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Parenting Stepchildren/12 yr old step son behavior problem

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Question
Hi Rick,

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.

Thanks,

Dan.

Answer
Dan...

This boy has gone through a lot.  I know you already know this but it is important to emphasize this.  First of all his bio dad left before he was born, and then a father figure that he probably connected with also left.  There may have been other boyfriends of his mother that came into and then left his life.  I am sure that there is some sense that you will leave him too.  

Our daughters started feeling the impact of the loss of their dad about this age.  They began to get angry and resentful.  

Sending him off to military school or boarding school would most likely give him the message that he is not wanted and unfortunately you would likely take the brunt of the anger for this.  He would see you as the one that convinced his mother to send him away. And his behaviour would likely get worse.

This boy is crying out for help and love.  Your role as new step Dad is a support for your wife.  Only she has the history and authority to discipline him.

My suggestion is that you have a family meeting where you all sit down and talk about how you want this family to be like. This is not a meeting where you dictate the behaviour that is acceptable in the house but you have an open discussion on what each person's responsibility in the home is.  What do each of you value?  Perhaps talk about your early family and the troubles that you had to live through.  Help him to understand that you are there and committed to this relationship with your wife and to this family.  

Do you do things with him?  Play ball or go to sports games, or whatever his interests are.  Start building a relationship with him. When you have a quiet moment together, talk with him about how hard it must be to have to have all of these changes in his life. Then just listen to him without judgement.  

Give him a chance to adjust to this new family situation.  Love him, guide him and include him in family discussion, and decisions.  

And remember that mom needs to take the lead in discipline and you are in the support role for both of them.

Rick

Parenting Stepchildren

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Rick Olson

Expertise

As a stepparent of 4 children and a family coach, I can answer questions about the issues that arise in step-parenting including discipline,blended families, boundaries and guidelines.

Experience

I have 18 years as a stepfather, and over three years as a family coach focusing on unifying, strengthening and empowering families.

Publications
My wife and I have written 2 books on Family FUSE Your Family - Family: Unify Strengthen Empower! and Raising Families

Education/Credentials
BA(Recreation Administration) Grad Studies in Urban and Regional Planning and Design Certified as a LifeSuccess Consultant/Coach

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