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My Daughter Is At Breaking Point - How To Deal With Her 13 Year Old Son

by Anne Boittier
(Bedford, England)

My Grandson is struggling with life at the moment. My daughter (now 43) was a single Mum, never living with the father of her child, although trying to encourage her Son to have connection with his Father and family.

Ten years on, my daughter is in a new relationship and has a little girl who is now 3. My Grandson is an angry child - he has shown behavioural problems at school and has been excluded.

Now he is showing little respect to his mother and her partner (often using very bad language to them). It is hard to believe these things are happening when he shows respect, kindness and love while he is with us or his Aunties and Uncles.

There seems so much resentment, anger and power struggles going in their household. I have suggested to my daughter it might be an idea to seek professional help - but she seems reluctant, almost to the point of denial. Her normal discipline is to take away the 'gadgets' or 'screens' for a period of time waiting for an apology from my Grandson.

What can I do to help them all?

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Dealing With A Difficult Teen - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Anne,

It is really hard as a grandparent to know what to do to help, particularly if your daughter is reluctant to go to a professional.

The great thing in the situation is your Grandson is happy and loving when with you, and maintaining his relationship with you is the most important thing you can do.

He is at an age where hormones are running rampant and teenagers can be very emotional and volatile at the best of times. Unfortunately this boy appears to have a backlog of resentment, and has not developed a good relationship with the new partner.

At a guess I would say he has several issues running, firstly, he probably has stuff around his own Dad, and now there is someone new who he probably feels has taken his place with his Mother. He was the number one person in his Mum's life for a long time, and now he probably feels rejected and hurt.

Unfortunately punishments don't really solve underlying problems. In fact in this case I would say it is probably fueling his resentment.

Now considering you are not the parent, you are the the Grandparent, you have a different role to play. Firstly, your daughter probably has you as a sounding board that she can let of steam with. That doesn't mean you have to try to fix it or get her to do anything. It is just really valuable for her to have someone to talk to.

Most importantly, don't get into trying to make suggestions to your Grandson, keep your relationship with him about the two of you, it is not your job to straighten him up and you would run the risk of affecting his relationship with you. If he does talk to you about what is happening at home, try to just listen and give him the space to be able to express it.

Tricky for you being in the middle, but you and his Aunties and Uncles have a very powerful influence simply because you have a different experience of him, you see him as the loving, kind young lad that he really is.

His bad behavior is simply a reflection of his unhappiness, and he is not anywhere near at the stage of taking any responsibility for any of it.

What this boy needs is lots of positive attention, and that can be really hard when his behavior is unpleasant and destructive. But as adults, if we wait until kids deserve to be treated as special, and expect them to feel warm and responsive to us when we punish them, then we are setting ourselves up for a long battle.

I am not saying that his behavior is acceptable, it isn't. But it sounds like he is getting lots of negative input from all over the place and that is reinforcing his belief that he is not very lovable, or that he is a problem teen, causing all the trouble in the house. The only way for him to deal with that is to blame everyone else. And on top of it all he probably sees this pesty little sister getting lots of love and attention for being little and cute.

Part Two Follows . . .

Dealing With A Difficult Teen - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

If your daughter does want your advice and will listen, you can gently pass on anything from my reply you think could be useful, and see how she responds. If she was writing in (and you are welcome to offer that as an option to her) I would be suggesting she put some positive energy into her son.

I suspect they need to do quite a bit of healing and rebuilding the relationship, and it will be hard for her to switch focus from how horrible he is, to looking for some good points. We often get caught up in focusing on the frustrating parts of being a parent, and the problem with that is, the more we look for bad behavior, the more we get it. And then we stop noticing anything good at all. Then kids simply shut down and stop even trying.

It can be hard as a Mum, to find ways to connect with a teenage boy. And really he needs positive stuff with his Dad, and hopefully his Mother's partner too. If his Mother's new partner has come in as a parent, or authority figure, without having a positive relationship built first, then that is asking for trouble.

Step parents have a hard time with teenagers. I actually was a single Mother myself for most of my kids younger years, and my second husband and I got together when my son was 13. He actually went and spent a year with his father, which was terribly hard for me, but was the best thing he could have done. It wasn't happy ever after with his Father, and he came back the following year, but it gave him some reality about his Dad, that he really needed.

