In this week’s “Parenting” segment on the Moncrieff show, a listener asked for advice on how to handle her son’s increasingly mean and upsetting behavior.
Joanna Fortune, a psychotherapist specializing in child and adult psychotherapy, joined Moncrieff to answer this question and those of other listeners.
“I have a 14 year old son, and until he started secondary school he was a very talkative and funny boy. However, in recent years I have started to notice a real side mean in him and that makes me feel uneasy.
“He does things that aren’t bold or crass, they’re actions that have malice behind them – for example, recently my husband won an award for playing golf and he broke it on purpose in front of us .
“He does similar things to his siblings and I just don’t know why? It’s starting to break my heart because I feel like the person I know is disappearing.
“My husband and I feel disconnected now and it keeps me up all night. I have tried different approaches like strict discipline and reasoning with him but nothing is working.
“This situation is now starting to change me, so I have to fix it. Could you ask your parenting expert to help you?”
“Usually he’s 14, he’s in his early teens, there’s a lot of changes happening internally for him… Part of the job of adolescence is to work towards autonomy and independence and some teenagers do it with a degree of refinement and some of them do it a little clumsier than others in the way they go about it.
“It can also manifest – and often does – with ‘I want more privacy, so I tell you less.’ This can be very difficult if you are a know-it-all parent who really wants to know more.
“Maybe ‘I have to experiment with new tastes, styles, music, friends.’ Anything that says, ‘I am my own person.’
“And although it can be very difficult – and have deeply unpleasant moments – at the same time, it is normal.
“Looking at it from another angle is thinking about it like a sieve and you sift through what might be difficult and unpleasant but normal to see what’s left. What’s beyond normal because this parent says : “It’s not rudeness, it’s something else.”
“It can also be a sign… of stress or anxiety in a teenager. It’s a way of saying something [he] lacks the words or emotional fluidity to express themselves verbally.
“So difficult feelings are hard to contain. They can be unpleasant and uncomfortable – it’s not very pleasant to sit down with a difficult feeling and one of the most effective ways to get rid of a difficult feeling is to let it out of yourself and project it onto someone else. Make them feel what you feel… Sometimes in the hope that you’ll give it back to me in little bites that I can make sense of.
“You often hear that phrase, ‘Hurting people, hurting people’ and there’s something to that. This is a very general comment, but people in pain will often lash out and hurt others.
“The best way to get to a place of behavioral correction is to do it through an emotional connection. You’ve tried a lot of things, you’ve talked about ‘hard discipline’. I don’t really know what that means. – I think that would mean different things to all of us – and the reasoning.
“But when you’re excited by fear [and] anxiety, when you’re irritable, you’re not at your… best.
“It’s about approaching things in a different way and empathy is always the best way to do that and again that doesn’t mean you’re permissive or soft or say ‘Anything goes. !’ He says very clearly, “That’s not right and that’s not who you are either” I know that this behavior is not who you are and because of that I’m curious to know what else could happen.
“Because what I don’t hear here is, ‘Does this boy have any friends? Does he have any interests, hobbies, ties to groups of people outside of the family? »
“Because if he has friends and a group of friends, he is capable of positive interaction and connection, because his friends won’t hold him back if he behaves in a ‘mean’ way.
“So be curious, could there be an underlying reason that you don’t know?” How’s it going at school? How is it with friends?
“He can’t feel bad about himself and then see you thinking and feeling bad because it reinforces that negative point of view… So you have to come there from a place of kindness and connection.”
Main image: Teenage boys are seen on their way to school in Dublin. Image by: Rollingnews.ie