Being a Positive Influence in an Angstful Teenager's Life

Updated on May 16, 2013
J.G. asks from Chicago, IL
17 answers

One of my friends has a 14 year old. Yesterday, he threw a teenage tantrum during an exchange he and I had. Sometimes we have these really nice witty exchanges, but yesterday it didn't work out so great. During his tantrum, I gently said to him,. "I'm sorry I made you angry, that wasn't my intent." And he responded by saying,."i'm always angry, because of her (pointing at mom). She takes her bad moods out on me."

This kid is the oldest of 5. The others are much younger, 8, 6, 4 and 1. This teen spends a lot of time taking care of little people, and he has been complaining for weeks about their "noise." While helping to feed and carry the little ones, this teen is never left alone with them. In fact, yesterday, after my encouragement, their mom finally left him to monitor them in the car while she ran into a store.

I need suggestions on how to be a positive influence in his life, a non-parent adult he can talk to? Sometimes he and I have really nice exchanges, like I'll notice he looks tired or grumpy, ask him about it, and he will just talk and talk. I'd like to encourage more of this, as I think he may need a non-parent adult in his life, and I see him a few times a week....

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So What Happened?

I encouraged the mom to let him babysit because (1) he doesn't take care of the kids all that much -in comparison to other teenagers with young siblings I know- -and (2) because I think she needs to start treating him like a capable teenager. He is 14. I babysat all the time at 14. At 14 I was going into the city with my friends, hanging out and doing lots of crazy teenage stuff. This 14 year old just started being left at the library alone. I think encouraging some independence is a good thing, and suggesting she drop him off at the mall just isn't realistic if she won't even leave him alone in the car to babysit the other kids for 10 minutes! I do think he needs time away from his siblings, but she won't even leave him at home alone at this point, so suggesting she let him go off with friends at the mall would be too much. I saw this suggestion as a babystep for her to encouraging more independence for him.

My point is not to try to meddle. I so don't want to meddle... I guess I just need to be an empathetic listener, and I need to just model good communication skills when his temper flares up?

I do know this mom is working on helping him learn how to handle disagreements. She says that it's like he believes you need to yell to get your point across. So I'm curious as to how to help a teenager learn how to manage conflict through modeling?

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answers from Dallas on

I suggest what input you have now, is appropriate. Anything more and it's interference. I understand you want to be a good influence in his life and I think you are. You were a teen once, and you understand his feelings.

What you are not, is an experienced parent of a teen. You have never felt that weight and the balance it requires. The dance between ignoring the petulance, while still getting them to be responsible, is best handled from the inside of a family.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

It's easy to be a positive role model to a child. Just let him know that you care and are available to listen to him any time he needs to talk about things. It sounds like his mom is just overwhelmed meeting the needs of all her children and it's so easy to let the oldest one go unnoticed because he/she is able to do most things by himself/herself. They aren't as physically needy and busy parents overlook the emotional needy stuff.

My oldest daughter had a friend who's mom had died years ago. Her father had poor parenting skills which would have been ok had he been co-parenting. Left to raise 2 daughters on his own was just too much. I let the girls know that my door was always open and they joined us whenever they needed a little mothering. I didn't push for information or tried to give them what I thought was needed. I just let them set the tone and let them open up when they wanted.

5 moms found this helpful

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answers from San Francisco on

I was the oldest of four and left in charge of my younger siblings all the time at that age.
I HATED it. Everything they did got on my nerves, especially the noise.
I think there's nothing wrong with older kids having SOME responsibility for their younger siblings, but really this poor kid should be doing a lot more, playing sports, hanging out with friends, spending time on hobbies or clubs, basically pursuing his interests and passions.
Since you're not his mom I don't really know what you can do other than be a sympathetic ear, and maybe encourage him to sign up for things outside the home. Hopefully his mom will let out the leash, otherwise his resentment will only escalate.
ETA: I hope he didn't actually throw a tantrum, at 14?!?! That's REALLY weird if he did, something may be "off" with this boy :-(

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

I'm confused. The previous responders gave good suggestions... don't over step.
But I am not understanding your comment about you encouraging the mom to let him watch the kids in the car alone while she ran into a store. What is that about? I don't get your point. You think he needs more responsibility with his siblings that he (from your description) feeds and carries around all the time and complains about their "noise"? I don't understand what you were attempting there, with that. You think he needs MORE time with them? You think he needs unsupervised time with them? What?

Seems like the opposite is more likely. He needs some time away from them. I honestly expected you to be going on about how he is being forced into a caregiver/parent role with his younger siblings and has no time to be a teen kid himself. What a surprise when you said you encouraged his mother to let him watch the siblings. Strange.

