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My husband passed away 9 years ago. My 17-year-old son is currently in high school. I also have a 25-year-old daughter, who doesn't live with us but visits us over the weekend. I'm the one who is solely in charge of taking care of my son. He has failed a lot of courses.

Sometimes he doesn't respect me. He screams so loud and I get scared, and the last time he hit me with a pillow. I try to talk with him but He doesn't. Sometimes we scream at each other too, but nothing more. I don't punish him because he ignores me as well as any punishment I may try.

He doesn't want to get a job. He only wants to go to music school (music school is free and the bus is the only thing that he pays, with my money of course). He doesn't seem to care about regular school. In music school he had his first girlfriend, now the girl is his ex but they still are in touch.

What should I do now? What can I try?

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    Welcome to the site. This is a rough age. What sort of "discipline" do you try to practice? Are you a single parent, or is the father involved/present in his home/life? The more detail you can give us, the better we may be able to help you. – anongoodnurse Mar 27 '15 at 0:23
  • My husband passed away 9 years ago, I have a daughter too, She's 25 years old and don't live with us, I'm the one who take care of my son, my daughter visit us over the weekend. I try to talk with him but He doesn't, sometimes we scream each other but nothing more, I don't punish him or something like that because He ignores me. – sarahMilles Mar 27 '15 at 1:40
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    Assuming he is able to go to music school, is he planning to move out, or live at home (continuing to take the bus with your money)? Would you want him to stay at home or move out to give you both some space? Would charging him rent be a possibility? I'm asking to maybe inspire some ideas about ways you can (gently) point out that he needs to start seriously considering his future and responsibilities. – Acire Mar 27 '15 at 12:00
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    Sometimes he says that he's gonna leave home and will go out with friends (from music school) but I don't think he's gonna make it, a time ago he got a job and all the money he earned was for him, so when he quit his job I had to give him money because he started to get angry and turned into a rude boy, like I said before he screams a lot. – sarahMilles Mar 27 '15 at 16:41
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+150

Maybe you should encourage him to go to music school.

I didn't exactly fail classes, but I did just enough to pass and didn't care for schooling at all. Maybe your son, like me, is just bored of it and didn't see how the standard educational system would benefit his goals. In the end, my skipping class almost every day to pursue my interests landed me a job doing what I always wanted to do - be an animator. A field where your level of skill can easily surpass the importance of a degree. Much like music. Later I got into programming, which is what I do now, and clearly my sub-par grades didn't matter when they saw that I knew what I was doing.

It's arguable that these days degrees matter more in regular careers, but if he's a musician at heart then it might be worth dismissing the idea that he would ever be happy in a regular career.

Maybe he is yelling because you don't want him to go to music school? Or is it that he must earn music school by doing well academically, which he refuses to do? I wonder if a change of encouragement would turn that around. Suppose you encouraged music and supported the effort. Would he be less angry? Would less angry mean less resistance? In theory, but from person to person it is hard to say what would be truly effective without really knowing the people in question and what their situations are like.

All I know is what I went through. I hated school not because I was dumb. I hated it because it was slow and irrelevant. Even 20 years later I can say almost all of it after maybe 9th grade was useless to my later life. When my parents shifted their perspective and let me ditch school to draw, I excelled. I graduated a year early even. I went directly into a career animating because someone saw a cartoon I made over the years of ditching school. Now, I'm not saying you should just let him ditch school. He's too close to graduating to say it makes sense to drop out or anything. Just that it might not be so important to stress a solid 4.0 GPA if his interests in life are not geared toward places that care about a GPA.

Do you want your son to be happy? Or do you want your son to be successful? Maybe they both happen down the same road, which may be the one he wants to follow.

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    A good point to say is that i said him that I'll support him to go to music school, and he said that he doesn't like music, that the only reason he goes to music school is that he is very talented and brilliant, but that the music was not important to him, another point, the first girlfriend he had was at the music school. – sarahMilles Mar 27 '15 at 16:55
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    That's a pretty important detail you may want to include in your question. It sounded like he wanted to pursue music, but if he is only going to socialize then my impression is he is at that point in life where he desires the conflict. Rebellious youth days. You may want to edit the question and put as much known detail as you can in. Still though, talented and brilliant people will probably find a way to survive according to their expectations. It might be a time to just give him space and let him be angry for no reason – Kai Qing Mar 27 '15 at 20:39
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This is a difficult situation and a lot of what you do depends on what you're willing to put up with. I'm going to assume the yelling and fighting is really negatively affecting your life in an unacceptable manner. It would mine.

