17

Last night my husband and I addressed a few things we discovered in my son's room being a concern. We are pretty strict parents and believe in corporal punishment especially since my son doesn't have anything left to take away since he's always in trouble for something. We have good days and bad days, and it seems like he takes two steps forward and three steps back. After addressing everything with him my son is very upset and says he's doing these things because he's depressed everyday, lonely, doesn't have any close friends or friends he can trust to talk to, and he does not love himself.

I am so scared and worried for him. He's very angry at us and himself. I'm not sure what to do and how to handle this level of parenting. HELP! Any and all recommendations please...

  • 22
    This asks for treating symptoms, but doesn't really address the causes. Have you asked him why he feels this way? Why do you think he feels this way? What made you look in his room? Finally, this seems just thrown in there: "We are pretty strict parents and believe in corporal punishment especially since my son doesn't have anything left to take away since he's always in trouble for something." Can you give examples of what he is (and isn't) punished for? What kind of trouble is he in all the time? How, exactly, do you punish him corporally? All of this matters. – anongoodnurse Nov 7 '15 at 20:33
  • 27
    Depression calls for professional medical support, in addition to your parenting and love for him. – Acire Nov 7 '15 at 23:02
  • 55
    If beating your teenager doesn't work, chances are continuing to beat him will not have any positive effect. Likely he will spend the next 10-15 years wondering why his parents were so physically violent. – Mark Rogers Nov 8 '15 at 16:09
  • 18
    This is so vague that there's no possible way to give a useful answer. We don't know if the things in his room that you disapprove of are guns, marijuana, porn, or religious tracts. We don't know if this is clinical depression (which is a disease) or a feeling of sadness (which is not a disease). The only reasonable thing anyone could really say to this is to take him to a mental health professional and get him screened for clinical depression, which is a serious condition with potentially lethal outcomes, especially if untreated. – Ben Crowell Nov 8 '15 at 18:53
  • 5
    If he doesn't have any close friends then there is a good chance he is being bullied at school -- maybe by the students and maybe even by the teachers. That would contribute to feelings of worthlessness. If you found press cuttings of acts of violence for example then it's quite possible he's looking for a way to express his anger. That's worrying and requires professional advice. If you found pornography then that is perfectly normal for a sixteen-year-old boy - unless it is violent pornography in which case again this requires professional help. – chasly from UK Nov 9 '15 at 2:23
105

Five years ago I was practically in your son's shoes.

I am not a parent, nor do I intend to be, largely because of this style of parenting. That said, I feel I might be able to give you a view from his perspective. Understand that I am trying very, very hard to keep restraint here while you read my answer.


Let us address your first point;

We are pretty strict parents and believe in corporal punishment especially since my son doesn't have anything left to take away since he's always in trouble for something

This seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy and honestly does not justify your use of corporal punishment whatsoever. He is not being punished corporally because he has nothing left to be taken away because he is always in trouble; You are punishing him corporally because you are taking everything away from him and leaving him with nothing.

Given that you call yourselves "pretty strict", it could stand to reason that you are punishing him over every perceived slight and leaping straight to depriving him of some privilege or corporally punishing him. Have you considered just flat-out being less strict and/or less punishing? Not all punishments need to be created equal, and explaining to someone why they did something wrong is going to be a much better treatment than just flat out hitting them.

Hitting someone presents two issues. First of all, he will learn - as another poster mentioned - that violence is normal to conflict resolution. There are a lot of conflicts in life, and unfortunately adult-on-adult violence is known as assault and is illegal. You are not setting a good standard here. He will grow up to learn that hitting people is okay.

Secondly, hitting him dehumanises him. It treats him like an object - you didn't do what I want, so I'll hit you until you conform. With the exception of Toy Story, objects aren't capable of loving their parents.

There are ways to educate people without resorting to violence or deprivation. I don't see many kids earning degrees at universities by having their tutors hit them until it sinks in.

After addressing everything with him my son is very upset and says he's doing these things because he's depressed everyday, lonely, doesn't have any close friends or friends he can trust to talk to, and he does not love himself

Going out on a limb here:

You being strict and punishing him as much as you apparently seem to be doing - and in the manner you are doing - is going to teach him that he can do no right. It is going to make him lose self-esteem and lose self-confidence. His entire life at home is dominated by him being "in trouble" to the point where he is not going to want to do anything.

