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Our 14-year-old is a great kid. No joke. He causes very little issues for us.

Lately though, he has simply turned reckless in his behavior at times. I have attributed this change to the fact that he has grown considerably over the past 2 years and is now tall and strong and thinks he can do just about anything physically. He doesn't often recognize his own strength or his own mortality (like many 14-year-olds).

He is constantly breaking things. When I see him doing something reckless, I tell him to be careful or not break this or hurt that. There have been several times in the past few months that I have told him not to break something and within minutes it was broken.

I know he isn't actually doing any of this on purpose, but when I warn him about his behavior, he either looks at me like I am an idiot or shrugs it off as if things would never go poorly for him.

That being said, last weekend the family went for a hike with the dog. We stopped in a creek where our son skipped two stones (3-4 inches in length) very closely to our dog's head. The second one literally skipped off the water first and flew right over the dog's head missing it by inches.

I looked at him and said "Don't hit the dog in the head with a rock!"

He looked at me like I was an idiot.

Two minutes later he drilled the dog directly in the eye. It was a terrible thing to witness (and in the moment) I yelled at him aggressively for it.

Since then, we have spent nearly $700 and just now confirmed that the dog is permanently blind in that eye and will most likely have to have the eye surgically removed (an additional $1500-2000).

I did have a talk with my son the next day (before we knew the full extent of the dog's injuries). I told him that we all know it was an accident, but he was acting recklessly again and actively putting the dog in danger by seeing how close he could come to its head (a very disrespectful behavior towards a dog we all love). Thus he is fully responsible for her injuries. I told him that if he drove recklessly with a car and killed someone, he could go to prison for that. He heard me and expressed honest regret for his actions.

My wife is a good mother and is very concerned how our son will take the news long term for hurting the dog that he loves. She didn't want him to accompany us to the vet because she was afraid it would be too traumatic for him.

I recognize his pain and guilt for what he has done, but I also want to make sure that this is a lesson learned.

How have others helped their children with similar behavior issues (recklessness, destructive) to recognize it as such and take it seriously?

  • Hi Chris, welcome to the site. Specific disciplinary decisions aren't really the right subject matter for questions here; that's really up to you and your wife to figure out. What we can help with here is more theoretical questions as far as how to approach discipline; you can browse the site and find some perhaps that may be helpful. Again, welcome and good luck! – Joe Jul 31 at 18:49
  • @Joe - Possibly I was not clear enough. I wasn't asking for specific disciplinary decisions, I was more curious how others might deal with a similar situation (I see many questions on this board doing relatively the same thing)... Anyhow, I have reworded it so that it asking a theoretical question. Hopefully this meets your definition and you will remove the hold on the conversation. – Chris Johnson Jul 31 at 19:13
  • I think that's good enough. I would still try to focus it a bit more, to try and get better answers, but that's more on topic. – Joe Jul 31 at 19:19
  • What helped me when I thought I was breaking everything, was that my parents said the same thing every time I was about to do something stupid. The phrase "[tuskiomi], that's not going to work" is now burned into my head. – tuskiomi Aug 22 at 19:04
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I recognize his pain and guilt for what he has done, but I also want to make sure that this is a lesson learned.

I would assume that the best way to make sure that he recognizes his reckless actions as such is to confront him with the consequences of hurting the family dog.

This means letting him feel the guilt, and taking him along to the vet, showing him how much money his actions cost, and working out a way for him to contribute both to taking care for the dog and to the financial cost.

I don't think it's smart to try and shield him from what he caused, for three reasons. The first one is that if your son has a healthy emotional reaction to this actions, he'll feel guilt and remorse and he'll want to make up for what he did. If you shield him from the consequences of his actions, he won't be able to do that. Going along to the vet, helping to pay for the medical bills, taking part in the dogs rehabilitation or just generally spending more time with the dog etc might be a way for him to show himself, the dog and the rest of the family that he's sorry for what he did.

Second, shielding him means that that his part in it gets ignored at least partially. It's fine to acknowledge that he didn't mean to hurt the dog, but if your goal is for him to recognize his own recklessness, then it's paramount that he realizes that not meaning to do something isn't the same as not doing it. The dog got hurt because of his actions. He'll have to come to terms with that. He'll have to learn that sometimes our actions have unintended consequences, and so he'll have to start thinking about possible consequences of his actions before he acts.

Third, if you and your wife are worried about trauma (the traumatic event would most likely be the event in which the dog got hurt, not being present when the dog went to the vet...), then it's important to let him know that some people find it hard to cope with terrible events, and that in such cases it's important to seek help. But if you try to shield him from what happened, the unexpressed guilt will probably prevent him from confiding in you.

So the first thing to do would probably be to have an honest discussion with him, in which you explain to him that there are two separate issues at work: The first one is about what happened, and how it came to pass (his reckless behavior caused the dog to be partly blind). This lies in the past and can't be undone, it needs to be accepted and atoned for. The second one is his emotional reaction to that event - it hurt him too and he'll have to heal, too, and you're there to help if he needs it.

Edit: Added a short part about taking part in the dog's rehabilitation according to anongoodnurse's suggestion.

