Sassy Pre-Teen and Teen

Updated on February 29, 2008
M.L. asks from Salisbury, MO
9 answers

I am recently divorced and remarried. My son is 13 and my daughter is 11. They have both always been very vocal in what they want, how they feel they've been slighted and so forth. Every night seems to be a hassle from the time they walk in the door. They are constantly at each other's throats and neither one of them is ever wrong or will accept any sort of responsibility. They are not responsible for much around the house...just to keep their rooms clean and to pick up whatever they take from room to room. My new husband gives them chores or tells them something that needs to be done and it's an automatic large sigh and then "MOM???" I feel like they play me. Both of them know it is going to start an argument that will result in everyone snapping and then not speaking for the rest of the night. My daughter always throws that "You're not my Dad" in there just for icing on the cake. Their Dad was never much of a disciplinarian and always sent them to me, plus he was a truck driver and only home on the weekends, so I feel that some of it may be that they feel intruded upon. We don't have a large home, but have 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Somehow, every night, they are late getting their showers, doing their homework and make every excuse in the world to stay up. I have talked till I'm blue in the face. I did recently complete a 2 week grounding for my daughter and I am proud of that, but it was the worst 2 weeks this house has seen. I love my children and I told them I would never choose a man over them, but I can't honestly blame my husband for any of the punishments he has made or the things he has said or done, because he was right. How do I make them understand that I was just lax for the first 10 years and that the way we are doing things now is the way things are supposed to be??? How do I make them understand that the fighting has to stop and that life would be so much easier with a routine and without all the lip?? They are more than old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. I know that I have to be stronger and quit showing weakness like crying and giving in. It is heart breaking to see them struggle so hard. What do you do? Please help!

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G.S.

answers from Wichita on

Boy M. does your letter bring back some memories for me. Let me tell you that you will survive and your marriage too. But no matter what stick TOGETHER. Even if you disagree with something your husband says to the children, discuss it in the privacy of your bedroom later. No matter what do not let your kids see you disagree. Set the rules and stick to them. This is probably one of the hardest things you will ever do. But you will survive and they will too. Although they make tell you you are killing them. (lol) My oldest, and at that time, my worst now adores her step dad and calls him dad now. Kids don't do change well, even when it is for the best. If you do not stick to your guns now, it will be much worse later. I feel for you. Consistency is the key! If you say it, mean it. No slacking off, because it may seem easier to avoid "another" fight, but it will undermine everything you are working for. Good luck to you.

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R.K.

answers from St. Louis on

I suffer the same problem you do. I had to be too lax because my husband was over-bearing. I sort of balanced things by being too lenient. Neither is good. I have found with my teenagers that when you make rules and actually stick to them, and make sure there are consequences for not following the rules, they have a lot more respect for you.

There is no reason you can't have a family meeting and explain that the way things were did not work. Explain that you made a mistake as a parent by letting them get by with things. Let them know that they are lucky to have a step dad who cares enough about them to make sure they don't grow up to be slackers. Let them know that you support their step dad's discipline, and while he's not their real dad, you have given him the authortity to discipline them and you trust his judgement. Let them know you understand the change is rough, but once they get used to the new way of doing things, they'll actually be happier. You could also write down the rules, get them to agree to follow them, and offer a big reward if they follow the rules, and are not sassy about them for a week. If they succeed, they get something they really like, such as going out for ice cream or an hour in an arcade or something like that. It's not a bribe, but a reward for trying to get along.

I think it's also important for your kids to see the advantages of having this new step dad. Hopefully he's willing to do things with them or develop some kind of relationship of his own with them. If all he does is discipline then that's all they'll see him as.

The worst thing you can do is undo the discipline he gives them (unless it's grossly unreasonable - and then you two should discuss it privately, then HE should undo it.) You will alway be put in the middle if he tells them no and you allow them to complain to you about it. Back him up.

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A.W.

answers from Kansas City on

I only have one child and the pre-teen/teen years are the worst! .

