 PM on January 18, 2010

At that age, I didn't rage, I hid in my room and avoided everyone. And sulked and was generally impossible to please. And, like your son, I was only like this toward my mother.

There were three problems underlying it:

1. Adolescence. It isn't just about hormones - it is also about a suddenly shifting worldview as I aged and became more sophisticated.

2. My mom. She was a great mom but the tone of voice she used to talk to me made me feel like she still saw me as a child. I wasn't disagreeable but I did resent her and I didn't enjoy her company for awhile.

3. Depression. Around this time I experienced my first major episode of it. It has been with me on and off ever since. Problems & 1 and 2 made me not want to talk to my mom about it. I didn't trust therapists and I think if she had tried to send me to one I would have been resentful and resistant. But she probably should have sent me anyway. I think you should vet therapists, find one you think he'll like, and take him. Tell him if he doesn't like this person he doesn't have to stick with them, but you will keep trying until you find one he does like. He might try to wait you out stubbornly but he might eventually cave and make an honest effort.
posted by mai at 5:32 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

TheBones: "I have a hard time believing that sending him to a therapist is going to help. You have to WANT help in order for it to do any good."

Respectfully, I disagree with this notion in general. No kid is going to WANT to go to counseling, or ask to see a therapist, or "take the first step of admitting he has a problem," etc. etc. It's not how their brains work (a 12-year-old doesn't wake up thinking, "Hm, I seem to be experiencing some anger management issues stemming from a subconscious rage trigger. Perhaps I should ask Mother to take me to visit a trained mental health professional.")—but more importantly, it's not their job.

That this or any kid seemingly doesn't "WANT help" (which we know, why? because the kid hasn't outright asked for it?) doesn't negate a parent's responsibility to ascertain whether counseling is necessary, nor does it indicate whether the therapy will "do any good."
posted by pineapple at 5:34 PM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sounds like he has some anger control issues.

Consider communicating clearly with him about what is acceptable and not acceptable, and consider giving him some anger management tools.

If he is calling you names, you need to calmly reflect back what he is saying: "I am a bitch?"

Then tell him that you will not talk to him until he calms down. Then, if it is safe to do so, leave the room.

You may even consider calling the police. Call them ahead of time, and let them know you're having some problems. Then, when your son is having a meltdown (and perhaps threatening you with physical violence) call the police (perhaps you can get the telephone number of somebody in the volunteer, community policing side of things). This will make it clear that what your son is doing is wrong.

In order to avoid calling the police (community or the real thing), why not sit down with your son and talk about his behavior.

Talk about how you are going to handle these outbursts, say that it is wrong, and tell him that it's okay to be angry, but he has to express his anger appropriately - in a calm voice.

Explain that you are trying to change your behaviour too.

If things escalate, say "I'm beginning to shout now... I want to continue this conversation when we are both calm"
posted by KokuRyu at 5:51 PM on January 18, 2010

I'm going to talk (at what might be too-much length), generally, about my own experiences being a raging, angry twelve year old (girl, in my case, but I'm not sure how much it matters). Maybe some of it will resonate; maybe not. I'm not sure how "normal" any of it is, because my situation wasn't normal, but I did come out of it a pretty well-adjusted adult, without anger "issues" generally or in my relationships, for what it's worth.

So when I was eight years old, my father died. I'd always been a happy, optimistic, caring little girl. My mother was awash in grief for years and I felt very, very obligated to do the emotional caretaking in my family--when she cried, I'd run to hug her. My mother was an inconsistent parent in terms of setting boundaries and making rules and sticking to them, but when I was younger, and more compliant, this wasn't really an issue. Fast forward four years, when puberty struck. I was pumped full of hormones, and for the first time, my desires ran counter to my mother's. I wanted to talk to my new friends on the internet all the time (my school situation was pretty lonely) and she couldn't understand why I was spending all of my time on the computer. I wanted to stay up late, but, even though I didn't have a set bedtime, my mother didn't want me to. She always wanted things on her time-table, and there was little explaining. It was a "because I said so" sort of household, without much room for negotiation. It was also a place where there was sometimes verbal abuse, where the adult would lose her cool, too. I remember being slapped a small handful of times. I generally felt powerless--powerless to explain my needs or my desires (because my mother just wanted compliance), powerless to express myself in a healthy way, because I knew I wouldn't be listened to. My emotional needs weren't considered, and as I became a teenager, the stark unfairness of this stood out to me. Hell, I'd never even been given the room to mourn my father properly myself, much less express myself in other, smaller ways.

So I did the only thing I felt I could: I lashed out physically against things in my household. I broke things. I punched and kicked holes in walls. I slammed doors and drawers and slammed my head against stuff and once, I kicked the vacuum cleaner (an old Electrolux--ow!). I remember writing my mother what I thought were very well-reasoned letters about things like rules, and her refusing to read them. I remember following her around the hosue begging her to talk to me about one rule or another and her refusing until she made me go stay at my grandfather's for the night.