I also had the agreement with my new partner that I was the parent, and I didn't want him to disciplining my children unless it was something between them. Teenagers will be hugely resentful for a new person to come in and start bossing them around. I know my partner (now husband) found it incredibly hard sometimes to bite his tongue if either of the kids were disrespectful of me. He had a very different parenting style to me and it would have caused enormous friction between us all if he had taken over.

But not all families can work that way, and in addition your daughter has another child, so the dynamic is different, her new man is a parent in the household.

I would suggest your daughter make the time to do stuff with her son, just the two of them. Maybe go to their favorite restaurant, or do things they used to do. Finding activities that they both will enjoy can be tricky with a teenager, but it is really important. Sometimes it is easier for a Dad to connect, going to sports games, or camping or physical activities. So depending on what kinds of things they are into, there would be something they could both do. Even just going for a drive. Having kids trapped in the car can be a great way to start talking so long as you have the intention to focus on positive interactions.

Dealing With A Difficult Teen - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Then the other thing I would suggest for her is to experiment with changing her attitude towards him, without looking for an instant response from him. He will respond, but she has to do it from a place of just loving him. That can be hard when he has been horrible, but he is still her little boy inside and is hurting.

If she spent a week deliberately looking for all the tiny things he does right, I will guarantee there will be at least a glimpse of a much nicer boy. Nothing is going to change overnight, but the more positive input he gets the more it will reinforce it.

Actually doing things like that as a family can be really powerful. Families often get into struggling with just day to day life, and if there hasn't been a good foundation of good stuff, then on the bad days, it chips away until everything starts falling apart.

Kids deserve to be loved and get good attention just because they are our kids, not because they have earned it for behaving well. I know that is easier said than done, but I suspect that she too has a bit of a backlog of resentment about him and effect he is having in the family and is constantly focusing on what a little sh*t he is! Waiting for apologies and punishments are just setting up more battlegrounds. It will come to the time soon, when he will be too big to take way his video games.

The other thing that needs to happen is they need to bond and develop as a family. And that happens when families play together. Games of mini-golf, picnics, adventures, family board games, no TV nights, cook together, make fudge, BBQs, do household projects - paint a room, plant a Vege garden - anything really! Focusing on fun and being silly would be a great way to lighten everything up.

Kids that are involved and participate in the family and community feel like they belong. Joining a community organization with him, such as a local environmental group, or some sort of community focus, could serve on two fronts. Firstly she would be building her relationship with him in a positive way, and secondly he is taking responsibility for being involved in his local area and will get a sense of value and self worth. It may be that the whole family could be involved in some sort of community project, but it is also really important that she spend some time with him on a regular basis, just the two of them.

Get interested in his video games, he could teach Mum to play, listen to his music (can be hard I know!) but find out what he likes and why. Taking an interest in him and at the same time holding back on criticism.

Part Four Follows . . . .

Dealing With A Difficult Teen - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

If your daughter is no longer able to be positive with him, then she really does need some professional help. It may also be that your Grandson, is almost the scapegoat for family disharmony in a way. Sometimes when a parent gets into a new relationship, particularly if there is any economical dependence, issues that are difficult may be displaced onto a child. It is easier to confront and argue with a child than risk the new relationship, so it could be that she is unwilling to rock the boat with her new partner, and all the blame is going onto your Grandson. It may well be that the whole family needs to look at the family dynamics, develop a family vision and set some ground-rules, rather than just imposing everything.

There are two things about seeing a professional that I'll talk about. It could be really helpful for your daughter to get some support for herself from someone neutral who can give her some ideas about how to handle him better. It is also a place where she can express her frustration without taking it out on him.

The second thing, it can be really tricky to get a teenager to go to counseling. He is going to feel blamed and angry at the suggestion there is something wrong with him that needs fixing. So if he is going to see someone he needs to agree to it, preferably without it being an ultimatum. And it needs to be someone who is good at working with teenagers.

He clearly has a fair bit of stuff built up, and negative beliefs about himself that are having a big impact on his life. It would be great if he could get some help to turn it all around. He would need to see it as in his interests to get some support and learn new ways of relating that get him what he wants, rather than seeing counseling as a punishment.

