Dear Stavroula: Mom and Stepdad Dealing with Moody Teen

(AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Dear Stavroula,

I am 48 years old and I have lived in the United States for about ten years. I came with my husband and my son who was a child from a previous marriage when he was five years old. My first husband passed away when my son was a baby. We adjusted to life here quickly, my son more easily, and for years our life was calm. For about a year, however, my son’s behavior has changed – everything annoys him, he gets angry with the slightest thing, and he yells at us, often becoming insulting, and he no longer wants to come out with us. I understand that he has entered adolescence which accounts for his behavior and I am patient. He is not a bad kid, he has never gotten into trouble with friends, he doesn’t drink or smoke, and he is a good student. But he is very unfair with us, and now he is in conflict with his stepfather, who has raised him as his own child. My husband has no other children and he has given all his love to my child and he finds our son’s behavior towards him very upsetting. He cannot understand why my son is so confrontational towards him. I do not know what to do when they fight. I feel like I should take a side, but I do not want to take anyone’s side.

MK

Dear M,

An explosive temper and anger are characteristic of the behavior of adolescents and can have many different causes, mainly the changes in hormones and the body. Their way of thinking is often wrong, since their brains have not yet been fully formed, so they often act in an absurd and risky manner and seem unable to fully understand the consequences of their actions or to assume their responsibilities.

In addition, their feelings are so confused and intense that they often cannot control them. They feel they are grown up and are struggling to find their identity and to become independent. In their quest, they lash out at what they think keeps them tied to childhood, that is us, parents.

Of course, each child is a distinct personality, and if there are any changes in your son’s behavior that worry you or go beyond the limits, it would be advisable to seek the advice of an expert.

You write to me that he is a child who has not caused you trouble with friends and that he is a good student, meaning he has not escaped the principles he has learned, and has dreams and goals for his life. This is very positive and shows maturity.

As for his relationship with his stepfather, I have not understood from your letter how it has been shaped over the years, but it seems to be balanced. Perhaps now, when your son entered puberty, he collides with his stepfather, as he would probably have confronted his natural father if he lived. Adolescence is the stage where the son tries to exist as an individual, without relying on the father. If the father does not give him confidence or antagonizes him and tries to boss him around, the conflict is inevitable. The father’s role in this phase is to gradually leave more space for his son, to allow him to make decisions about his life and to respect his views.

Therefore, your husband’s attitude should be characterized by love and respect for the young man who he has been raising for so many years. And when the teenager rages and shouts, he should not fall to the same level of violent behavior, or the continuation of the fight with raised voices and words that he will regret. In this case, the best behavior for the adult is to let the teenager relax and give him the opportunity to think reasonably. “I refuse to discuss anything with you while you speak this way. Once you calm down and decide to treat me with respect, I am at your disposal to discuss and solve the disagreement,” is perhaps a response that could stop a fight with an angry teenager.

In no way do we claim that parents should not put limits on the behavior and the “wants” of the teenager. The limits and rules are important and the teen needs them to feel safe.

As for your attitude, I do not think it would be good for anyone to take a position in favor of the son or husband during a fight, even if their relationship is antagonistic. It might be preferable to discuss with each person separately about where each one is right or wrong and support your opinion with arguments.