I know that, to an adult, my behavior must have seemed violent, strange, and out-of-hand. But to a twelve year old, it felt like the only way to express my feelings, the only way to be heard. It was the only way I could have any modicum of power in a very, very powerless situation. My mother was always quick to blame my behavior on my dead father, who'd been abusive to her before I was born. This made me even more angry. It was like my anger wasn't even mine. It also made me angry that she couldn't see how it was our interaction, not me, that was off-kilter.

And it was: time's proven that. There has been one time when, as an adult, I found myself fighting with my mother and found myself knocking over a chair. There have been no other situations where that's ever happened with anyone else, including my partner of seven years. In fact, I'm not even a very angry person normally.

My instinct is that, if this is only happening with you and your son, there is something fundamentally wrong with the communication between you two. My instinct, having been an angry preteen, is that he feels powerless, and like he won't be heard using more reasoned forms of communication. His body is telling him that he's an adult. But he doesn't feel that way when interacting with his mom. Though it may not seem like it in the heat of the moment, twelve is old enough to have some say in what his life looks like. It would have been amazing for me if my mother came to me, at a calm moment, and said "Let's talk about what's not working with our household rules for you. I can't promise to change everything you don't like, but I can promise to listen to you and consider it." It would have been even more amazing had my mom offered to go to therapy with me, and hadn't treated it like it was because I was like my crazy dad. More than anything, as an angry twelve year old, I wanted to learn how to communicate reasonably.


I am not a bitter ex-wife and, though I don't care for my ex-husband personally I don't bad mouth him so there's no reason for my son's behavior to be rooted in some sort of anger or defense of his absent father.

Of course he has reason to be angry about his absent father. His dad is around and doesn't want to see him. How awful that must feel! Sure, that anger has nothing to do with you, but that doesn't mean that he might not have a vague cloud of shitty feelings surrounding that. And when you're twelve and hormonal, a vague cloud of shitty feelings can touch everything around you.

I won't raise a hand to him because, regardless of my beliefs whether or not that would work, the one time I did spank him he told my mother I "hit" him and she came down on me with both feet. She has threatened to call the police on me if I ever "abuse" him again. Yes, I get that he's working that to his advantage but there's nothing I can do about it.

I don't know how recent this spanking incident was, but even ten or eleven is absolutely too old for a spanking. You did hit him. All this does is show that it's okay for adults to lash out physically. You are the adult here. As hard as it is, you need to keep your cool and model healthy emotional behavior--and that's even more true now that he's becoming an adult himself, and can see more clearly what is, and isn't considered healthy emotional behavior in his family.

In short: please, please explore therapy with your son. He's not a Bridezilla. He's not even trying to necessarily manipulate situations. But at 12, he lacks the self-control and the distance to see why reacting the way he is isn't an effective way to communicate (particularly when the grown-up in question is losing her cool, too), and it sounds like you could both really use a neutral space and means to discuss things between you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:57 PM on January 18, 2010 [21 favorites]

I am not a bitter ex-wife and, though I don't care for my ex-husband personally I don't bad mouth him so there's no reason for my son's behavior to be rooted in some sort of anger or defense of his absent father.

Oh, but there are so many reasons. I think everyone else is spot-on when they say he's aiming his outbursts at you because he can't aim them at Dad because Dad isn't there.

I'm really sorry this is happening. I agree that therapy for the whole family, for you and all three boys, would probably help.
posted by Neofelis at 6:04 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't bring him to a therapist yet. Try laying off and treating him with more respect. Sometimes we think we're treating him our kids with respect but we're not. Half the time we're ordering them around and saying no too much. Try to say yes more than you say no. Ask his opinion. Give him more attention and understanding. Make a lunch date and ask him what is bothering him instead of reacting to his behavior with your own anger. He may not be mature enough to articulate his feelings in a constructive way. This his way of expressing himself. Take notice and be gentle on him.

Threatening and taking away privileges does not work. It might temporarily change the behavior but it threatens and weakens the relationship. Punishments for this kind of behavior will not bring you closer. What kind of relationship do you want with your child? Do you want him to conform and behave like a nice boy, or do you want to know why he is so angry? Stop punishing him for his feelings. He's hurting and he's trying to tell you something. He needs your love and understanding.

Are you treating him with respect? Is he able to make his own choices? Are you having enough one-on-one time with him? Is he comfortable talking with you about his feelings? Have you talked about his father with him and how it must feel for him to have an absent father?