Ok, well I have a 14 year old son. And honestly, I would be more comfortable leaving him at home alone than in a car with 4 younger siblings sitting in a parking lot. Anytime you have a kid (teen or not) or anyone, really, in charge of little kids, there is a lot more responsibility involved than leaving the person alone. Which leads me back to what I was expecting before... are you sure that it isn't she is afraid to leave him alone, instead of that she is afraid to deal with all the little ones alone without him with her? I can see quite easily how a single mom of 5, could rely heavily on a 14 year old son, when the other kids are age 8 and under... almost as a surrogate father to them. I'm sure not intentionally... and it may not look that way... but if he is feeding them, carrying them, and they are coming to him with their problems, and there is no dad on the scene.. .then you have to wonder. I get the whole thing where older siblings help with younger ones and all that. But, if there is no dad, where does his role stop being an older sibling and start being make-shift dad instead?

Can you describe what you mean by "he doesn't take care of the kids all that much -in comparison to other teenagers with young siblings I know". What do the other siblings you know do that he isn't doing? Are you aware of everything he does do? How? Because it sure sounds like he is not getting any time alone. And I can tell you, having a 14 yr old son at home myself, that alone time is a HUGE need of theirs at this age. This is the age where they tend to retreat to their rooms for large swaths of time. Very normal. But is this boy getting to do that? Or is he constantly inundated with noise and siblings and no ability to escape that. And that doesn't even cover his individual personality type. I am an introvert myself, and if "I" were surrounded by 4 noisy kids every waking moment I would go crazy myself... even as an adult. Everyone needs alone time... some much more than others. And at 14, he probably craves a lot of it. Is he getting it?
Maybe if you want to help him, you could offer his mom the opportunity to take him places one on one, and you babysit her other 4 kids. ? He is old enough to go on a date night with his mom to a more mature movie than his younger siblings---or her to take him and a couple of friends to the movies. Or take him shopping for clothes (without the younger ones in tow), etc.

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answers from Washington DC on

Does this boy have any outside activities -- anything in his life other than school and his family setting? School clubs, a sport, church youth group, Boy Scouts, anything at all?

If not (and I suspect the answer is "not"?) then some outlet that is his and his alone --not shared with the siblings, not something he "has" to do but chooses to do -- would do him a huge amount of good. He needs time and space away from his parents and siblings and he needs to have something that expresses his interests and his goals -- not mom's, not dad's, not school's, but his own.

If the mom is open to it, you could suggest to her that she work with him to find a summer activity that he goes to -- outside the house, without mom. She really cannot hover like this over a kid his age, or he is going to rebel and rebel badly, very soon. If he likes computers, find a summer computer camp for a week or two (not every "camp" means all day all summer long!). If he likes the outdoors, find an outdoor camp. Sports, a sports camp. Music, a music camp. Camp also does not mean he has to go away, which it sounds like his mom would object to; there are tons of day camps. Older kids have a lot more options these days and there are things for his age group out there but mom will HAVE to work to find them and be supportive of his doing it, and yes, she will have to accept that he is not around to care for siblings if he's at at a computer camp or art class or climbing class every day for two weeks! He will be with other adults. Most camps do full background checks on adult leaders or teachers now. And a camp or class in summer could open her to the idea of his having more activities when school starts. He really needs an outlet!

If cost is an issue: Some camps are cheap if done through local parks and recreation departments of your county or city government. Some private ones have sliding scale fees if there is a real, documentable need for them. Maybe you can offer to pay for a class or camp or outing as an early birthday gift for him.

Meanwhile, yes, talk to him; perhaps downplay the "witty exchanges" since that may not be where his head is right now. Try to get him away from the siblings. I'd offer to hire him to mow the lawn and do other yard chores on a regular basis with a set fee, to give him some independence and money. Or give him books about something that interests him. Always ask him what he's doing, what interests him, if he saw the latest episode of his favorite show (if you watch it too, that's even better; more to talk about).

I want to say a huge THANK YOU to you, for caring about this boy. He sounds a bit lost among his siblings, and it sounds as if his mom does care but might not be seeing that he is at an age where he needs to have more independence and not be expected to care for the siblings nearly as much. Getting him into some activities outside the home would help him feel he's got an identity outside the family -- something a kid this age really, really craves.

If I'm wrong and he does have some outside interests -- does mom stick to him at all of them? That would be suffocating for a boy of 14.

