My son is totally polite and he makes friends easily and he’s a very good kid. But he turned 15 this year and it’s like some switch went off or something. He can be rude, he’s into a bunch of short-term fads and he’s doesn’t seem to have any grasp whatsoever on the concept of consequences. What happened to my baby and how do I get him back?
If you want me to find your son, I can do that. He only appears to be hiding. He is the good boy you raised. But he still has to develop. None of us are ever done, especially a teenager.
First off, words and events are different things. So we can tell a child not to touch a stove because it’s hot, but the child’s also heard us say that we’re excited because it’s hot out, and their brothers love hot cars and hot girls, and the radio plays hot hits. So the kid needs to touch the burner to understand this other hot. And then the child knows. Through experience.
For the first part of our lives we don’t even know we exist—we are merely having experiences. Then we exist and we’re autonomous, but we have no sense that we’re aging. We won’t consider that we will 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. As William Blake put it, “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.” If you don’t think you did that to your parents then get real, because your brain developed the same way everyone else’s did. Of course we never see ourselves as villains….
Your son is experimenting with the world. Let me make something clear: whether you find out about it or not, he will definitely do some crazy things that would scare the crap out of you. But it won’t scare him like that. Because the part of his brain that would store that wisdom isn’t even built yet. In fact, it’s being built by experiences like the ones that scare you. Sorry: real world.
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. His social media will be a pose. And the rest is testing limits. He’ll grow to regret that stuff just like all of us do.
You haven’t failed as a parent if your kid lips you off. That’s a part of them developing their own sense of perspective. 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 you may not remember it that way, you put some literal or figurative parent through something similar. So you just have to listen knowing that they’re talking to a person and world that 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. Encourage them. Welcome them. Celebrate them. And he and you will both be fine.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.