My personal belief is that you should never give your child anything because they frighten you into it or will make you miserable if you don't. He won't improve his grades or keep a job by demands or shouting at his teachers or boss, ever. It's not an essential life skill, whereas learning self-control is.

But you love him, and denying him at this tender age may feel like an unacceptable alternative. It's not. To cave in to bullying will just lead to more bullying. It has to stop. What you must decide is how you can best help him get and keep his life on the right track from here on in. This is something that will help the both of you. I would strongly recommend a contract in this situation.

Plan ahead. Before you sit down with him, decide on whether or not you want to support him if he is neither doing well in school nor working, if so, how much money (besides food and board) are you willing to give him? Are you willing to bribe reward him to help him succeed? This is an option, as unsavory as some may find it. If you are, decide what is an acceptable and appropriate bribe reward. This can be one of the items the two of you negotiate. It can be paying for music school, or a used car, a living allotment or whatever you both feel is reasonable (this is why you negotiate.)

Next time you are both in a fairly peaceful mood, inform him you need to have a "family meeting". The purpose of this meeting is to negotiate a contract that he must agree to uphold if he is to live in your house.1 Set a time (right then or in a few days) for the meeting.

Then negotiate the terms of the agreement. This is a contract; it all needs to be written down. Include a requirement that he never raise his voice to you, or raise a hand, again under any circumstances without consequences. (I hope it goes without saying that you will honor that code of behavior as well.) It needs to include school attendance and passing grades or part-(or full)-time work, or a combination, or whatever is important to you and think will help him. It can include anything the two of you have concerns about. But you need to negotiate this peacefully and reasonably. Ask him if he has any requests and consider them if he does.2

Next, set consequences. These are only minimally negotiable. For example, if he raises his voice (you will just be a calm observer now, because you'll have the contract), he needs to leave the house (allow a set few minutes of packing) until the next morning. He won't die if he has to sleep in your car or find a friend willing to put him up at the last minute. Also if he doesn't honor your agreement/contract, e.g., if he refuses to leave and argues, the ante needs to go up - two days away from home, a week away from home; where he goes is not your problem. Still no cooperation? Then you will call the police. (You need to be willing to do this or whatever the consequence is.)3

Once all the new house rules are negotiated, type it up, print 4 copies, and both sign all copies. One is yours, one is his, one goes on the refrigerator or other open, commonly used space.4 Then both of you know what is expected of each other.

Please read the links below. They all have value, good ideas and advice. Remember, you don't have to negotiate everything under the sun; just the most important and helpful things.

The last link is the most serious, and I would definitely consider it's advice. It's from an organization that deals with troubled teens, and the contract is drawn up before the teen is allowed to come home from a therapeutic boarding school/treatment facility again. It has some great advice. You need to be strong for your son and yourself.

Good luck. Whatever you choose, if you have success, please consider adding to this post (you can edit new information into your question) and telling us what worked well and what you found unhelpful.

1. If he refuses, tell him in that case, you will give him a list of your own demands without his input. Then type it up and give it to him, and date it. If he fails to meet any of the demands, put your consequences into play.
2. You might want a second adult there - an uncle, or other adult male - to act as a neutral intermediary if needed. There are also therapists and social workers that do this kind of mediation.
3. If things start to get heated, you might want to take a five-minute break, but get through it.
4. Give the third copy to the intermediary or someone else outside the home. Treat this like a binding, legal agreement.

LIFE WITH A TEENAGER: THE ART OF NEGOTIATION
Contracts of Trust Between Parents and Teenagers
How to Write a Home Rules Contract
The Coming Home Contract

2

It's all about control. He yells because it works, or at least because there are no consequences.

It's your house. He's a guest, albeit an important one. You make the rules. He follows them or leaves. You may not be able to physically control him but that's not the kind of control you want anyway.

So here's my advice...

If he yells, tell him in a normal voice that is not acceptable and that when he wants to talk reasonable to come find you, then walk away.

If he gets physical, step up and put your face right in his (even if it means looking up) and quietly explain that such is absolutely not acceptable and will not be tolerated "in my house". Tell him that when he wants to talk reasonable to come find you, then walk away.

