To preface this, I'm asking this question for someone else.

My sister's 14 year old son (let's call him Sam) is not too keen on taking or following instructions. Any time my sister instructs him on anything, he will roll his eyes, leave the house, or go into his room. I understand that teenagers are "rebellious" at this stage, and people here even say to not worry about it, but my sister and I are well justified in being concerned. There are times where his inability to follow instructions could lead to serious consequences.

One time I was over at my sister's house and I had to get Sam for dinner. I had to actually go up to his room because, like mentioned above, he won't even follow simple instructions like coming down to eat. While I was in his room, I noticed that he was watching a video of a guy connecting the terminals of car battery with a wrench. I was suspicious that he was going to attempt it, so I told him nicely, but sternly, that he "absolutely should not do that." As I was putting away the dishes, I heard Sam open the garage door. I ran to the garage as fast as I could and I found him holding a wrench in one hand and he was trying to open the hood of my sister's car.

My sister and her husband don't fight, they don't yell at or hit Sam, Sam goes to a good school, has lots of friends, and he gets to choose what he wants to do (most of the time). Despite this, Sam is extremely insubordinate.

I've read a lot comments here who blame the parents for being too restrictive and not giving the child freedom of choice, but my sister actively tries to be the opposite of that.

I've tried explaining to him why what he was attempting was dangerous, but as I mentioned above, he just rolled his eyes at me and went back up to his room. I also tried what other people here have suggested by asking him for his point of view. I asked him "why" he wanted to do that. I also offered to teach him basic circuit analysis if that's why he tried to play with the car battery.

My question is, how can I get someone like Sam to follow instructions?

  • 1
    Has he been evaluated by a professional who has ruled out the possibility that he has oppositional defiant disorder? Your example makes it sound like he engaged in the behavior specifically because you asked him not to. That doesn't sound like normal teenage rebellious behavior.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented Aug 23, 2016 at 0:19

3 Answers 3


You can't electrocute yourself with a car battery, and using a wrench to connect the leads to the terminals is standard practice. Sam probably knows this. When you tell him something that is clearly incorrect you merely feed his teenage existential position of "adults are useless and not worth listening to".

You also lept to the conclusion that he was going to try this. He probably didn't have any such idea in mind until you instructed him not to.

As for not coming down to dinner, just leave him up there to get hungry, and make sure there are no quick edibles in the fridge for him to snack on later. He'll get the message.

Edit: I now understand from the comments below that Movers meant Sam was watching a video about deliberately short-circuiting a car battery, which I agree is a really dangerous and irresponsible thing to do, albeit unlikely to be actually lethal.

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    Even though using a wrench on a car battery isn't lethal, I am sort of curious why Sam is doing anything to his mom's car battery.
    – Acire
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 12:25
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    @Movers. The general advice is to avoid telling Sam stuff that isn't so, and to avoid leaping to conclusions based on too little evidence (which, ironically, is exactly what you are accusing me of). Short circuiting a car battery is a bad idea, but it isn't lethal, and its not easy to do by accident. Also, if you had asked Sam about it, you might have found that the videos he was watching had specific advice about avoiding such a mishap. You didn't say why you thought it so dangerous, but the point that its actually not a big risk stands. Commented Aug 21, 2016 at 15:00
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    @Movers it is not clear in your original phrasing that you mean the terminals were connected to each other, so it may be worth giving other users the benefit of the doubt rather than arguing in comments. If this answer does not provide an approach you would take, that's fine -- you've stated your objections, just leave it be.
    – Acire
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 11:29
  • 2
    If Movers (or the sister) respond to the child in the same manner as they respond, I'm not surprised about the child's reaction at all...
    – Erik
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 13:29
  • 1
    It wasn't clear because at least two users misunderstood; you knew what you meant, but others did not. Please use Parenting Chat for further discussion, and consider that a final warning.
    – Acire
    Commented Aug 22, 2016 at 14:32

Less telling, more asking. Give choices, get input, be curious. Questions invite ownership whereas telling is inviting blocks. Lead him rather than Pushing or Pulling him, which is how he tends to feel when being spoken to rather than spoken with. Your desire to help is obvious. Who would you more likely accept comments, advice, or warnings from? Someone who encouraged you or discouraged you? He's perceiving discouragement. Again this is not to say that your excellent intentions aren't genuine. It's how he perceives it. As long as you're telling, requesting, demanding or ordering, he'll block. He wants to be involved usefully , given choices, and an opportunity to use his power to make decisions, and, Mistakes. Best to You and Your Family.


