Q&A: My 16yo Won’t Grow Up! How Can I Get Him to be Responsible?
A mom asks, “My 16yo is driving me crazy! He won’t do his schoolwork. He argues with everything we say. He blames someone else for everything that happens. He’s not obeying and he’s disrespectful. If we say he can’t use the internet, he does anyway and says we don’t trust him. He just won’t grow up! It’s so hard! What do I do?”
If we were talking to this mom, it might sound like a weird question, but we’d ask, “What kind of things do you have him doing that require independence? What kind of things is he responsible for?”
Sometimes we see this kind of behavior when older teen guys are feeling constrained. They want to grow up but they are still being treated like children. The hardest part is that they tend to respond by acting *more* irresponsible, hard-headed, and childish, which makes their parents give them less independence and responsibility, which strains the relationship, and you’re on a downward spiral.
Your mileage may vary, but here’s what we’d do: We would sit him down and say, “Son, it’s time to talk reality. You’ve got two years to go before you have to be supporting yourself. What are your plans??”
Whatever he says is likely to be unrealistic at this point, but you need to take it very seriously and talk it through. You plan to get a job at _______? You do know they won’t hire someone who drops out of high school? Honey, I just can’t graduate you unless you meet basic standards! (We homeschool. If you don’t, his report cards will help out here.) Even you do graduate, let’s look at what it takes to live on around here. Is it possible to support a family on what you could make doing that?
You plan to go to college? But, son, most colleges require you to have a year beyond Algebra 2 and you’re nowhere near getting that much math done. That’s not going to work.
Don’t be snarky, be concerned. He really needs to sober up. If you take it seriously, he is more likely to do the same. You’re probably going to need to really do some research here and show him what a mess he’ll be in if he doesn’t get going.
Yeah, I know, son, you’re kind of up a tree. We’ll help you all we can, but really, you’re a man and you’ve got to decide how you’re going to take care of this part of your life. We know you want to have a wife and children one day, and we’ve seen that would be really hard on the kind of job you could get without finishing your education well.
You know what, though. You are really smart and determined and we believe you can catch up to where you need to be. Let’s make a list of what you are going to need to have accomplished in the next 24 months — you’ll be starting your senior year then. Okay, I want you to spend tomorrow coming up with a plan of how you’re going to do this. We’ll meet again tomorrow night.
You’ll need to address his attitude, but FIRST he’s got to own his life and education. At 16 years old you can no longer drag him through life, as you’ve found out. Taking responsibility for himself will help out the other problems, too, most likely.
Here’s the deal, son. We live in a household together here. I know you want to be treated like an adult. We want to do that, too.
An adult, however, is someone that takes responsibility for his own behavior. A man takes the blame he has coming, and the consequences, too, he doesn’t try to weasel out of it. A man does his duty. A man lives courteously with his family and housemates. I’m just not seeing that. I think you can do that and I expect you to do that. For one thing, I’m going to tell you just like I would any man, “You’re not going to talk to my bride that way.” I’m going to try to recognize that you will soon be on your own and treat you like an adult in this house and you are going to act like one. All right?
The next part is the most important.
You have got to show your love and delight in him, hard as it might be (men crave respect) and restore your relationship. In a couple of short years he can walk away from you. You have got to show him love, tell him what he’s doing right, enjoy him, and perhaps most importantly, listen to him. If authority doesn’t transition to trust and relationship in these next few years, you will lose the influence you have over him. A good relationship with mom and dad is the biggest predictor a kid will stay in the faith. Parenting has to change as our kids approach independent adulthood — and at that point, relationship is the most critically important thing. He knows where you stand. Show him how you care., too.
Dealing with older teens is a balancing act. We’ve got to keep our tempers when they don’t. Stay on an even keel when they’re thrashing around in a storm of emotion. Remain kind when they are ugly. We’ve got to be firm on essentials, but let them stand on their own in more and more things and eventually just about everything. It isn’t easy, but it’s very worth it. Our adult children are some of the biggest blessings in our lives.
We’ll be talking with you and your teens about taking charge of their own education and taking responsibility for their own lives in our newest online class series, PreFlight. We’re starting in a few days. Y’all join us!
Yours in the battle,
Hal & Melanie