At Wit's End... | Teaching Self-Government

At Wit's End...

I have a 14yo son who I cannot deal with any more.  It isn't a new thing.  He's my oldest and ever since he was little I have felt like I can't deal with him.  He is defiant, impulsive, selfish, and almost any other negative thing I can think of.    When he sees how emotional his behavior makes me he feels guilty and apologizes and tries to do better for a little while but it doesn't last.
We've tried to set up self-government.  We made a family mission statement but he won't agree to it.  He won't agree to any consequences we vote on.  Even when he is outvoted he finds a way around a rule.  For example, we made a rule that says you have to take an extra chore if you hurt or annoy someone.  When he punches my daughter inappropriately, but not hard, he doesn't think that counts.  When he loses privileges or gets extra chores he gets so angry and violent it punishes everyone else more than him.  
We homeschool but for two days last week he was out of our home for other activities.  It was heaven.  There wasn't any fighting, arguing, annoyances, and we actually got some learning done.  Now he's back and things are back to normal but I don't like that "normal".  It's not right but I don't know where to begin.
Thanks,
At Wit's End
Dear, At Wit's End,
     14 year olds are amazingly anxious as well as incredibly mold-able.  I have had my fair share of 14 year olds with anger control problems and respect issues.  Give me a 13 or 14 year old any day if you want to see someone change.  They want to change and do change.  Age 14 is a great time to make a lasting impact on youth.  It is so good that you are focusing so much attention on teaching self government now because the older a youth gets the harder it is to make changes in their behaviors. 
     It sounds like you are doing good things at your house.  Family meetings are so important for family communication, order, and mutual respect.
     I have a few thoughts for you.  First, your son doesn't seem to feel ownership of his emotions yet and obviously has disconnected himself from the family relationships.  He sounds like he is "out of instructional control" fairly often.  If my child is "out of instructional control" and not motivated to control his behaviors, he doesn't get to do privilege things like activities, friends, scouts, etc.  Years ago, I wouldn't even send my out of control foster youth to school if they couldn't pull themselves together and accept consequences. 
     Activities are not rights, they are privileges.  Our children need to know that if we can't be sure they can control their behaviors at home, we can't send them out into public.  It isn't fair to the public.  The youth could argue that he wouldn't have a problem in the public.  Our response to that is, "Home is the place where we learn how to communicate and love people.  If someone can't communicate effectively and lovingly at home then a good parent can't send that child out to communicate with other people.  NOTHING ELSE MATTERS (NOT SCHOOL SUBJECTS, NOTHING) IF THE FAMILY RELATIONSHIP IS NOT WORKING FOR THE HAPPINESS OF THE FAMILY."  "No success in life can compensate for failure in the home."  This saying applies to our children too. 
      Second, no parent wants to do the rule of three and teach appropriate behaviors to out of control youth.  This is not fun.  It is time consuming.  In fact it can be a little draining.  Because parents feel this way, I have noticed that we on purpose give our children too many chances to change before we actually start teaching cause and effect.  EACH ONE CAUSE HAS EXACTLY ONE EFFECT!  If your son doesn't accept one consequence, he earns another.  If he doesn't follow one instruction, he earns a consequence.  Likewise, if he chooses to follow one instruction, he earns one positive consequence.  You may need to be more consistent with consequences.  I know it is easy to want to let some things go for convenience, but in the end it makes a lot more work for the parents and youth.  You may be letting him emotionally walk on you.  If he is "out of instructional control" (this could look like arguing, not following an instruction, not accepting a consequence, pouting, not talking at all to you, or getting aggressive etc.)  then you need to start the rule of three.  Soon, maybe in one week, if you are really consistent and let him earn to miss stuff, he will choose, on his own, to master his hard behaviors. If it wasn't a possibility to ever get a speeding ticket, you would keep right on speeding.  You need consequences to obey laws and principles, and so do your children. 
      You and your son may be more alike than you know.  Don't forget to practice the principle of trust.  Trust that he really does want to do good, but probably has a lot of anxiety in certain situations and has never analyzed them enough control his anxieties.  Help him analyze his emotions and anxieties by teaching to every behavior that is negative, and by analyzing what he could have done to control his emotion. 
     Incidentally, he probably really needs to learn the skill disagreeing appropriately.  If he is defiant, then he obviously disagrees, but doesn't know how to do it in an appropriate way. 
 
I hope those thoughts help. 
 
Keep Swimming!  We are all a work in progress; parents and children!
 
Nicholeen Peck