By the way -- do you think your friend really does "take out her bad moods" on him? Do you see any evidence that she is more critical of him than of the younger kids, or expect maybe too much of him? His comment about that is rather telling -- it may have just been unfounded anger or it may have been true, if she expects him to be a babysitter but is herself always peering over his shoulder as if she can't trust him....I would not interfere based on that comment, but I would keep my ears open to see if she does seem to expect him to be Mr. Babysitter while at the same time treating him as if he's not responsible at all.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

The best way to influence a child is to develop a relationship with them and lead by example. If you have a great relationship with a child, that child will strive to be like you. If you don't have a good relationship, the child will do all he/she can to NOT be like you.

So, if I were you, I would take him out for a burger or something once a week or so and just really try to develop a relationship.

ETA: I just read your SWH and I feel just the opposite. So many older children are left to be responsible for their younger siblngs. I just don't think that's right. His mom chose to have all those kids; she is the one who should be caring for them. Kudos to the mom for not using the older child as a nanny or mother's helper with the younger ones.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Maybe his mom does take out her frustration w/having 5 kids out on him.
Nobody knows.
I think it's nice of you to want to be a postive influence in his life.
Can it be done w/o meddling? Maybe. It's a fine line.
I think all you can do is maybe say positive things to him like "Wow, you are
such a great help to your mom."
I don't think he should be left alone to babysit his siblings.
That's not his job. That's his mom's job. It's not his fault she had 5 kids & is
spread thin. He still needs to have his childhood.
What about offering to the mom to babysit her 4 younger kids so it doesn't
fall on him or so she can do something w/him one on one?
It sounds like he's being relied upon to "take care of the little people, helping
to feed, cary them" etc. Sounds like HE needs a break, too.
Since you run into him quite a bit, just be nice to him.
I have a friend that is really hard on her eldest & I just give him attention.
He responds to it very postitively and he remembers it from his youth.
Does he occasionally have the teen angst outburst? Yes. However, he's
a great kid!
Just be there in the periphery, be postive & kind to him.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

Poor kid.. He needs sometime to just be his age... I wonder if ther is a church camp he could attend this summer? Just w
A week with others his age is a good distraction..

Maybe he could find a small job.. Mowing yards teaching older people how to use the computer.. He could then spend his money on going to the movies, buying some of his own clothes..

Even volunteering. He needs some age appropriate , non family time, because in just a few years, he is going to need to be responsible for himself..
His mother needs to recognize he is now a young man.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on


i'm sorry - if he's already complaining about their noise? the last thing he needs is to be put in charge of babysitting them.

How can you be a positive influence?

* By allowing him to vent to you and giving him direction on how YOU would handle it.
* Being a role model - not "do as I say - not as I do"

Remember even at 14 - their maturity level is NOT always "there". Asking him to take on the responsibility of caring for his younger siblings when he's already complaining about their noise - is NOT going to help him grow up and adjust.

Teenage years are hard. My 13 year old is having mood swings and "temper tantrums" reminiscent of's a lot about hormones and adjusting to the new things that are happening in his mind and body.

I can tell you that my sister - who is 7 years older than me? HATED that my parents would force her to babysit me when I was younger. The LAST thing she wanted was the "little brat" hanging around. My brother who is 5 years older than me - wasn't much better!! The LAST THING a teenager wants to do is be responsible for their younger siblings...unless of course you are part of the Duggar family!! :)

DO NOT force this. DO NOT encourage this.

Be his sounding board.
be a role model.
Make sure he knows he can come to you and you guide and direct him.

Good luck!!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Teen boys are so much different than teen girls. The testosterone makes them express frustration and other emotions much more as anger - while girls express more in sadness.

Most teen boys are not going to warm up too much to a lady adult friend of their mom's - so the fact that he generally talks to you and has witty conversation means he's already doing pretty well.

Being the oldest of 5 kids and having all these "annoying" little sisters and brothers around is probably really frustrating to him - and it does sound like his mom treats him like one of those little children. Yes - she needs to let him ride his bike to the store, go downtown, hang out at the mall, etc. Even my most "helicopter mom" friend let her teens hang out at the mall without her by age 14!

I don't think that I'd push your relationshipo with him as it could be construed as being a little weird. Just continue to be friendly and tell your friend how grown up her son is, how mature he is, give her good feedback and then suggest that he is capable of doing things by himself. One of the roles of good friends is to help them see things that they dont' see. My BFF and I will make parenting suggestions to eachother - just one of the benefits of having a BFF.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Boca Raton on

When you're together just make everything about him . . . not in an indulgent way but in a supportive "how can I help you in life" way. Sometimes oldest kids get lost in the shuffle and have to figure things out for themselves alot.

I would have loved an adult that I could talk to solely about my issues. Sometimes I STILL wish I could talk to my mom without my sisters and their kids/families coming up. And don't get me wrong - I love them all. But I just wish I had that mentorship one-on-one.

