My son has always been an honor roll student and played sports (many of them). Now he is 13 and is becoming lazy about homework, doesn’t want to spend time with our family and only cares about playing video games at his friend’s house. When I ask him to do chores or homework he argues with me, gets mad, and sometimes lies and says he doesn’t have any homework just so he can go to his friend’s house. I don’t know how to handle it. I’m afraid if I forbid him from being with "Tyler" he’ll just rebel more. Please advise me!
First, do not let your son’s rebelling (or threats of it) stop you from setting limits with him about his inappropriate behavior. Your son will rebel anyway, that is the nature of adolescence. It is also the nature of adolescents to gravitate toward peers. This does not mean that your son needs you any less, but that he needs you even more. Children need love and limits, and when provided, they learn responsibility, which is necessary to become productive members of society. Thus, children require our active involvement and monitoring.
Concerning advice, set limits with him around homework and chores. One option you may want to consider is to use what’s called the Premack Principle. According to the Premack Principle, a high probability behavior can reinforce a low probability behavior. In your son’s case, a high probability behavior is playing video games and a low probability behavior is doing homework (or chores). Thus, making video game playing contingent upon homework completion can be an effective strategy. That is, do not allow him to play video games (or play with his friends) until his homework is completed (and/or his chores). Initially, he will rebel. However, your persistence will eventually pay off (within days).
One way of thinking about your son’s "rebellious behavior" is that it is a temper tantrum. Temper tantrums persist in children because they work. Children learn that if they scream loud enough or long enough eventually they will get what they want (their parents will give in). Your son will give up this behavior when it no longer works. Parents who out-last their children’s temper tantrums (i.e., do not give in) are rewarded with child acceptance. Consequently, your persistence is a wonderful opportunity for your son to learn new more socially appropriate behavior.
Concerning your son’s lying about homework, I have found several strategies useful. (1) Set up a daily report card (DRC) system with your son’s teachers such that they list each day’s assignments. The DRC can take the form of a checklist where the teacher places a check mark in a category corresponding to behavior you are interested. For example, the teacher can check "Yes" or "No" whether or not your son completed homework, came to class prepared, came to class on time, etc. After your son returns home from school, you can review with him his DRC and based on his school behavior determine whether he has access to preferred activities (e.g., video games, time with friends, etc. (2) Assign your own homework. Whether or not your son has homework, time each evening should be devoted to academic pursuits. Assigning your son homework in an area that he has difficulty (e.g., math or science) or just giving him a book to read with a follow-up report to write will allow your son an opportunity to develop better academic skills, but also, structure his evening time. Make sure you observe and reward every instance of compliance. As your son becomes more responsible he should be able to earn more rewards.
One way to get your son on the right track is to develop a "Family Contract" that can be posted on the refrigerator. This contract should list "Rules" and "Rewards and Consequences" for rule compliance and infraction. Let the contract be the "bad guy." Refer your son to the contract when there is an infraction. Rewards can be generated by asking your son to list things or activities he likes. To increase success get your son involved in making the rules; always think about problems ahead of time; use praise in addition to earning a privilege; enforce rules unemotionally; stick with it, it will work. Thus, in developing your rules think:
Is it enforceable 100% of the time?
Is the expected behavior clearly defined?
Is the rule specific enough?
Have all loopholes been plugged?
Alison Birnbaum is a Licensed Certified Social Worker who is a parenting expert in the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. She has a private practice in New Canaan, CT
offers both adolescent intervention and treatment programs. Call us at 254-690-4455!