By Christine Murray, PhD, LPC, LMFT, Director of the Healthy Relationships Initiative
Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on the form HERE.
My son is in middle school and is doing great academically, but his behavior is another story. I keep hearing it’s a “middle school boy thing” that he will grow out of, but what I worry about most is that he is creating a bad reputation for himself in the school and among the teachers. He also says it’s not always his fault, but he keeps gets blamed. We tell him it’s most likely because teachers are associating him with the bad or silly behavior. Despite repeated talks (and punishments), this continues to happen. What is the best way to get through to a boy at this age? ~ Exhausted Parent
Dear Exhausted Parent:
It sounds like you’re having a hard time figuring out exactly what’s been going on with your son’s behavior, especially since he’s getting good grades and saying that sometimes, he’s getting blamed for the behaviors of other kids. With this in mind, a good starting point is to approach this situation with a sense of curiosity to try to gain a better understanding of the situation to help you figure out your next steps.
First, find some time to talk more with your son to learn more about his behaviors, his teachers, and what’s been going on with him at school. Check out this past blog post for some general tips on getting teens to talk with you if he’s hesitant to open up to you. Approach this conversation from the angle of, “I want to understand more about how you see things,” rather than, “I am trying to figure out how best to punish you.” A few points you can touch on in this conversation (or series of conversations) include the following:
- When do the troubling behaviors typically happen? What usually happens right before they occur?
- Are there particular friends or classmates who are most often involved with the behaviors?
- Are there particular teachers with whom he seems most likely to get in trouble?
- How does he feel when he gets blamed for the behaviors of other students?
- How does he view the consequences he receives for the behaviors from the school and from you?
Once you’ve gained a greater understanding of the situation, try to work with your son to develop a plan of action to help him reduce the negative behaviors and increase positive behaviors. Because kids at this age are still pretty concrete thinkers, it may help to write or type up a plan together that includes incentives for positive behaviors and consequences for negative behaviors. If he feels like he’s been a part of creating that plan, then he may be more likely to follow it and choose behaviors that will lead to the incentives for the positive behaviors, especially if those incentives are things that he really gets excited about.
Next, if possible, take your sense of curiosity to one or more teachers at the school. Often, middle school is a time when many parents feel less connected to what’s going on at school and have less frequent contact with teachers. However, it’s a good idea to reach out to your son’s teachers to see if they can share more with you about what their perspective is on your son’s behaviors. It may be that they view his behaviors as normal among his peers, or they may have greater concerns. In either case, talking with them can offer you clues into other possible ways to address your concerns with your son.
If your son’s behaviors are very troubling to you, and you don’t feel like you are getting through to him on his own, then consider seeking the help of a professional counselor to guide you and your son through this season of life. A counselor can also help your son have another adult to confide in and to help him think through the choices that he’s making.
Beyond addressing the specific negative behaviors that your son is showing, continue to focus on his positive behaviors as well. The fact that he’s excelling academically is a sign that he’s on a good path, and you can encourage him by pointing out his strengths and helping to build his confidence by noticing the things he’s good at. This doesn’t just apply to his school performance, but also positive character traits you see in him, such as a having funny sense of humor, being a good friend, and showing kindness to others.
Finally, help your son to dream and plan for his future, including both shorter-term goals, like playing on a school sports team, and longer-term goals, like his future career vision. Having a positive sense of hope for his future and a drive to make those things happen can give him some extra motivation to work on his behaviors, especially if you can help him connect his choices today with his hopes for the future.
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