I hope this has given you some ideas to pass on to her if she is open to advice. But most importantly, maintain your relationship with your Grandson, he needs people to love and believe in him more than anything.

all the best,
Annie Desantis

Thank You
by: Anonymous

Thank you for your advice Annie, you have been very insightful and both my partner and I have read your responses and feel it has given us some new perspectives and ideas about how to approach things.

We are having a family Halloween day on Sunday with food, treats, pumpkin carving, fireworks and topping it with a scary movie night when the little one is in bed!

Thank you also for supporting my mum - she is a true star and the family is exceedingly lucky to have her xx

Have Fun!
by: Annie Desantis

Sounds like you will be having an awesome Halloween! And really the bottom line for any family, is the more fun you have together, the easier it is to weather the rough patches.

Have fun,

Annie D :)

United Approach is Crucial
by: Anonymous

I must say for any others reading this for some hope and help - the biggest key for me has been to ensure that I discuss with my partner and we agree the actions together.

I now take a pause between the incident and the consequence so i don't over react in the moment and to ensure that my partner agrees that what is set is appropriate and if necessary we can negotiate between us.

Before I would be cross and say "right that's it one month ban from all screens", and then feel that was over the top and relinquish them. Which then led my son to believe he had negotiating power and I didn't stick to what I said and also for my partner to feel I didn't stick to what I said so I lost all round whilst really only having fairness in mind!

Anyway now we are going to focus on building in family fun time and see where that goes - but all you parents of teens - don't expect great big thank yous and whoops of delight - we still got grunts! But he did extend to a sentence over dinner when we talked about the plans for Sunday ... maybe he will engage on the day...?

The Important Pause!
by: Annie Desantis

It sounds like you are doing really well trying to find ways to use discipline more effectively. Recognizing the need to pause rather than react in the heat of the moment is a major lesson, most parents find that really difficult.

As you say, you can then decide more rationally the best way to deal with the issue. And having a United front means you are both feeling supported, and your child can't play one off against the other.

That is particularly important for a step parent. Step parents often feel undermined by the natural parent who might come along later and cave in on the consequence, or worse, at the time argue with the other adult about what is appropriate.

Taking the time to discuss it together and decide what the consequence will be, is a much more empowering route for all of you.

The other thing about taking a pause, is you then have the choice to just let it go. Sometimes we end up constantly punishing or disciplining children for every little thing. Taking the time to decide what issues are really important to deal with and which can be relaxed a bit doesn't actually mean you are condoning bad behavior. You can still make a statement, like "I really dislike when you don't treat other people the way you would like to be treated" - and then walk away. But it means when you do have consequences they have more impact.

Kids have to be able to express themselves, and they will always push and test the boundaries. The more restrictions and rules the more they will rebel - particularly a teenager. And when you think about it, we are wanting them to start to be more responsible and even adult like, but when we have heaps of rules, then we are keeping them as children.

Something that I have found works really well with teenagers, particularly older ones, is have them contribute to a discussion about family rules. The family is not just about Mum and Dad imposing rules down the chain. If kids feel they can have some rights as to what is important in the family, they take more ownership of it.

They are also more likely to respect parent's boundaries if they feel like their wishes have been listened too. For example, privacy issues, or being nagged about homework are often big issues for teenagers, but swearing or giving cheek, will not be nearly as a big deal as it is for adults.

Blended families have a whole range of other issues than a traditional family has, and actually have to work just that bit harder at building a positive family dynamic.

You are clearly a loving family committed to making things work, and as you say, you don't get a new result immediately, but you might just get an extra grunt!

by: Anonymous

Well we had a lovely halloween - we did pumpkins, family meal, fireworks, watched a movie, he watched over his little sis for a bit in the day- it really went well and we have all retired happy! Thank you for your support, your letters were definately the precursor to us planning the family day and we have agreed movie night should be a weekly event which is great.
Thank you and thanks to my mum x

Wonderful To Hear!
by: Annie Desantis


Lovely to hear of your successful family Halloween night, and a great idea to make it a weekly family event. Building in fun family time is such a great foundation and opens the door to communication.

I used to have all sorts of discussions with my kids over TV programs or movies, you can often strategically get topics raised by renting movies with a theme!

You are clearly a very strong family (including your Mum,) so even in the though times, that family bond will still be very powerful, and the closeness you have shared in the past will help to smooth over the present bumps.

Great work! or rather Play :)

Annie D

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