Patricia Redlich

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lying Son

6th December, 2009


I'm at my wits' end. My almost-17 year old son is doing my head in. His dad died when he was small and there's only been him and me since then. We always got on really well, could always talk to each other, but in the last six months everything has changed. He has started to hang out with a different group at school and as a result has changed utterly.

He has started to smoke and drink, two things he used to turn his nose up at. I have no problem with him having a social drink, and he only drinks at parties, not at home and not in a pub. But the smoking has become serious. He has stolen cigarettes from his aunt and from me. To-day I found out that he had also stolen money from me - to buy cigarettes. And he lied about it. He is constantly lying to me about what he's doing and where he's going.

He is very talented musically and academically, and has a wonderful future ahead of him. He's doing his Leaving Cert next year. But he will no longer listen to any advice I give him. I am not an overbearing parent who gets his back up. I always listen to him, try to see his point of view, and give advice without actually telling him what to do. What really bothers me is the stealing from me, and the lies about what he's doing. Only to-day he told me he was going to a particular party with some friends I know, and I've just found out that these friends are not going with him at all.

I'm totally at my wits' end with him. I can't believe anything he tells me. I really believe that a teenage boy needs the discipline that only a father can give. Unfortunately a mother uses 'softer' discipline that doesn't seem to work. He's tall, too big to deal with physically. And denying him the internet, computer games etc. doesn't seem to work. I don't know how to get things back on track. The atmosphere in the house is unbearable at the moment. He is only happy when he gets his own way, and gets everything he wants. I can't, or won't go along with that. I want to bring up a good, independent young man who will not expect to have everything he wants. What can I do to make him behave like the half-decent person he used to be?

Oh but you can't lose faith in your son now. He wasn't just a half-decent person in the past. He was a good and very decent human being. And he still is. Such despair, of course, is really a loss of faith in yourself as a parent. And you can't do that either. Panic has no part in parenting, particularly when our children start finding their own feet, as your son is attempting to do. Of course he's making a mess of it. But that's all he's doing. He hasn't suddenly become a bad person.

Let's deal with the dad issue first. Yes, two parents make it easier in terms of keeping the communication lines open, particularly when some specific disciplinary action has to be taken. But that's different than thinking your son needs a father as someone who will make him do what he's told, simply because he's bigger or stronger. Your son doesn't need a heavy hand, he needs a skilled and steady hand. And that's something you can do. Of course your son also needs role models on how to be a man, which is what he's obviously seeking. And yes, a strong steady man in the house helps hugely. But role models can be found elsewhere, and you just need to be wise enough to steer your son towards them.

I simply don't believe your son suddenly wants everything. I don't hear any real sounds of greediness, or excessive demands for consumer items, or insisting on expensive life-style choices. What I hear is a struggle to be independent. He just doesn't know how to do it properly. You have to show him how.

Frankly, when it comes to the cigarettes, you haven't got a leg to stand on. You smoke. He lives in a smoking household. Can't you see? In psychological terms, it's the ideal place for a struggling young male identity to challenge your authority. Because on this one, you have no authority. Yes, I know it's against the law for him to buy cigarettes, and yes, I know that nobody should smoke, and yes, I understand that all parents ask their children to do things they haven't managed themselves, but there you have it. He's chosen a good battle ground. You need to back off. Unless, of course, you love him - and yourself - enough to give up the cigarettes. And I do understand that that's a big ask.

Stealing money is unacceptable, particularly in the home. People can't live together without basic trust. If you have to take your purse with you to the toilet, then domestic togetherness becomes impossible. Have an adult discussion about this. Agree on a reasonable level of pocket-money. And never use withdrawal of pocket money as a disciplinary measure. Some financial independence and discretionary income is essential for a 17 year old. Kids generally co-operate on this. After all, they don't want to pack up their ipods, computers, and favourite trainers every time they go to the toilet either. It's something they understand.

You won't be told lies if you don't ask unnecessary awkward questions. Put another way, parents have to choose their battle-grounds carefully, only getting involved in the issues that really count. Disliking everything your son does will only get his back up. Are this new crowd he hangs around with a problem gang? Find out from his teachers. Or are they just an opportunity for him to move away from the tight circle of family and neighbours, to be his own man? I mean, if he's slipped into a bad drugs scene, or serious drinking scene or even criminal scene, then you have to move, hard and fast, with whatever help you can get. Otherwise, learn to like it, because it's independence you're fighting, and that's not good.

Don't drive your son away by allowing the atmosphere in the house to sour. Smile and laugh and show him you love him. Trust him. And above all, trust yourself. What would he say to you when in a good mood? Lighten up mum? Exactly.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design