I would advise to pick your battles and treat him with more respect. (Why can't he have another cookie? He should be able to make his own decisions in regards to his eating. How would you feel if someone told you you couldn't have another cookie? It's embarrassing and enraging. It's not respectful and it's completely normal for him to be pissed off. If you don't want him eating cookies, control your environment by not purchasing them.)

Basically, give him more respect, love, and time and attention and see what happens.

Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 6:05 PM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I can deal with him storming out of the room, eye rolls, dramatic sighs, and all the other me stuff he does because I remember what it was like to be that age, and I get it.

Around that age I was very similar to your son, though not quite as extreme. I was also brought up by a single mother and she has subsequently said very similar to what you do when we've talked about my early teens and even my middle teens - sorry to report that.

I think the agression you don't understand is because you were a girl and he's a boy. The unexpected, to a child inexplicable, arrival of hormones is obviously confusing and boys and girls react to their rush of hormones in different ways.

Speaking for myself, now looking back, I think my bad behaviour was trying to assert authority over my mother. Almost like "why should this weak female still be telling me (a strong man) what to do?". So for me it also was related to not having a father figure around that had the ultimate argument winner, that he is physically stronger. In case it's not clear I'm not advocating you hitting or getting a male friend to hit your son.

I think he needs a little while to come to terms with what's happening in his life and body. I'm not sure therapy would have helped me, maturity slowly did form in my brain.
posted by selton at 6:05 PM on January 18, 2010

You don't mention how he's doing in school both socially and academically. Twelve is an age when school social life gets a lot harder and more miserable for kids. He sounds like something feels very out of control and frustrating in his life and you're the safe person he can take it out on. All of my kids have gone through times of getting crazy angry as young adolescents - I think if one is wired to be intense that's an age where it's going to be worse. It does sound like therapy wouldn't be a bad idea - focused on helping him figure out what he's so angry about and on finding more appropriate ways to deal with and express that anger. I think it's important to help him solve these issues before he's bigger and stronger than you are for both of your sakes. You sound like you're doing all the right stuff but as lots of other posters have said, he's at an age where being angry about his father's absence and general control issues can be really overpowering.
posted by leslies at 6:09 PM on January 18, 2010

He may be depressed. I was clinically depressed as an adolescent. It went undiagnosed for years. I was in agony. My behavior was similar to your son's. See a doctor. And I do not believe that properly prescribed drugs are evil; they save lives.
posted by fifilaru at 6:09 PM on January 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

This sounds beyond typical 12-yr-old boy behavior to me. I'm not insinuating in the tiniest way that anyone here can tell you whether or not he actually has a psychological or medical disorder, but at the very least, he's on the extreme side of coping with whatever's going on in his head.

If I were you, I'd talk to his regular doctor and look into therapy (perhaps for both of you together and for him) NOT because "there's something wrong with him," but because he sounds like he's got a lot of frustration and rage that's making him really unhappy and really confused.
posted by desuetude at 6:14 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I won't raise a hand to him because, regardless of my beliefs whether or not that would work, the one time I did spank him he told my mother I "hit" him and she came down on me with both feet. She has threatened to call the police on me if I ever "abuse" him again. Yes, I get that he's working that to his advantage but there's nothing I can do about it.

I'm not an advocate of spanking, but it would have to be incredibly severe--obvious abuse--for cops in most cities to even bother writing a report for it. I only mention this because it seems like he's finding ways to win a power struggle here, and your mother is helping him. You need to take that card away from him. You might get a lot of mileage out of picking a time to call the police yourself on speakerphone so your son can listen to what they say, and ask if spanking a pre-teen boy is illegal. If they say yes (they won't), you won't be any worse off than you are now. When they say no, the power that your kid and your mom have in that situation will be taken away. Even if you never spank him again, he'll know that you can, and that calling Grandma won't help.

These power dynamics combined with your description of the extended family definitely make me think that family therapy is a good idea. I'd look for a good counselor (I'd lean toward an LMFT, because of their systems oriented paradigm) and get started.

This is not normal. It's not okay to punch and kick, even walls and doors. The time to get a handle on this is now.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:16 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Boy there is some really, really bad information in this thread.

If *anyone* tries to diagnose a child who is *only* disobedient towards a parent as oppositional-defiant, run the other way immediately. The diagnosis is controversial, overused and most importantly, can only be diagnosed truly if the child has problems with multiple authority figures. Not having the problem with multiple authority figures means the kid doesn't meet the criteria for the disorder, period.

Imagine if adults could be diagnosed with oppositional-defiant disorder because they didn't get along with one person!!!! This is insane.

Secondly, DO NOT EVER CALL THE POLICE ON YOUR OWN CHILD UNLESS THEY ARE ABSOLUTELY A THREAT TO THEMSELVES OR OTHERS. All this does is bring the child into the remit of the criminal justice system, over which you and they have little control. The police know even less about helping people than random strangers on the internet, typically. That's not their job. While a very few may be versed in mental illness and child behavior and how to help, the vast majority know only about law enforcement.