Low self-esteem and low confidence are one of the two biggest factors in anxiety disorders. Anxious people, generally speaking, are too afraid to talk to their peers because they feel like a burden. This is, no doubt, how your son feels now. It will be hard for him to make friends due to this.

In addition, you going through his room and finding things removes an element of his privacy. Privacy is very important to feeling secure in your environment. If he can't trust his parents to respect even the privacy of his room, why the hell would he trust random people at school?

He's very angry at us

Good. If he wasn't, I would be worried he was a masochist.

I don't mean to speak ill of your parenting style, but you should consider laxing up and instead of corporally punishing your son, show the compassionate side of your personalities. IMHO, your corporal punishment and strictness are the issues here.


This sort of parenting style has caused lasting effects on my life. I am not going to get on a soapbox here, but I would just like to say that I am currently coming up to 21, and I moved out at 18 and have been a victim of abusive parenting styles since I was born.

I have had long-lasting depression and anxiety issues and have absolutely zero friends or romantic interests. I have had go to through therapy and on medication for these issues, and I still have a long way to go.

Please do not let your son turn out to be an anti-social shut-in who is afraid of all social contact, or let him turn into a domestic abuser because he learns that violence is okay, readdress your parenting approach and above all get him to a psychiatrist to undo the negative conditioning you have done to him.

  • 6
    @Dan Absolutely. Me too. My dad needed to find fault and hit people, so he looked around till he saw one of us doing - well, anything - and declared that to be a crime. If you hit kids they start out fearing you, then they despise you, then they pity you, but from a distance. Once you have beaten the love and respect out of them it doesn't come back. We just could not do anything right for the guy - once I got beaten for getting 99% in a Latin exam; silly b**** think you're so clever etc. We are all messed up and get through life pretending we're normal, but we're not. ... – RedSonja Nov 9 '15 at 11:22
  • 2
    ... The only excuse anyone could come up with was my dad had it much worse, but his brothers never beat any kid unconscious, he was the one who decided to do it. Dear Dan, talk about it, get treatment, it helps. You are as good as everyone else, believe me. – RedSonja Nov 9 '15 at 11:23
50

Have you "walked a mile in his shoes?" Unless you can see the world through his eyes, how can you begin to help him?

So, based on the incomplete details you've provided, let's check out what we can see through his eyes:

My parents have taken everything away.

I can get hit by my parents at any time and unless I'm perfect, I get punished.

My parents are constantly berating me, telling me how bad I am.

I can't bring any friends over because I have nothing, so it's easier to just not have friends.

My life is hopeless, so why care about life?

Your goal should be instilling self-confidence; establishing a welcoming, educating environment; and ensuring that he feels that he is loved.

It has been said that "violence is the last refuge of the incompetent" and "force and mind are opposites". He is 16 -- corporal punishment will serve no useful purpose. On the other hand, it will teach him that being a victim is something it is expected he will tolerate.

If you have taken away everything because of his behavior and that hasn't worked, why continue with it?

If discipline does not result in altered behavior, the discipline is ineffective and other routes must be tried in order to obtain the desired behavior.

Benjamin Franklin said, "Speak ill of no man, but speak all the good you know of everybody."

Have you tried emphasizing every positive thing he does? Rewarding him for the positive? When he does something wrong, have you then asked, "You're doing so many awesome things, so why did you do this?" (Be prepared for this method: sometimes children are more reasonable than we estimate.)

Ask him about friends and the reason he claims to have none. Ask him what it would take for him to feel comfortable bringing them home.

If you engage him in dialog (as opposed to "telling" him what to do -- this sometimes means nothing more than listening without judging); if you reward him and let him encourage himself; if you let ineffective techniques fall to the way side; if you work with him instead of against him, how do you think this will change his universe?

Right now, he feels like a "thing" according to your description. Make him feel like a "person" and he will gain self-esteem which then leads to loving one's self. And a well-balanced, critically-thinking adult is the goal of parenting.

