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13 year old with an attitude
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13 year old with an attitude

My youngest of two sons is 13 years old.  We have a normal, middle-class home in a nice neighborhood.  He's had many priveledges in his life . . travel, material goods, opportunities in sports, music, etc.  He's an intelligent child and has received high marks on his grades . . when he wants to.  

The problem is that he's always had a trouble with authority and socialization with his peers.  For no apparent reason to any of us (parents, teachers, administrators, coaches, etc.) he'll go through periods of time where he'll be totally disrespectful.  He'll talk in class, he'll criticize others for being "stupid" when they don't know an answer, he'll tell everyone else that he's "better" than they are and be extremely demeaning to peers and adults alike.  

He'll give long explanations of why whatever he did or said was justified because the teacher, coach, classmate, etc. was "a jerk" or "started it", etc.  He'll get kicked out of class for a day, then do it again the next day.  He'll take punishment at home (cleaning the floors, no tv or video games, etc.) and then it'll happen all over again.  Progressions of punishment get bigger and then finally his behavior will return to acceptable levels (at least "barely acceptable" because everyone who knows him will tell you they put up with a lot of bad behaivor just because they know "it's the way he is".)

Talking with him at length, he'll often admit that he knows what he should do (i.e. speak nicely to others, keep quiet in class, do what the teacher asks, etc.) but then he just cannot seem to control his behavior.  He's been to family counseling (3 different counselors over about an 8 year period).  He's been to the family doctor (tested for A.D.D. and the Doctor's opinion is he does NOT have it).  

He was given an option last year to consider going to a very small private school a few hours away from our house (a boarding school). It seemed the perfect fit for him.  Small class sizes, caring teachers giving him attention, etc.  His grades so far have been fabulous and he's proven intelligent.  Now after about 8 weeks at the school all of a sudden the bad behavior is starting again.  Disrespect to teachers and other students. Negative attitude, etc. He's been given chores as punishment and he's told the administrators that he really likes it there and wants to work hard to stay.  He's told us (his parents) that he "wants to take responsibility and show he can do it" but we are at our wits end.

What can we do?
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Part of your son's improvement will likely come with time and maturation. The frontal lobe is not yet fully developed in children in the early teens. As the frontal lobe develops, children tend to be less impulsive, more reflective, more able to learn from experience, and require less 'shadowing' by adults. The boarding school sounds like a very good idea for him - hopefully he can remain there. Relative to the possibility of any emotional disorder, it might be prudent to rule out a sub-clinical or mild mood disorder called dysthymia. This appears as a baseline dysphoria, short of major depressive symptoms. You might want to re-visit the ADHD issue again, and you can do this by checking with his faculty and perhaps asking them to complete a standardized behavior checklist. Sometimes impulsive, repetitive behavior is a symptom of ADHD. It can look like children are not 'learning from experience', and in a sense they're not. But it isn't as if they don't know any better, but rather that their impulses get the better of them.
9 Comments
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hi. it sounds to me that your son has alot of anger inside him. has there been any dramactic experiences (divorce, that may of happened or lose that may be causeing him to act out this way. have you ever thoght of therpy for him, maybe that will help. i'm just giving you the advice a phcyagist gave to my mom when my sister was having that same problems. if any doc advises you to put your child on ridalin please research the med a make sure that it is what your child really needs. i knowpeople who's children had big problems with being on ridalin. keep me posted. kellyc
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My son definately has a lot of anger in him.  He has been to counseling . . three different counselors over several years.  Minor improvement but a very slow pace from a parent standpoint and hard to pinpoint it if improvement had anything to do with the conseling or just simply maturity.

As for Ritalin, he's been through the complete psychological and medical checkups for A.D.D. and found not to have it so he's never been on Ritalin, nor has it been prescribed.

This weekend I asked him if he had any idea why he behaves this way.  It was actually a very mature conversation.  He said that he thinks he's been "spoiled", he thinks I'm a "lousy role model" (because I express disgust over other people's driving!) and he was "born this way".  Interesting.  Also found out that a new student started two weeks ago at his school and he said that boy is "exactly like him" and he says it's caused him to act out by joining him in his put downs of others.  

Still desperate to find out what I can do to help.

-FrustratedFather
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Hello,
You might consider consulting with a neurophsychologist.

I have a child who was diagnosed with ADHD in the second grade and was on medication for a short period of time.He is now a senior in highschool on no medication and seems to be doing fine.My opionon is that medication is prescibed to frequently and often to children who do not have the disorder or really don't need it.These children are then labeled from that point on.If you decide to seek further evaluation for ADHD,I would make sure you find someone highly qualified in dealing with disorder.  