Once a child gets a criminal record, they are under more surveillance than others and there's lots of research showing that kids who get "into the system" do MUCH WORSE than those who commit the same exact offenses but either don't get caught or don't get into the system. Worst of all is putting the child into any kind of residential setting, where they will be with "worse" kids and with only "labeled" kids and will therefore not have the good role models they have when they are in groups with kids outside the system. The reason you tell your kids not to hang out with a bad crowd is the main reason you don't want to lock them up with a bad crowd and call them bad!

Family therapy for the two of you may be very helpful-- as it sounds like there's some issue between you or some problem in communication that is creating an escalating cycle of trouble. Often, this involves a child wanting more independence and the parent cracking down because they see immaturity and making the child ever more angry. Then the parent gets worried and cracks down further, making the child feel worse, etc. Sometimes counter-intuitive strategies are needed to let the child see that he will get more independence over time and it won't be "forever" like this.

Alternatively, this could just be a situation where the development of self control is lagging behind the hormones and the physical development-- with you, he has the least control because he know it's the "safest" place to have less and it may not be deliberate in the sense of conscious, only deliberate in the sense of he only has so much of it now so he lets go with you. Most kids do just grow out of this and as long as he's doing fine in school and in other settings, it could truly be "just a phase."
posted by Maias at 6:18 PM on January 18, 2010 [9 favorites]

FWIW speaking as a former 12-yr old boy, with a 10 yr old boy and a whole bunch of relevant experiences which I'd prefer not to go into.

1. His behavior isn't 'normal' but nor is it obviously pathological.

2. He is acting out. Kids are often quite aware that they are acting out, and why. Giving them a way of talking about it can be very helpful.

3. Anger is not always negative.

4. I am not suggesting this is what you are doing, but my experience of Moms is that they lag about a year or two behind where a kid actually is in terms of self-reliance, independence etc. I was incredibly lucky to have a (single, divorced) Mom who both cared about what I did, and gave me ridiculous amounts of freedom. We had one argument about what time I came home, when I was about 14, and after that she let me do what I wanted. (She often waited up, but she never bugged me about it. In retrospect I realize how hard that was on her, but it was wonderful for me and it meant I never felt the need to rebel against her. And I never got into any trouble.)

5. Related... you stress discipline in your post but not freedom. You talk about not being allowed to have another cookie. He's 12. Maybe he can make decisions about having another cookie.

6. My own experience of raising kids (3 currently) is that you have to balance freedom with responsibility. Kids react incredibly well to more responsibility. Example: if I nag my boys constantly to get out of the house for the bus on time, most often they are late. If I tell them that they are reponsible for getting out of the house, and I am not going to nag them, and they must deal with the consequences if they are late (ie explain to the principal), they are out of the house 10 minutes early. So if you can, back off on the micromanaging and focus on the macro.

7. It's shitty to be a kid without a dad. I was that kid. It's certainly true what other say that he is taking it out on you because he can and it feels safe. That is a perverted kind of compliment. I know that for me, once I realized my mother was a vulnerable human being and I was hurting her, I cut it right out.
posted by unSane at 6:23 PM on January 18, 2010 [13 favorites]

To me, it sounds to be right at the edge of normal behavior. He seems to be more testing you than fully losing control. The screaming, punching and kicking are all unacceptable, but he's not punching or kicking you. He still gets it that you're the parent.

Personally, I'd go with very firm structured discipline before taking a trip to a mental health professional. No more walking away and ignoring his rants, because that's giving a permission slip to act out. If he's out of line; he gets punishment. Every. Single. Time.

It can be pretty effective if you give him some control over the discipline. With my nieces we sometimes let them work their way out of part of their punishment. We might let them trade off days by doing work - cleaning the garage, mowing the lawn for an elderly neighbor, etc. It gives them something positive to do and keeps them busy since punishment days are very strict and structured. No phone, television, games or internet, no friends at the house. We also enforce a strict, early bedtime with kids on punishment. If nothing else, a well rested tween is less likely to fly off the handle.

Of course if his behavior escalates to violence or if you don't see some improvement, then it's time to call in the pros.
posted by 26.2 at 6:24 PM on January 18, 2010

Oh, yeah, and I really meant to put this one at the top of the list:

0. Please for your kid's sake do not medicalize a family problem until you cannot cope with it any other way. Your relationship with the kid may never recover if he perceives it as a betrayal.
posted by unSane at 6:25 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lots of good advice here, also:

1) Is there something going on at school? (teachers won't necessarily know this, ask his brothers if you can and they're at the same school)

2) Is there something going on outside of school? e.g sport group etc

Something could be anything; bullying, grade failure, abuse, girlfriend, friend arguments etc. Don't underestimate the impact a bad friend situation can have.