NOTE: I am not a Doctor. For depression, please see a properly-trained doctor as depression can be a serious affliction which must be treated. The guidance above is about parenting, not treating depression.

  • 5
    Eighteen years ago, I was that kid. I'm glad my parents were strict in applying discipline -- and I'm equally glad they were quick to praise and show love. – Joe Nov 8 '15 at 3:18
  • 26
    20ish years ago I was that kid. I left home and didn't talk to my family until my father was dead, and even now I have a strained and difficult relationship with the rest of my immediate family. I raise my own kid very differently. – Spacemoose Nov 8 '15 at 10:15
  • 11
    40 years ago I was that kid, and I still have tears running down my face just reading this. I have never forgotten. I cannot forgive a man who hits a 2-year-old hard enough to throw her across the room. The day he died a weight was lifted from my shoulders. – RedSonja Nov 9 '15 at 11:31
16

I'd like to add another important point to those already mentioned in other answers.

Don't go it alone.

I said this in a comment and I'll say it again: unless you've been specifically trained or, through years of experience, have some knowledge of how to help people going through depression yourself, don't try it on your own.

Although everyone's experience with depression is different, what's important when trying to help is knowing what might make something better, and what might make it ten times worse.

  1. Get your son to a counsellor or psychiatrist.
  2. Take that counsellor/psychiatrist's advice. They likely won't tell you what your son told them because the meeting is in confidence, but you should be able to ask them for advice on what to do. Follow it.
  3. I would strongly suggest you quit - at least for now - your policy of corporal punishment. I can't see any situation in which that would help someone going through depression. He needs your support and love right now, and though you may still love him, it's nigh-on impossible to see that when you're being beaten.

While I could, I'll refrain from giving specific advice about treating depression - it's both out of scope here and unwise to rely on the advice of strangers on the Net.

As parents, you've done some damage. As parents, you need to undo it and demonstrate to - not tell - your son that he can trust you again. That means stop trying to take away from him, and instead give him what he says he needs to help him.

8

This is something you and your husband cannot solve... it must be solved by all three of you: you, your husband, and your son as a family. I cannot pretend to be in a position to tell you exactly what to do, only to point out things I consider to be "facts" in the situation, and let you decide if you agree with my claim. However, "self love" is not something that you can cause somebody to do, you can only encourage it. Encourage it until they eventually decide to take the first step, and then encourage them for doing it.

(So, in that light, I suppose my first sentence is wrong. There is another way to solve it. Your son can solve it on his own. Studies of people in terribly dire straights show that it is possible to develop self love in any scenario. That being said, its quite clear that, as parents, you don't want to leave him on his own to discover this, so we'll focus on the family as a whole, and how the family can work with this).

I do think it's important for you to understand what your punishment must be doing to your son. I will not question corporal punishment; others have done so, and frankly I believe the nuances of how punishment is delivered are more complicated than people believe. However, if I may be so bold as to use your own word from that sentence, I think I can paint a picture from your son's perspective that you might be relate to:

We are pretty strict parents and believe in corporal punishment especially since my son doesn't have anything left to take away since he's always in trouble for something.

Emphasis mine. If we ignore everything else except the fact that you find a need for punishment and this bolded section of the sentence, we can see a fundamental structure of a relationship. It shows that you have taken away all the easy things from him, and he's misbehaving still. Thus, you are actively seeking out other things to take away from him, and relying on him to go find those things so that you can take them away. One thing I have found true about punishment: you can always guarantee that you take something away from them, but you can't always choose what it is. Thus, it should not be a surprising if, after rolling the dice this way for a long childhood, one day your son offered his self love to be taken away and you took it. Neither party may have even known that's what's being offered. Punishment can be a tricky business from both sides. I know that, in the face of punishment, I have held up things I value most to take the blow for me before I even know I did so. (There's something to be said for the lyrics of Big Yellow Taxi, "You don't know what you've got till it's gone.")

I believe it is clear from your words that you feel it is necessary to be able to punish your son, so the good-fairy attitude of "just love your son, everything will be all right!" will not sit well with you. The devil's in the details anyway.

