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Parenting Stepchildren/12 year old step son has authority issues


Hello Peter,

I need some advice on how to handle my 12yr old step son.  I've been married to his mom for about a year now and he is her only child.  His real Dad left his mom when she was pregnant.  Before i came into the picture about 2 years ago, my wife was living with another man, who was a good father figure to my step son, for about 3 years.  The ex cheated on my wife and she kicked him out and they split up.  So, I understand that my step son has gone through a lot.

But this past year, since we've been married, he has been getting worse and worse when it comes to his behavior.  His school is constantly calling us and saying that he talks back to his teachers and makes a mess in the lunch room and just doesn't listen to anybody.  His grades are slipping and now its to the point where he lies and doesn't even show up to school.  He also doesn't listen to us when we tell him to do simple chores around the house.  My wife is ready to send him to some type of boarding school or military school to straighten him out.

What do you suggest we can do about this situation?  is a boarding school or military school a good idea?  She tried a psychologist a while back and it didn't do any good, because he doesn't want to listen to anyone.

Your opinion and time is greatly appreciated.



Hi Dan - From what you wrote, your stepson has been traumatized several times in his young life. He has probably inherited major psychological wounds from his ancestors, and needs patient, informed help to (a) reduce his wounds over time, (b) grieve several massive losses; and (c) adjust to stepfamily life again .

Typical stepkids have a daunting number of simultaneous adjustment tasks to master. Few coparents know the scope of these tasks or how to help effectively with them:

From your description, I suspect that at least your wife and both her exes are "Grown Wounded Children" (GWCs). This will have unintentionally inhibited effective parenting, causing the boy to feel hurt, angry, distrustful, sad,and ashamed. I doubt that military school will help him heal these. I suggest:

1] you mates adopt a long-range view, and learn about inherited psychological wounds:

2] View your stepson's behaviors as a stepfamily problem, not an individual one;

3] You mates learn basic info about managing a stepfamily:

Then study this free online course together:

4] Select from these resources to gain knowledge of effective co-parenting options:

5] Seek experienced clinical help from a veteran stepfamily therapist

Bottom line:

1} assess for and reduce your own wounds via "lesson 1" at

2] learn what your stepson needs and assess his status on these needs;

3] learn stepfamily realities, and work to [a] preserve your integrities and union, while [b] helping your stepson fill his mosaic of healing, schooling, and adjustment needs.

4} I suspect military school might help the boy in limited ways, but won't heal his psychological wounds or nourish your stepfamily.

If you have questions on any of this, pleased ask!

Compassionately, Pete  

Parenting Stepchildren

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Peter Gerlach, MSW


I can answer questions about remarriage preparation, stepparenting, stepchild discipline, child visitation, grieving, stepfamily norms and myths, mission statements, stepparent job (role)descriptions, communication skills, loyalty and values conflicts, stepfamily identity problems, common pitfalls, ex mate and relative problems, stepfamily merger and adjustment tasks, name confusions, choosing an effective counselor, resolving money disputes, co-parenting support groups, and the family effects of court (legal) battles. I can`t answer questions about medicine, family law, legal stepchild adoption, or financial planning.


I have studied and worked with stepfamilies clinically since 1979, and I have been a "step everything" personally. I was invited to be on the board of the Stepfamily Association of America (SAA) by it's founders, Drs. John and Emily Visher; and later was re-invited by president Margory Engle, PhD. For more detail, see this.

Former Board member, Stepfamily Association of America (SAA)
National Stepfamily Resource Center (NSRC)Experts Council

Hundreds of Web articles on ; I've uploaded over 150 self-improvement videos on YouTube; and have self-published 6 books. My ad-free Web site offers a unique, practical 7-lesson self-improvement course.

Stanford University BSME (1958) George Williams College MSW (1981) Hundreds of post-graduate seminars on a wide variety of "mental health" subjects

Awards and Honors
Hundreds of appreciative emails and comments on my Web site and videos from people all over the world.

Past/Present Clients
I have worked clinically with over 1,000 midwestern divorced and remarried family members, and have had over 800 stepfamily students in various seminars and courses since 1981

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