3) No doubt many people may disagree with this, but have you considered asking, "do you want to go live with your dad for a while?"
posted by smoke at 6:28 PM on January 18, 2010

What kathrineg said. It does feel like abuse, and after a while, you being to accept things are "normal" that--really--aren't.

If I say he can't have an extra cookie, he flies into a rage that's totally incomprehensible. I'm not talking "he gets mad." I'm talking about a screaming, violent, hysterical kid who's shouting obscenities and losing his mind.

Not normal.

My son was always a pretty intense, tricky-to-manage kid (and I was a single parent, basically absent dad, supportive and appropriately involved relationship that would have been at about the 3-year mark as well). He hit puberty hard and fast not long after he turned 11, and the next couple of years were really quite awful--call the cops and research residential treatment options awful.

And at 14.5 now, things are tolerable-if-not-great when sleep-eating-medication-therapy routines are being followed. Things quickly degenerate back to call the cops and/or wind up in the ER for a psych check when those 4 things get out of whack.

I'd n'th the recommendations for therapy--family therapy in our case has been more productive than individual in our case--and the book The Explosive Child. And, noting what is a major issue for us--try to make sure he's getting enough sleep and eating reasonably balanced meals on a fairly regular schedule.

This is a very wearying, soul-crushing sort of problem to deal with, especially as a single parent. It will be helpful to you to have outside support and to talk through straegies for disengaging, keeping yourself and your family safe, and having a plan if things escalate. My son is by no means "fixed," but I am in a much better place than I was three years ago. I actually even *like* him some of the time.
posted by SomeTrickPony at 6:32 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

At 12, hitting is not useful as discipline. In fact, he will very soon be big enough to threaten you, so teaching hitting is not a good plan. Talk to him about the change in his behavior, and what feels like bullying. Ask him for his advice on how you should be parenting him. Maybe he'll have some good ideas. Encourage any form of physical exercise - swimming/fencing/soccer/drumming - anything that helps him express himself physically. If there's any sort of Outward Bound type program, it's a great option. He is lucky to have you, but it's exhausting and depressing. Make sure you have some resources for yourself, esp. somebody who will listen.

Testosterone is powerful, and he's getting slammed with it. It's my belief, based on experience and observation, that adolescing boys living with Moms have lots of defiance issues, since there is no alpha male in the house. They want to be dominant, but can't be, and it causes great frustration. <- my .02, useful only if you find it interesting.
posted by theora55 at 6:36 PM on January 18, 2010

I really feel strongly that you son is just experiencing normal, hormonal growing pains designed to drive you both crazy. He's about to become a teen, and this is how it starts.

Consider giving him both more responsibility AND more freedom. Right now you are caught in a vicious cycle of him acting up and you having to bring him back down to earth and it is frustrating for both of you. Instead, try treating him more like the adult he wants to be.

For example, he should be expected to do more to help out around the house while at the same time having a later bedtime than the other kids. Allow him to do more things with his friends and less with his younger siblings. Ask him to help you, stressing that he is the oldest and most responsible, rather than going on about how he has to do what you say because he is the child and you are the parent, etc. Respect his privacy. Pick your battles and let the smaller things slide while staying consistent with the major rules. Remind him that the respect and privacy you are granting him are contingent on him continuing to earn both with his attitude and behavior.

Two words to remember at this age are independence and privacy. Your son is very nearly a teen, and he will value both of those commodities more than anything else now.

Also, consider some kind of physical outlet if at all possible. My boys were both involved in soccer and the activity really helped them deal with all that added energy and stress. And kids DO feel stress!
posted by misha at 7:07 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I won't raise a hand to him because, regardless of my beliefs whether or not that would work, the one time I did spank him he told my mother I "hit" him and she came down on me with both feet. She has threatened to call the police on me if I ever "abuse" him again. Yes, I get that he's working that to his advantage but there's nothing I can do about it.

Yes, there is something you can do about it. Your mother threatened to have your child taken away and have you arrested. Why is she in your life and why does your son still have the ability to contact her? He knows he can overrule you; he won't easily modify his behavior with that ace in the hole.
posted by spaltavian at 7:10 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Your mother threatened to have your child taken away and have you arrested. Why is she in your life and why does your son still have the ability to contact her?

No, the OP's mother threatened to call the police if she hit her grandchild. It sounds to me like the grandmother is potentially an important person in this boy's life, someone who he feels really comfortable discussing his feelings, including his feelings about his complicated relationship with his mother, with. Teenagers, even difficult teenagers, need adults they can trust. Stopping this boy from being able to contact his grandmother is likely to escalate not only his feelings of powerlessness, but also the idea that he and his mother are enemies. That's a really, really terrible idea.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:53 PM on January 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was a crazy kid with regards to my mother up until... God, probably six years ago, and I'm almost 34. Nothing physical, but a lot of screaming and boundary-pushing and so on.