Let him talk. And just listen.


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answers from Hartford on

First of all, I wouldn't assume that his moodiness and disrespect was A.) because you made him angry or B.) because of his mother and how he says she treats him or C.) because he's the eldest of five children.

He's a grumpy 14 year old. He SHOULD have responsibilities. What he should be doing is taking responsibility for his own actions, words, and moods. When he lashes out at people he should be apologizing for it. You modeled behavior for him when you had the disagreement, but he didn't reciprocate... instead he blamed someone else for his behavior that he chose.

I'm just having a hard time feeling as badly for this boy as you are, at least for this incident.

What he needs is more one on one time with his mother, though. His mother needs to communicate with him and reconnect with him. He needs to spend time with his father, if there is one in the picture.

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answers from St. Louis on

Wow, let me get this straight, to try to bond with him you encouraged his mom to give him the one chore no teenage boy wants, babysitting his little sibs? Brilliant!

Well problem solved really, as soon as he finds out what you did he will never speak to you again.

I was the go to mom when my kids friends needed advice. The reason is they loved the relationship I had with my teen kids, their friends. You don't have teens and really it shows by this question. The best you can do is back off and listen when or if he ever talks to you again.

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answers from Victoria on

we have a young friend who would throw these weird whinning fits. people asked me if she was special needs. her parents really didnt know how to handle it and because she was really just noisly poutting they let it go. i told the girl durring one of these fits at our house that people thought she was "retarded" (sorry if this word offends people, i know many special needs people and my people arent easily offended). she has not done this since. i would tell him that people think of him when he does this. also inform him to remove himself and gain self controll. go to a bathroom and calm down or excuse himself or silently count to ten. self controll is very important. i would also guide him toward a man in his life. weather its his uncle or his father a boy needs a strong male role model at this point!

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answers from Portland on

J., is there a boys mentoring group which is available through his school? I'd turn his mom on to that. You don't say anything about his relationship with his dad...

I will say, as the eldest of many, often the last thing in the world I wanted to do was babysit my siblings. So, if he's just wanting to get away from them, their noise, and their demands, I would try to see how to support that. He's at an age of burgeoning independence, maybe even trying to separate a bit from his family, so that could be his real need instead of more responsibility with his sibs.

You are right, your friend isn't giving him enough freedom and perhaps not enough responsibility, however, maybe the responsibility could come in the form of jobs where the siblings are not included, like cleaning out the car/washing it; mowing the lawn; helping with laundry or keeping the garage picked up.

As to being a model/mentor: all you can do is be there, offer empathy and reflective listening. Do know that in his eyes you will always be 'mom's friend' first, and a kindly ear second. I will say that if the library has an adjacent cafe, ask his mom if it would be okay to get him a gift card, so he could go read for a while and get a snack. I think that would be a wholly appropriate way to reach out.

As for managing his emotions during conflict, that's going to be difficult to model. We all know adults who are challenged by this, right? :) This is where a boys empowerment group or male mentor might make a huge difference. Many middle schools and high schools offer this resource, and you can look for other local entities which might offer this sort of outreach (counseling offices/therapy groups, sometimes children's hospitals will undertake this). Keep being a good model, keep asking him how it's going, and gently suggest to mom "maybe he'd really benefit from..." and offer he some information. Worth a shot!

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answers from Chicago on

I don't think the teen needs more time with the little ones, he needs more teen time. Sports, or other activities just for him! Maybe you and him can have some adult time and go hiking or to a museum. It's not fair for a teen to be a surrogate parent all the time. HE didn't decide to create all those kids! Sports also help release stress and anger!



answers from Chicago on

What exactly is your relationship with him? From your posts, it sounds like you are his Mom's friend, not his. From talking to my almost teenage daughter, they view their parents' friends as people to respond politely to, not confidants. As a teen they don't want what they discussed relayed back to their parents. So confiding to one of my friends would not be at the top of my daughter's list.

How is your friend with this? I'm not sure how comfortable I'd be with my child confiding in someone else on a regular basis if I didn't have a clear understanding of what is going on. It's my job to parent my kids and it sounds like your friend is trying to do that, working with the outbursts (and yes, they do that, even the calmest of children).

There may be reasons why she doesn't want him home alone that you do not know. Things have also changed since we were kids. Many malls don't allow unsupervised teens so that's not an option. If you want to get involved, you might suggest to the Mom that there might outside activities that he can participate in without his siblings . Or maybe there's a teen center in his area where he can go.

I think you have good instincts in trying to be available to him but I'd let him know that you would be willing to listen if he wants an ear and leave it at that.

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