Pillow Talk

5 Mar

Dear LetterBalm: Our 15-year-old son is acting out. He’s fighting at school, he was caught cheating on a test, and we’ve found pot in his room. We’re alarmed by this behavior because until this year he never was in trouble and made good grades. Some of this is because he got into a bad crowd, but some of it is bad decisions and his own fault. Last night my wife and I discovered that he piled pillows under his bedcovers and left the house. We caught him trying to sneak back in at 1 a.m. We’ve been working with the school guidance counselor, our family doctor, a cop who moonlights as a youth counselor, and a psychiatrist. Needless to say, our son is very angry at us. We’re at a loss as to what to say to him to jolt him into realizing what he’s doing.

–Mean Dad and Mom

It’s doubtful you can summon the magic words to motivate your son to change his behavior. You and your wife are doing the right thing in taking a multi-disciplined approach, including exploring psychopharmacological options. In this talk (one of many, Ms. L.B. knows), you’ll want to tell your son that his latest escapade frightened you because you didn’t know where he was or if he was in danger. Explain in detail how panicked you and his mother were. He needs you to reinforce the importance of empathy. And, he needs to take ownership of his bad deed, so a penance is in order, probably for a month. And, don’t back down, even if he’s perfectly behaved for two weeks and thinks he can charm you or your wife into reducing the punishment; this is only one skirmish in an age-old battle. You and your wife talk with your son privately, no siblings, no distractions:

Dylan, about what happened last night, your mother and I are very angry – but we’re also relieved. Relieved that you aren’t in the hospital or worse. Can you see how panicked we were? It was the dead of night and we didn’t know where you were. We didn’t know if you were in danger or hurt or if somebody was beating you up or God knows. What you did caused us pain, anger and sorrow. We were ready to call the police. You put us through this needlessly. You were thoughtless. You did this, no one else, and you have to take responsibility. Your mother and I have talked it over and we agree that for the next month, you will not have any of your friends here on the weekends, and you’ll be grounded on the weekends. For the next month, you also must sweep the walks, rake the leaves and wash the dog by yourself. We expect you to do all this without being reminded and without complaining.


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