There honestly isn't a clear path to solve this problem. If there was, society would have abused it to let us hurt each other more, knowing we can always follow an easy path back to self love. You will have to seek out your own path, and that path will be rocky. However, there are some milestones along the way which I have found universal enough that they bear mentioning.

The most important step is to be aware of your son. Listen to his words, listen to his body language, listen to everything. If your son is in dire enough straights that the phrase "doesn't love himself" is warranted, the spark of life you will want to fan is going to be faint and hard to spot. He will hide it from you as best as he possibly can; he won't make the same mistake twice -- he wont give you an opportunity to punish him through it. You will have to look hard to find it. When you do, you will have to make a very hard call as parents who have relied heavily on punishment. You will have to decide not to lay your hands on it, literally or metaphorically. You will have to learn how to support it from afar until he learns to trust you enough to bring it out into the open. You will have to let him have it, no matter how angry you are at him. Self love is hard to develop once you lose it, and you need to be able to listen to your own inner light once it starts glimmering.

The subtle techniques needed to support such a glimmer from afar are hard to learn. They are different for every parent child pairing, so you will have to do some soul searching to learn a bit about it yourself. However, there are some general patterns that you can manage.

The first is to only take that which you give. Instead of relying on striking his physical body (which technically, yes, you gave, but I think you understand why I ignore this technicality), you need to give him things which can explicitly be taken away -- privileges. If he has nothing, you cannot punish him, as you have found out. However, given the scenario I see described in the question, I recommend giving them in a particular structure: only give him things in a way which, if you take them away, hurts you as much as it hurts him. Think of it as a voluntary limitation on your own power in the name of making the family stronger. "We will respect the sanctity of your room, but you are obliged to call us whenever you go somewhere". This limit does two things. One is it restrains you (which, believe it or not, can be a good thing). Second, it gives him something to see and feel in you. Let him realize (on his own) just how much each of these new punishments hurt you. Don't fake it. He needs to see the real you, even in pain, to appreciate that what he is enduring is not arbitrary from your perspective.

One approach I would consider (disclaimer: I've never tried it, but it has the aire of truth to me) is to set up an agreement. Set up a set of obligations on both parties as part of the agreement. Try to make them balanced. Then, as a key step, as part of the agreement, declare that either party may revoke the agreement at any point in time, for any reason. This agreement is ephemeral. It only functions so long as both parties want it to function. This gives him control over you, which may be something he needs, but also puts a check in place to prevent him from abusing it. Explicitly do not state what could cause the revocation as part of the agreement. This isn't an agreement between him and a piece of paper with some rules, it's an agreement between you and him. Both parties deciding that working together is more beneficial than working apart. You may go through 20 or 30 agreements, each rapidly fizzling out. This is okay. You don't even have to make each agreement identical (indeed, you will find that they're never identical, even if the words are identical, because the parties will have adjusted their opinions on the revocation clause). Make multiple of these if needed. But show that working together as a family is better than working apart. (And as a note, if you do it right, your son will use this as ammunition against you, severing agreements if you rely on corporal punishment. Believe it or not, this is not a bad thing. It's a key step in standing up for himself, which can lead to self love if you do it right).

To close, I have to go back to the good-fairy argument because, frankly, there's no way to solve this problem without some input from her. Your son is depressed and lost his self love. He needs the softer side of the family, and you are the ones who can give it to him. If some of that depression turns to rage, and he lashes out, try your darnest to take what he gives, turn it around, and make something good out of it. There's a whole self-help section of the library dedicated to this skill, so I wont pretend its easy to do. I wont even pretend I know how to do it, per se. However, if you can take something he unleashed out of rage or sadness, and turn it into a glimmer of hope and beauty in a way that he never thought he could see, that just might be the thing he needs to find self love. You can show him that even a nugget of ugly emotion can be polished into a diamond. You can even encourage him to learn how to polish them. And, if all is right with the world, he can make the choice whether he polishes them or not.

  • This is overall a very fine answer, but "I know that, in the face of punishment, I have held up things I value most to take the blow for me before I even know I did so." made me cry. – Kyle Hale Nov 10 '15 at 17:45

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.