My son is polite and he makes friends easily. He’s always been a very good kid. But he turned 15 this year and it’s like some switch went off. He can be rude. He’s into a bunch of short-term fads that he stops as fast as he starts them. And he’s doesn’t seem to grasp the idea of consequences. What happened to my baby and how do I get him back?
If you want me to help you to find your good son, I believe I can do that. And he’s still the good boy you raised. He’s just in a stage of development, as we all are. None of us are ever done. Especially a teenager.
First off, while it may seem self-evident I want to start off by pointing out that ‘words’ and ‘events’ are different things. So we can tell a child not to touch a stove because it’s ‘hot.’ But the child has also likely heard us say that we’re excited because it’s hot out. Or maybe the family has referred to ‘hot products,’ or ‘hot people,’ or ‘hot songs.’ So ‘hot’ is a floating idea for a kid. Until they touch a stove burner. Then the child knows. Knowing only happens through experience.
Think about it. We start as babies. For the first part of our lives we don’t even know we exist —we are merely experiences unfolding. Then we spot ourselves in a mirror and suddenly we exist. Then we’re somewhat autonomous. But we have no sense that we’re aging. We won’t consider that idea until we become the people who are older than us.
As we age we develop physical autonomy. We can run our own body and we have developed social skills —which your child did so well. Then they begin to have more adult conversations and they begin to consider philosophical perspectives heretofore unknown to them. They then need to experiment with what these ideas mean. And it is that experimentation that drives parents crazy.
I’m sympathetic to how you’re being treated. But please don’t take it personally. Your son is a developing human being. There are parts of his brain that won’t be complete until he’s in his mid 20’s —and lo and behold, those parts handle the concepts of planning, impulse control and reasoning. And how’s he going to learn it? The same way every teenager does. Trial and error.
As William Blake put it, “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.” We too once flailed around searching for our identity, and if they were around, our parents had to deal with us too. It just never felt like that because no one ever sees themselves as a villain….
What you are feeling as your experience is more accurately you being present while your son experiments with the world. And consider yourself lucky that a lot of that experimenting won’t happen when you’re around. Because like most humans, he will likely want to try things that would scare the crap out of you.
Testing limits is how all human beings construct the frameworks that we live within. And there is no greater period of it than when we’re between about 15 and 35. After that, without some kind of intervention, people will live inside those frameworks for life. Even if they were originally very small in size.
It’s good your son is testing what is possible. The feedback he gets will inform his sense of reality. And very few people die regretting have a big sense of reality. But a lot of people do die with regrets about how they did not take many of their opportunities to trade risk for the reward of a larger life.
Don’t panic. Could your child end up covered in gang tattoos and living in a cell block sharpening shivs for his homies? Yeah. But odds are that your early lessons have held better than you think. So once all of the bluster and proving are done, he can go back to being who he is —which is someone raised by you.
As his parent, remember what’s it like to be those ages. His social media will be a pose. And a lot of it is flouting limits as a way of showing apparent capability. It’s a lot like apes pounding chests to suggest how strong they are. It’s very primal and it often feels silly. But like most of us, he’ll likely grow to regret that stuff just like most of us do once we realize that we don’t need a impressive identity to prop us up.
Please don’t think you’ve failed as a parent if your kid lips you off. That’s a part of them developing their own sense of perspective. Most start by trying to go 180 degrees relative to the direction they’re parents put them on. They’ll try some crazy crap with their first dose of freedom. But after touching the burner a few times, they will generally innately fall back on their skill set —the set you taught him, the set you expressed pride in.
Those qualities don’t go away. He can’t forget that any more than he can forget how to add and subtract. It’s just part of him now. But he’ll continue to grow, and testing the world around him will be an important aspect of that. And there’s not much you can do but be patient, endure, focus on things you can appreciate, and wait for the necessary brain structures to be built through experience.
It’s one of the hardest parts about parenting. After all you’ve done for them, they’re disrespecting you in your own home —the one you work so hard to pay for. But while we all may not remember it that way, each of us put some literal or figurative parent through something similar. So don’t think you’re failing.
As you watch him struggling and battling, think of the lessons you taught as being more like you taught him how to sail. And now he’s soloing in blue water for the first time. So don’t be surprised if he capsizes a few times before getting his sea legs. You’ll know how well you did as a parent by how quickly he recovers.
Your son is in a major state of change. It’s quite exciting. So as you’re listening, just remember that for the next while you’re always talking to a person and worldview that often won’t exist in a few months. So there’s no need to battle him. Trust that you’ve instilled good qualities in him and watch for them to emerge.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.