Time Out

Dear Dr. Darcy,

My son refuses to let me punish him.  Our therapist has told us that when he misbehaves, he needs to be consequenced. Since his favorite thing is the computer, I will try to take it away, but he is 16 years old and will physically try to grab it away from me when he sees me with it.  I repeat the words, "this is what the therapist has told us to do," but he just screams profanity at me.  I can tell you that I am definitely afraid of my son.  I believe that one day he will explode on me and physically harm me.  The last time this happened my neighbor called the police because she claims that I was yelling so loudly it sounded like someone was getting murdered.  This caused the police to focus more on me than on my son.  The home is becoming unmanageable.  What are my options?

ANSWER

Simple:  Keep doing the same thing and you’re going to get the same outcome.  Change something and you’ll get a different outcome.  Your biggest problem is that you focus on your son’s behaviors to the exclusion of your own.  When I reference changing something, I’m referring to changing something within yourself – not your son.  His behavior will follow.

Your behaviors sound passive-aggressive to me, meaning that on the surface they may seem justifiable or even appropriate, but I believe that at a deeper, unconscious level you engage in these behaviors for the purpose of expressing your anger towards your son.  The behaviors then provoke him to explode, giving you free rein to openly express your rage.  If the neighbor called the police on you ‘because it sounded like someone was getting murdered,’ I think it’s safe to say that you were in a full-blown rage.  If it’s hysteric, it’s historic.  Feelings and expressions of hysteria are never about what’s going on in the moment, rather, a result of old, unresolved wounds. Now let’s get down to the specific behaviors that you need to change.

First of all, if the consequence involves taking something a way such as a cell phone or a computer, you do not ever consequence a teenager without their cooperation, meaning, you wait until the situation has calmed down, then you explain to the teen why they are being consequenced, what the consequence is and for how long, and then you respectfully ask for the item to be given to you.  You do not march into a teenager’s room and grab a computer in the heat of the moment.  It’s preposterous.  This is a perfect example of what I mean by passive aggressive behavior.

Then, as you engage in this highly provocative behavior, you hide behind your therapist's words, blaming her/him for imposing the consequence.   You take no responsibility for the consequence which in effect disempowers you in the eyes of your son.

I think you have an anger-management issue and I think you need some therapy to resolve it.  If you opt out, I suspect that you are right and that it’s only a matter of time before your son intentionally or accidentally hurts you during one of these battles.  And when that day comes, you won’t be able to play the victim because I’ve warned you.  And just in case this is at all ambiguous,  the problem is not all his fault.

Writer's Stats: Female, heterosexual.