The deal is, kids pick up on more of your dynamics than you think they do. Even when you think you're keeping your business yours, you're not. A sensitive ("intense") kid who feels things very strongly will catch on about your opinions of others, your relationship to them, and whether or not you apply your standards equally all around... and they will react accordingly.

My parents would have sworn blind to therapists that their relationship to my older sibling had nothing to do with me-- in fact, they did say that, more than once, in front of rooms full of specialists. Meanwhile, I'd be sitting on the other side of the room going "I'm glad you think that you operate in a vacuum, but you kicked my sibling out of the house for dating a person of color and every single reference to this is incredibly racist and upsetting and I'm kind of sick of living with it."

My therapist was pushing "major depressive disorder" as my diagnosis. One of the other guys in that room said "She's not depressed. She's furious. She's probably right to be furious, too."

I should've gone with that other guy for my treatment. I suspect I'd've gotten further faster.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:04 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

your son is just experiencing normal, hormonal growing pains designed to drive you both crazy. He's about to become a teen, and this is how it starts.

your son is just experiencing EXTREME BUT NOT NECESSARILY ABNORMAL hormonal growing pains designed to drive you both crazy. He's about to become a teen, and this is how it SOMETIMES starts.

Normal is dangerous word, particularly with regard to growing humans. The thing I learned with kids a long, long time ago is not to sweat the present, however weird, messed up, ABnormal. They're works in progress who have no business being normal/stable/ordinary/reliable in the now, but maybe sometime in the future, say by their mid to late 20s.
posted by philip-random at 8:18 PM on January 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a loving, sweet boy become pretty monstrous... it's called adolescence. He was good for his dad, but pretty awful to me. Talked back, disobeyed. (Never violent.)

We tried therapy, talking, all sorts of things, and sometimes they helped.

It was a hard few years. Then he graduated from high school, and I'm not kidding, a week later he came across me loading the dishwasher and said, "Mom, let me do that."

And he has been the best son ever since. I mean, I brag about him, he's such a wonderful son.

I'm not saying that's what you're facing. But just to let you know-- usually there is a happy ending.

Oh, my other child was great throughout childhood and adolescence, not the slightest trouble.

Which one calls every couple days just to see how I'm doing? The one I had so much trouble with.

The other-- still no trouble. But he'll go weeks without calling or stopping by.

Sometimes, really, they get out all the parent-antagonism early, and are perfect afterwards. Go figure.
posted by pippin at 9:06 PM on January 18, 2010

The way my mother handled us, even though we had our dad and we respected him because we knew he could pop us in the head if we called him out his name, was by acting like a scary witch. Sure, they would allow us to have our outbursts and express ourselves but we NEVER called any of my parents out their name. If my mom was angry, she would grit her teeth and gives us a death glare if we did something we weren't supposed to do. Parents have to lay down the law with their kids and stop being afraid of them. Having a screaming match will never work with your kids unless you are scary. You can scream and not be a very scary individual. Even if you say nothing at all, but you look insane to let your kids know you are pissed at their behavior works wonders. It was a thought out process with my parents so they rarely had to physically discipline my brothers and never had to lay on a hand on me. And I wouldn't care what others say, if you know you hardly, ever put your hands on your child you are not abusing them. If you continually use it as a crutch and demean them, that's different cause you're not only abusing your kid but you are disrespecting them. Your mother needs to tread lightly on your affairs and stop giving your son adult authority. You are his mother and you're the only authority but you have to believe in that no matter how your son acts towards you. He's still civil and sweet but let him know you are not his personal toilet to shit in when he acts up. You've got to get a little scary, hate to say.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 10:02 PM on January 18, 2010

That is a perverted kind of compliment.

Yes, it is.
posted by Wolof at 10:24 PM on January 18, 2010

Alot of great advice here, so I will just say this:
My mom raised 4 daughters, all around a year apart. After the youngest flew the coop, I heard her tell a new mom, "Kids leave the human race at age 12, and re-enter somewhere around 20."
posted by Acacia at 2:30 AM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

He's bullying you. He's just going to get bigger and better at scaring you and dominating the household (because as the younger sister of a boy who did just this to our mom, oh believe me it's affecting the younger siblings). You need tools to deal with this. Read all the books recommended in the responses, but please do consider family therapy. You and he may end up in counselling, too, each of you by yourselves, but you need help. You need an outside perspective who can talk to both of you and help both of you learn new ways to interact with each other.
posted by lemniskate at 5:24 AM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Just because some behavior is in the spectrum of normal doesn't mean some form of therapy wouldn't be warranted. I mean, the flu is normal, but sometimes we need a doctor to help us cope with it.

