My 16 yr old stepson is exhibiting destructive behavior. He is sneaking out at night, drinking, skipping (and failing) classes, and lying to us. His dad and I have very good reason to believe he is sexually active with an older girlfriend (who is not a minor). He has told us he would move out if he was 18. He won’t turn 18 for a year and a half. We have listened to your podcasts about building relationships, but don’t know how to balance showing loving behavior while trying to keep him from behavior that will have lasting and very negative consequences for his life.
Dr. Scoresby’s Answer
When a child engages in this form of behavior, which is oppositional to parents’ values, it will be important to gather some information before proceeding to an action plan. So I suggest you look at the following.
- Consider his level of success or failure at what he wants to achieve (e.g., school achievement, social success, sports, etc.). See if he is failing at something.
- Carefully examine his relationship with his parents to see if he is angry, hurt, or resentful if there has been inappropriate treatment. This does not mean his resentment about parents who are trying to prevent him from doing harmful things. The question is this: Is this destructive behavior a reaction to being mistreated in some way so that he is responding by NOT doing whatever you value as parents? (e.g., education, religion, moral behavior, etc.) If he is doing this, then he might be reacting to how his father and/or mother is treating him.
- Check for peer acceptance or rejection, and see if there is strong anti-parent pressure.
- How predatory is the female in this situation?
- Why do you think your attempts to regulate him are failing? Is it that the female’s sexual behavior is too enticing, is it because your efforts to regulate him are ignored, is your communication ineffective?
- What is his emotional behavior like? Is he angry all the time, is he often depressed, is he quiet and sullen, does he isolate himself?
If you have gathered this information and his destructive behavior is something that comes mostly from his association with this girl and therefore he is opposing you as parents in order to sustain that experience, as opposed to behavior that comes from some trauma or emotional problem, then I propose the following as options:
- Get to a professional for some help.
- What forms of behavior will he respond to? Will he talk? Can you control the time he spends out of the house? Reduce the amount of arguing, and face him with significant questions, such as, “I would like to know if your relationship with us means anything to you?” “Do you want to impregnate a girl by the time you are seventeen, and, if so, what will you do then?”
- He is a minor, and you can exercise legal rights to affect him. This is extreme but may be necessary if he continues to harm himself.
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