In my weekly “Ask Manny” post, I answer questions from actual parents seeking advice on challenging issues and topics. Last time, I talked about yelling. If you have parenting paradox of your own that you would like Manny to weigh in on, write to me here. This week, an anonymous reader asks about for help with her stepson’s problem behavior:
My stepson and husband love video games. For hubby it is one of many hobbies, but for his son it is an obsession, staying up all night playing and sneaking out of bed to play on the TV or computers. It has gotten to the point that he stole a credit card and charged $200 for games on his DS. He also eats everything, like 1lb bags of pretzels, cans of peanut butter, cokes and takes things that we ask him not to. He is 10 and does what we ask him to (cleaning, etc) and is generally a good kid. He did not seem fazed by the punishment (grounded) or by what he did. His father says rules won’t matter, I think he needs boundaries. Where do I start?
Since you asked where to start, I’m going to cut right to the chase: the first step is that you and your husband need to get on the same page about how to manage Junior’s behavior.
You are absolutely right that he needs rules and boundaries, and you can tell hubby I said so. Not only do kids need boundaries, they like them. They crave order and structure. Out loud, they’ll deny it up and down, but inside, that’s what their developing minds and bodies truly need.
So, you need to lay down rules and boundaries for Junior, and you need Dad to back you up on them. It doesn’t matter how great a parent you are, if Junior knows Dad will let him get away with his negative behavior, he will ignore your rules and target Dad, splitting your defenses like an overripe cantaloupe. This is especially true in a stepchild situation, where he can always break out the cruel old “You’re not my Mom!” card on you.
Sorry, Dad, you can’t just throw your hands up on this one.
Step 2 is to establish a system of rules, privileges and consequences for Junior. This can take several forms, and you can modify to fit the needs of your family. For example, you could do something like this:
That’s one plan. Adapt that however you see fit, but the important thing is structure, discipline and consistency. Remember that you and Dad are the parents. That means you are in control, and he is not. You need to exercise that control and make it clear to Junior what the boundaries are.
Third, consider the consequences you are using to punish his negative behavior. Grounding may not be ideal, since everything Junior loves to do is right at home. Depending on the terms of his grounding, you may actually be reinforcing the behavior.
Maybe try a chore jar instead, or have him lose some of the screen time he earned previously. Think about what he dislikes and use that to your advantage. That sounds sinister, but there doesn’t have to be anything cruel about it. It’s just teaching the right way to behave using logical consequences.
Fourth, get him involved in some other, alternative activities. Have him take a swimming class at the local YMCA. Find a week long soccer camp. Heck, play to his interests – he’s into video games, have him take a summer course in computer programming.
Last, but most certainly not least, he’s gotta pay that $200 back. Give him chores to help around the house and assign a fair dollar value to each one. He works on those until he’s worked off every dollar he owes you, and in the mean time he doesn’t get his DS. This is an opportunity to teach that theft is wrong and it comes with heavy consequences. He needs to know that what he did is not OK, and he needs to be the one who pays for what he took.
(I’m actually inclined to say he has to make double restitution, but I’m something of a hard ass on that score. You’re the parent, it’s your call.)
Phew! I know that got a little long, but I hope it helped, dear reader. If you have any further questions or need help finding resources in your, please feel free to write me again or contact the Boys Town National Hotline at 1-800-448-3000. They have a national database of resources for parents and families.
Got a problem of your own that could use the Manny touch? Write to me here!
(Image credit: RebeccaPollard’s flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.)