Do not make it into a battle. You can't win, even if you do. I was that kind of kid with my mother (who was that kind of mother), and it took until I was 30 to reestablish a healthy relationship with her.

For me, it was the anxiety form of depression. Every waking moment was a struggle to cope with new responsibilities and the reality that life doesn't get easier as you get older.

I have no doubt he will end up being fine. But, how smoothly that goes is up to you. I recommend a therapist. Visit them alone first, explain the situation and see what they come up with as an action plan. If you don't like it, find another therapist.
posted by gjc at 5:46 AM on January 19, 2010

Wow, that sounds hard and stressful. You have my sympathies.

I agree with those above who say that there is a tug-of-war here about how much authority he has over his life.

When I give him a clear warning that ignoring X request will result in Y consequence, he will ignore me anyway, then go completely apeshit when he gets in trouble. Screaming at me, kicking the wall, punching doors, etc. He shrieks things like, "What is wrong with you? I didn't do anything!"

Maybe he doesn't agree that X request is important. Maybe it would be useful for you to sit down with him and ask him what responsibilities he thinks he should have around the house. And what should happen if he doesn't do them? What is fair? If you frame this correctly (I know we've been fighting, I know that you're smart and responsible, What do you think about this?), he will give you an answer that emphasizes that he's reasonable and responsible, not that he's an immature kid who wants to get out of all his chores. That's how he wants to be seen, so let him show you that. If you're open to his advice and settle on a new set of rules together, then he will have joint ownership over that process, and it won't be you getting him in trouble.

If I say he can't have an extra cookie, he flies into a rage that's totally incomprehensible. I'm not talking "he gets mad." I'm talking about a screaming, violent, hysterical kid who's shouting obscenities and losing his mind.

Well, yeah. If my mom told me I couldn't have an extra cookie, I'd be pretty insulted too. I'm 28, but that would have pissed me off when I was 12. Who does she think she is? It's just a cookie. I'm not stupid. I'm not a kid. I just want a cookie, no big deal. Why is she flipping out? Why does she need to control that too?

I miss him.

Have you told him that lately? Go out of your way to compliment him when you do get glimpses of that boy you miss. He needs to know that. He might not respond, but he'll know his mom likes him.
posted by heatherann at 5:55 AM on January 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

I just read this again. Your son is very unhappy. Find out what about.
posted by unSane at 8:49 AM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Therapy only works if the people who are there want it to work. I don't think this is such a good idea as everone is making it out to be. DO remind him that you love (and like) him, though. And you may need to restructure some of the rules to make them more understandable/more 'adult' - "those cookies are for Aunt Martha, remember" not just "don't eat any of the cookies". And sitting down with him to work out how that'll be done isn't a bad start, if you can catch him at a calmer moment (or ask him to define the time/come find you if he wants to talk about changing the rules to reflect that he's getting older).
posted by Lady Li at 9:04 AM on January 19, 2010

I just wanted to second Lyn Never. The reason I was such a good kid was because my parents treated me just like anyone else if I was an asshole - I'd get ignored, hit, thrown out, etc. When I wasn't being an asshole, things went much better, swimmingly even. Therefore, I was not an asshole very often. This probably only works though if you start in early childhood. Like spanking a bad toddler or leaving a public place when your kid starts to be a whining brat.

I know that's awful advice, but to this day whenever I see some punk ass kid mouthing off to his mom, I can't help but think that noone's ever kicked his ass and showed him how not-in-control-of-the-world he is.

So the constructive part of my answer is to kick him out when he's 18 and give him a brochure about the military.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:14 AM on January 19, 2010

I can't help but think that noone's ever kicked his ass and showed him how not-in-control-of-the-world he is.

This is awful. Adults do not hit kids, maybe unless the kid's wielding something.

The times my parents tried stuff like that, it led to nothing but resentment and the knowledge that they were not on my side and did not care about what I was upset about, even if it really did matter. I was not a very fighty kid in terms of hitting or punching, but I did yell a lot when parents weren't listening. And they didn't. A lot. Even when they really should have been. A lot of the time it's way too easy for adults to pull the trump card of "I'm the adult, you're not, so shut up".

At some point when I was thirteen or fourteen my mom and I were arguing over something really stupid- I think she wanted me to get a haircut or something. At any rate, she slapped me across the face and said "Why don't you go live with your disgusting friends, then?".