Marina*
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I am an assistant principal working with a handful of children similar to the one described in this forum.  I don't want to be overly simplistic or offend anyone but in all the reading I have done about ODD, ADD and ADHD there is never any mention of spanking as a corrective measure.  Techniques such as time-outs, grounding, withholding of privileges and the like have their place but in my opinion they give the power to the child and punish the adult.  Spankings, when balanced with love and affection, are so effective and so easily administered.  I know there are situations where children truly have chemical/neurological problems but I fear we are quick to give a child an "acronym" for bad behavior and give up on trying to correct it.  Do you believe in corporal punishment?  Have you tried it? (Not for a day or two but for a month if necessary)  Do you have other children that have responded to it?  Does it work on the others and not on this one?  I realize at some point that you have to accept that corporal punishment can no longer be used and you must try a different approach but spanking served my wife and me well when our children were young (and my oldest was pretty strong willed).  My children are now in 7th and 9th grade and have not been spanked for years.  Spanking would not be my first choice now if I my kids began to misbehave but I feel sure I would use it as a last resort if necessary.  I'm sure everyone will have a lot to say.  I don't know, maybe I'm full of **** and would sing a different tune if I had to deal with what you have been through.  Blast away but I feel our society, because of liberal thinking and the tragedy of child abuse, has turned its back on a very effective tool for shaping children.
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Avatar_n_tn
I've previously mentioned my son was already properly reviewed for ADD and found not to have it.  Interesting that it continues to come up in the comments.  I suppose I could get a second opinion.

I've got two sons, ages 13 and 15.  I have used corporal punishment over the years.  It was the primary source of punishment I received in my youth and I turned out ok so I agree with the Frustrated Principal that it can be an effective tool.  

My boys, however, are like night and day.  My 15 year old is shy, an excellent student and a very polite boy (one project short of his Eagle Scout!).  He's been spanked only a few times in his life, primarily because he hasn't needed it.  When he does something wrong you can just about LOOK at him with a disapproving look and he'll apologize and comply.

The 13 year old is the subject in question.  It never ceases to amaze me how different they've reacted to exactly the same stimuli.  The 13 year old has been spanked many times over the years, mixed in with other forms of punishment mentioned in the orignal e-mail (no tv, game boy, timeouts, etc.).  His reaction to spanking has nearly always been one of INCREASED defiance and a feeling of insecurity.  It's the main reason why he now says I've been a "bad role model".  His perception is that I spanked in anger rather than calmly associating the spanking with a specific event, then walking away.  He's right about the fact that spanking usually came when I was most angry so I fear I've unduly contributed to the problem.

At this point spanking is not an option.  He's at a private academy living 180 miles away.  They give punishments like KP duty or shoveling snow for inappropriate behavior.  I think it's actually doing some good and, much as I'd hate to admit it, I think being away from me is helping him mature.  He feels much more of a sense of responsibility for his actions and does seem to listed (a bit) more to authority.  

Talking with the Dean of Students this week, we agreed we need to give equal parts of positive messages and negative consequences and encourage him to continue his progress.  Interestingly his most recent bout of insubordination (which prompted my original posting) occured nearly exactly when a new student joined his school mid-semester.  My wife and I both think there is some "alpha male" syndrome going on here as my son was the pied piper of the grade (5 eight grade boys) and may have felt compelled to act out as a way to put the attention on himself.  My son admits that his misbehavior began this time when the new student joined but says he likes the new student, doesn't feel intimidated or threatened by him, and disagrees that's the reason.  He says the new student began making demeaning comments to others and my son simply "couldn't stop" joining in.

One last thought . . does anyone know anything about therapy combined with a licensed hypnotist?  Never thought I'd say that but I've read some interesting AMA studies recently that lead me to believe hypnosis could be an effective treatment for behavior when combined with conselling.
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Avatar_n_tn
HELLO! he's adolencent. whether your rich or poor it just dosen't matter. he's 13 and going though a lot of changes. let him grow into his own, as long as he is not phiscally hurting anybody or himself. alot of kids are a lot worse then he is and turn out just fine. BASICALLY HE'S GOING THOUGH PUBERTY AND I THINK YOUR JUST MAKING IT HARDER ON HIM BY THINKING SO MANY THINGS R WRONG WITH HIM. JUST GIVE HIM A CHANCE TO EXPRESS HIMSELF.
CHEY
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I dont know how they do it where your from but they have boot camps here in texas they'll get him straight trust me it worked for me my mother shipped me off in one and I'll never go back its not easy in there they treat you like your in jail
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