If Sam is still being insubordinate and doing things that are destructive to property and possibly could lead to self-injury then perhaps it is time to get him some help. Family counselling is less threatening than one on one therapy and it has the benefit that if he is uncooperative, he still hears what the parents concerns are and what the therapist suggests. Parents could attend a few sessions at the start for a private conversation. Sam could do the same if he wants to. Don't lie about it or surprise him with it. Explain why he's earned parental concern.

I do not know if the parents are handling the situation well or not, but I'd say that most parents are not equipped to deal with these incidents without some sort of help. This is especially true if they were fairly reasonable growing up themselves and have not have previous 'big' problems with Sam.

A therapist can explain how parents should act or react. The following are some general suggestions/thoughts:

Anger is a normal reaction but it often is a poor choice. I cannot tell you how your sister should act as I would need a few sessions to get the picture.

I think natural consequences and prevention are two tools that I'd employ. Sit down and explain that at 15, the expectations for him acting like a young man are reasonable. He'll want access to a car soon -- or at least driving lessons. He'll want to be allowed to stay out later and go to parties. These things are earned and they are earned by children taking on more adult responsibilities.

He should by this point be doing chores without being asked or reminded. He should be contributing to the family as a whole. Things like :preparing meals, doing dishes, mowing lawns, doing laundry, vacuuming and cleaning bathrooms. His school work should be done without adults reminding him. Make him earn his independence and 'wants' by walking the walk. Being an adult means we take on responsibility. We aren't 'heroes' for cleaning a bathroom. Certainly parents do not get 'allowance' for doing household chores.

Prevention might look like locking the garage and hiding the key.

This rebellion is a part of maturation. It's hell some of the time. When parents keep calm and allow the chips to fall naturally, it makes for less drama. If Sam doesn't come for dinner -- he's hungry. If Sam doesn't do school work, he will pay for that too.

With my own daughter we've set goals on an ongoing basis. Weekly, monthly, yearly and life goals. If Sam wants a nice car and a great apartment -- how will he earn them? Those goals are great. It doesn't matter if he wants to work in construction, own his own business or be a lawyer. Accomplishing any of these goals will take effort on his part. Put that squarely in his lap. Tell him the parental purse is closed on his 18th birthday (unless parents can help pay for school or house him while he takes classes -- but he earns that.)

One of the main 'problems' I see is the imbalance between the way the parent sees their nearly adult child and the way the teen sees themself. Adults tend to keep their kids young (making decisions/ doing laundry and other chores -- simply because that is how it has always been.) Teens think they are adult, but haven't taken on the responsibilities of being adult. Families have to find that balance.

  • -1 for some of this, especially locking the garage door and hiding the key. I don't know 1) how many garage doors can be locked from the inside with a key, and 2) how often the rest of the family uses the garage door (it can be a family's main entrance.) Prevention isn't removing all temptation, which is impossible. Prevention is teaching a child right from wrong and having employed consequences to reinforce that, which this child seems not to have quite learned. Listing what he should be doing at this point is kind of irrelevant if he's not doing them. (cont.) Commented May 26, 2017 at 13:22
  • Thanks for your explanation. I said 'might' for that reason. My brother stole from my parents and they made sure the valuables were locked away. It seems reasonable to me. but each to their own.
    – WRX
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 13:24
  • (cont.) "When parents keep calm and allow the chips to fall naturally, it makes for less drama. If Sam doesn't come for dinner -- he's hungry. If Sam doesn't do school work, he will pay for that too." While this is true, allowing a child to do poorly in school (which we don't know if it is the situation) for the sake of reducing drama is a questionable decision at best. Doing poorly in high school doesn't ruin one for life (I'm living proof), but it does make achieving one's life goals more difficult. Parents should do what they can here. Commented May 26, 2017 at 13:24
  • Locking up your valuables is a lot different than locking up parts of the house! Commented May 26, 2017 at 13:25
  • @anongoodnurse Well I agree we want our kids to do well in school however you do that by allowing them to not earn what they'd earn by taking responsibility. It's that balance you are striving for. No one can make their child do school work, but they can say that as marks have gone down, driving lessons are on hold.
    – WRX
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 13:28

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