I hit her so hard that my parents never, ever hit me again.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:31 AM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: comment removed - at the point at which you're calling other commenters evil you need to go to metatalk or email, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:21 AM on January 19, 2010

I am going to go ahead and echo what other mothers of teenage boys have already stated upthread - my son was horrendous to me from about age 12 until age 17, but sweet as all getout to just about everyone else. He has always been the sort of person who will go out of his way to help old ladies, little kids, you name it, he can be a complete gentleman. But to me? Huh. He never punched or broke things, but he would scream at me and pursue me and call me horrible names (if my husband wasn't around - key point), all with the intention of forcing his will upon me. Therapy? Tried it. He later told me that it was pointless as far as he was concerned, because he wasn't on board (we did family and he did individual). Nothing really changed over that six year period of time. I went through a few years of being EXTREMELY resentful of my own son, and eventually went on medication myself, just so I wouldn't rip.every.hair.off.his.fucking.head. I read books about oppositional defiant disorder, I read books about talking to teens so they listen, and books about listening to teens, so you can understand what they need and want from you. None of it worked. He continued to be a perfect little asshole until age 17. Then it changed. Some switch just flipped, and now he is nearly 19, and while we may occasionally butt heads, it's nothing like it was before.
Luckily, he had no other siblings to traumatize, and my husband and I have a solid marriage, and normally in our family, differences are resolved in a civil, sometimes democratic manner. We have never had any abuse or other major strife that would have brought upon this dramatic change in my son's behavior at age 12. I used to think that he was insane and was going to end up in jail, either that, or I would for infanticide. Now, in retrospect and after a great deal of reflection, I realize it was asshole teenage hormones. My nephew just turned 13 and started acting like a douche. My sister wants to kick him in the balls, and I counsel patience for him and medication for her. Personally, I don't think your son's behavior is all that abnormal. It just sucks.
posted by msali at 12:29 PM on January 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

...though I don't care for my ex-husband personally I don't bad mouth him so there's no reason for my son's behavior to be rooted in some sort of anger or defense of his absent father.

The boy's father abandoned him and you don't think this might contribute to his lack of self-control? The situation you describe is practically a prescription for out-of-control behavior.

Therapy for both of you.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:40 PM on January 19, 2010

dunkadunc, no doubt your parents were downright abusive. I can't believe she smacked you over something so trivial. That pisses me off to hear that. I think what the poster before you was trying to say is that discipline and respect from your children has to be implemented from the very beginning. He's not talking about abuse. He's talking about these ego maniac children who aren't taught manners and unless these children are put in their place, they are more liable to believe they can run over whomever they want. But I will say this... children NEED to be heard. The only way discipline works is if children are heard and their feelings are validated. Too many adults deny that their kids are people too.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 2:51 PM on January 19, 2010

My son and daughter are in the same age range as your son. My son will be 13 in a few months. My daughter is about halfway between 11 and 12. They've both started having what I call hormone-fueled behavior, that I remember having at that age, too.

My son, on occasion over the years, has had rages. Not lately, though. I've been using the "go be in your room and privately think or do something fun or calming until you calm down enough to talk to me, because I WILL listen if you aren't being rude" talks. I say it quietly and calmly. That's seemed to help with both of my kids. Once they've had a bit of time, we can address the situation. This has helped when my son had his sulkiness and my daughter has had some drama ("I don't have any friends!" when she has at least four good ones I can name.) Seems to be the proto-teen experience.

When he's gotten loudly still angry and destructive in his room, I go to the doorway, but not past it, and tell him that what he's doing is not acceptable behavior. "Does it help if you break your own stuff? No? Well, then, what do you think might help? What do you need to feel less angry. Well, you can't have that thing. What else might work? You realize you're gonna have to clean this up, right? Do you want some help with that? No? Well, ok. I'm around when or if you want to talk." And then he eventually comes and talks to me or not.

I've still gotten a hug and a "love you, mom" eventually though, which about makes me cry every time. Those moments are precious to me right now.

There have been times, after especially stressful days at work or whatever, that I've told them that I need my own "private room time" to calm down and a brief explanation of why (work was HARD today, grump). That way, we all knew it was a reasonable way to calm down. I do this before my temper flares. If I punch my pillows, it's quiet and a good vent for me. I've taught them that punching pillows or mattress is a decent stress relief. Hurts no one and nothing.

12 is a hard time. They aren't children anymore. They aren't teenagers. They sure aren't adults. They're riddled with hormonal changes and body changes. They don't know what to expect and that's scary, no matter how well educated they are. They're HUNGRY a lot, and that'll make a person cranky.

Maybe a round or ten of "Young man, go to your room right now and get a grip on yourself. You're being unreasonable." is in order, said in a calm, firm voice.

Best wishes to you. Sorry for going on ad nauseum here. Please feel free to mail me if you just need to vent some time.
posted by lilywing13 at 1:23 AM on January 20, 2010

« Older Or I could take many photos and have AskMe ID them...   |   How do I get a vasectomy as a young man? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.