  • Yes, yes, and yes! +1, wish it were more. Might I suggest that you add that the son participates in any possible rehabilitation that the dog needs? – anongoodnurse Aug 1 at 1:44
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    +1, this is a great answer. The trauma of having caused injury to a beloved pet may be unpleasant, but compare it to the consequences if having injured a friend or family member. Better he learn caution now than later. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Aug 1 at 17:00
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I agree wholeheartedly with @Pascal's answer, but there's something no one is bringing up, so I'll add to it: make it your son's responsibility to take care of your dog's medical needs - all of them.

Monetary responsibility isn't enough. Money doesn't solve problems such as the one your son inflicted on his dog. He should have some financial responsibility, but proportional to his ability to earn.

If you want him to learn the real lesson - that his actions can damage others than himself - make him take care of the dog.

I suggest that changing the dressings, checking for infection, taking the dog to the vet's with you, etc., will do more to help develop empathy and reflection on his actions than getting a job and earning the money to pay for the dog's expenses. I would even ask the vet if your son can be present for the enucleation of your dog; if not, he should take the dog there and pick him up, and care for him during post-op recovery. All this should be done with adult supervision.

You may think this is too drastic, but I assure you, it's not. It's reality, and better yet, it's just. He severely injured a beloved being by an act of recklessness he was warned about. Justice is called for when we are intentionally injured. If it were totally accidental, this would not be an issue (for me.)

She didn't want him to accompany us to the vet because she was afraid it would be too traumatic for him.

It won't be as traumatic as this has been for your dog.

Some trauma in life is beneficial. Before my first autopsy, I was afraid I would faint or have a panic attack, but we (medical students) all had to do it. It turned out that I worried for nothing; it was not traumatic at all. All medical students are afraid of how they will handle dissecting a cadaver. The anxiety the evening before they start is palpable. But it is not what anyone imagines it will be.

So please don't fear for your son's psychological health if you choose this route. Who knows, he might develop so much compassion that he becomes a vet or some other kind of provider of health care, be it physical or mental.

The only caveat I would add to the above is that all this needs to be done with love. He got the guilt drift when you yelled at him angrily. Now he will need your understanding, support and forgiveness along with accepting the responsibility for his actions. He's not doing all this because he's a bad person; on the contrary, e's doing it because it's right and good.

  • I fully agree with this, too, both with helping to take care of the dog and with the psychological health of the boy not being endangered by confrontation with the dog's injuries (it seems to me we're generally applying the "psychological trauma" label too liberally) . As for the guilt, I assume it doesn't actually need much yelling to provoke it; the guilt will usually come all by itself. – Pascal Aug 1 at 21:41
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    This is probably off topic, but your answer reminds me of Jem in Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and how he had to atone for destroying the flowers by reading to the old horrible lady, which then surprisingly taught him a lesson about courage and strength. Okay, it's fiction, but I believe in the principle. I think this is where I first consciously encountered the idea of atonement. Just a thought. – Pascal Aug 1 at 21:54
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Trauma is a part of life. As an adult, your son won’t have the safety net you can provide for him now.

Let him face the consequences of his actions — that’s not trauma, that’s real life and taking responsibility. It hurts. Surgery hurts too.

Shielding children from pain — especially the pain of their own actions — rarely, if ever, helps them.

But there are few times later in life he will be able (or willing) to cry on your shoulder about it.

What you have the opportunity to do here is to love your son, to teach responsibility, and to let him face the suffering of regret and learn he is STILL redeemable.

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For his age, and his mental state as a pubescent teen I'm going to keep it simple and you should too.

He needs to get a job and pay for the surgery, and you need to follow through making sure that he does. Make it clear he is responsible for the full cost, then after he accepts that agree to pay no more than 50% of the cost. Keep the balance active until he actually pays it off. Don't agree to pay any of it until he accepts responsibility, this may not happen for months after you've told him he is paying for it.

As with real life, money talks. That is why people slow down when they see a cop. This is a lesson that he will learn from. Either he can get away with anything, or there are real consequences in life (which there are). If he doesn't learn the lesson here, he will pay a higher price to learn it later.

The lessons learned include responsibility, power to hurt others, cost of hurting others, the fact that money doesn't replace lost things (vision for the dog), loss of free time when earning money to pay it back, realizing authority figures don't back down, the grace of you paying some, and probably some others will be invaluable. Failure to teach these lessons will cause him to learn them later in life, perhaps with authority figures who are less understanding and flexible than you.

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    I thought of this too, but have one small problem with it: it seems to make money take care of the problem. In reality, money doesn't take care of many wrongs, and the message that it clears him of guilt is unhelpful at best. Yes, he should have to bear some financial responsibility, but he should do much more. (Take the dog to every vet visit, change the dog's dressings/wound care - under adult supervision - and help the dog to adjust to partial vision loss. – anongoodnurse Aug 1 at 18:03
  • i liked pascal's answer, but wanted to add emphasis on the financial responsibility. Since his answer is well written and thought out I figured I'd save the effort of repeating all that good stuff :) Might delete this since he actually mentioned it in passing. – Adam Heeg Aug 1 at 19:36
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She didn't want him to accompany us to the vet's because she was afraid it would be too traumatic for him.

He's a teenager. Hes old enough to face the consequence of his actions.

I just don't know what exactly that should be...

Work out a payment plan for him to cover the cost of the dog's care.

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    Can you explain why this is a good approach? – Anne Daunted Jul 31 at 18:22

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