Dear Dr. Bill,
My husband and I are having problems with our 14-year-old son. When we ask him to do work around the house, something always seems to get broken. This week it was some expensive glasses when he was emptying the dishwasher. A few months ago it was the snow shovel, right after he was asked to shovel the driveway. Our son dislikes work of any kind, and this seems to be his rebellious way of “getting back at us.” What should we do?
You’re describing a classic case of “passive aggressive” behavior. Your son agrees to perform a task he doesn’t want to do, but then lashes out in anger by “accidentally” breaking a dish or wrecking the snow shovel. You need to nip this behavior in the bud, or it will cause him significant problems later in life—with supervisors, colleagues--even his future spouse.
At 14-years-old, your son should have some limited freedom to discuss requests with you and your husband. When there’s no room for negotiation, he reluctantly agrees to the task but then acts out in passive aggressive ways.
Sit down with him when all three of you are in a good mood and address the issue head on. Tell him you know that you know he hasn’t been happy about some of the chores he’s been given, and let him know you’re willing to negotiate his assignments. But make it clear that the destructive behavior is unacceptable and needs to stop—or he will be losing ALL his privileges.
Be very specific about what’s expected of him—and what the consequences will be if he continues to act out in passive-aggressive ways.
Thanks for writing Robyn.
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