Never, ever, raise your voice (though I believe a loud injection is acceptable to get their attention before immediately reverting to a normal tone -- "HEY! I need you to..."). Never exhibit any behavior yourself that you do not want to see in him. You're the adult and whether he knows it or not, he will follow your lead with regard to what is acceptable.

If he physically abuses you, change the locks. (Update: This is an expression to highlight that you need to do something, legal of course, to put a stop to it.)

All the rest is small stuff. He's almost an adult so though you may have some really good advice that he doesn't want to hear, you can't actually force him to be any particular way or do any particular thing. Just go with it. All you can do is refuse to help him with anything you are seriously against.

It's too late to mould him but if he respects you (and you'll have to stand up to him to get this) then he might just listen to you. Maybe.

Given that you may have to make significant changes in your behavior to affect his, it would be best to sit down quietly with him -- some time far from any altercation and when there are no distractions -- and explain that things have been bad. Explain how you'll be changing. Explain how you expect him to change. Explain the new rules. Explain what is allowed and what is not. And explain the consequences. It would be best if you can get him involved in a discussion about all this so that he feels involved. No contribution, not commitment. But if he won't cooperate, then you'll have to define it.

And lastly, when it comes to discussions about what he's going to do after high school, may I recommend Covey's habit #4: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.

Update: This isn't part of the original question but something from the comments and was too big for me to reply as a comment.

There are 17 years of history and love between you and your son. Unless he's already lost, he's not going to attack his mother.

  1. Step into his personal space and look him right in the eye. This takes control and will make him uneasy. Do not make any actual physical contact.
  2. Say in a calm, normal voice something like, "Hitting me like that in order to make your argument will not be tolerated." With no actual verbal or physical threat, there's nothing to provoke him.
  3. Step back. This quickly removes the confrontation and prevents escalation. If he says anything ("Whatcha gonna do about it?") just ignore him. Don't let him take control.
  4. Say, "When you want to talk reasonably, come find me." You set the terms but are open to him.
  5. Walk away still in control.

Note that the line between rough-housing and abusive behavior is not clear. Choose your words appropriate to the infraction but never let it go unaddressed or it will escalate.

If he does come talk to you later and asks what you would do, you need to tell him calmly, matter-of-factly, and truthfully something like, "Using physical force on someone because they argue with you is not appropriate. It's actually a form of physical abuse. What will I do? I'll talk with you like this but if it continues or goes too far, I'll call the police and have you removed from my house." Pause. "I love you more than life itself and it will break my heart to do so, but there are some lines that must not be crossed."

Note the use of the world "will" and not "would". You have to mean it. It must be the truth. Both you and he must believe it.

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    I think the advice in this answer is very useful except for stepping up to face off with someone who is already physical. I might hold my ground in that case, but if the teen is being physical, he's already out of control. Humans aren't just instinctive, but approaching while holding eye contact in such a maneuver is seen as an attempt to assert dominance and a potential threat, and risks being reacted to physically instead of startling him out of it. – anongoodnurse Mar 27 '15 at 22:35
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    Good answer; however, he is still a minor. You can't change the locks and leave him out in the cold until he's 18. – L.B. Mar 28 '15 at 2:19
  • @anongoodnurse, this isn't a mugger on the street. A child is also instinctive and should back down when confronted by his parent. L.B., call the police, then. I'm sure you don't have to admit an abusive person to your home no matter what their age or relation. In fairness, though, I really don't think that is the case here despite her mention of being scared sometimes. I was merely making the point that she should not tolerate an abusive person. – Brian White Mar 28 '15 at 2:58
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    @BrianWhite - You're right. It's worse than a mugger. He's her son, yet he feels comfortable yelling and hitting her with a pillow. It's quite possible that it won't go further, but I wouldn't gamble on it. My gut feeling is that such a confrontation risks escalating the situation when de-escalating is the better part of valor and wisdom. I would be grateful, though, if you could provide support for your position; I'm always grateful to learn. – anongoodnurse Mar 28 '15 at 3:39
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    I can't speak for the OP's son, but I know if my mother had done this to me at that age I would have laughed at her "assertiveness". If I'd ever done anything warranting a lock change, I would have just circumvented it by breaking into my own home. In an irrational state (yelling/being intimidating) there's also no way I'd even be able to listen to calm, matter-of-fact admonishes. Rationality can't be used on the irrational. I honestly don't believe any of these simple "quick fixes" are going to be effective. I'm more inclined to think they'll be counterproductive. – user11394 Mar 31 '15 at 3:38

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