1. Show a united front! Even if you don't agree with what your husband has asked of the kids enforce it. You and your husband can talk privately later.

2. Mediate. Siblings are going to fight, it's just a part of life. When they do seperate them, then let each of them tell their side. Suggest a couple of solutions and then let them decide how to resolve it. You can also do this with your husband and kids...let your children say their piece and then tell them that you and your husband will talk about it, but the decision that the two of you come to is final.

3. We established a point sysetm with my son. He gets points for certain things...attitude, homework done, various chores, being to bed on time, grades,etc. We sat down and discussed the items to include on the point system and them my husband and I established the points. He has to meet a certain amount of points to be able to earn the right to do things on the weekends (sleep over, movie with friends, sporting event). He also has larger goals...Royals homeopener, school dance and at the very end of the school year if he has earned all the points he could earn a Wii game system. But, he can also have negative points, notes home from school, bad attitude, bad grades.

This has been working out really well! Whenever he says, "My friend wants me to go to a movie Friday night" We say, "You have to earn it." Tuesday night we had that exact conversation and he got up after dinner, did the dishes, swept all of the hardwood/tile floors, and got all of the mop stuff ready for me.

Good luck and be patient. Remember, for your husbands sake, that being a step-parent is the hardest job in the world!

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M.U.

answers from St. Louis on

M., We have 2 boys 12 & 15, whether it's any comfort to you or not I just want to let you know these are very common troubles we see in ours & our friends kids. It sounds like you have a good man there I "ditto" what was said about standing by him & only in private talking with him on what is overbearing & may exasperate your kids & cause unneeded strife...FYI Our 15 year old seems to take more showers than neccesary, now that he is noticing the young ladies, where we had to fight him to get one in before, also for good or bad your daughter will probably be noticing the young men pretty soon & her behaviour will likely change, my youngest gets calls all the time from young ladies(even though he thinks girls are silly at the moment)...MU...

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W.B.

answers from Kansas City on

Hi M.,

I am not divorced from my childrens dad but at the sametime we haven't always seen eye to eye on things. But here is what I can tell you:

1) you can agree to disagree in front of your kids with their step dad but never infront of them. meaning if he says they need to go clean thier rooms then that is what they need to do, no questions asked about it.

2) You need to explain to your children that they will show respect to their step father no matter what because in return that also shows that they respect you and the choices of your life. And you will back your husband up with what he decides to do as far as being grounded and things.

3) You need to let them know that you did screw up along with their father and there are things that you should of done differently in their lives and in yours. Come clean and tell the truth.

I would then make a list of chores, things that need to be done in the whole house, taking out the trash, cleaning their rooms, vacuuming, dusting, helping set the table and helping clean up the kitchen after dinner. Make all of these on index cards and then assign everyone a job to do. Some may need to be done daily, weekly, and monthly. Divide them up so everyone has something to do to help, even you and your husband.

The routine: Let them know for now on there will be not more fighting and if they choose to then they will loose a privelege. If they choose not to do their chores then they don't do anything or go anywhere. Let them know they will take their showers at a certain time. They will do their homework when they get home from school, at their bedtime will be a certain time, everyday.

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L.M.

answers from St. Louis on

I agree with the others about everything. My husband and I got married 6 months ago. I have a 14-year-old son and was a single mom since he was born. The teen years are difficult anyway, but to add a stepfather to their lives is even more complicated. But you know what? They'll survive. Most of the things my husband puts his foot down on are so reasonable, and he definitely does what is best for my son in the long run. He's strict about grades and manners, and I must say that being a single mom all those years made be pretty wimpy sometimes. I gave in when it was just easier to give in. But I can't say that it was good for my son in the long run.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know you're not the only one dealing with this. I feel for you regarding the sibling fights though. Ugh. That would drive me crazy. There is a good book called "Children the Challenge" that has a great philosophy about natural consequences, whether it's for a toddler or a teen. Good luck with everything. I'm sure the other moms out there will have some more good advice for you. They are awesome!

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M.C.

answers from St. Louis on

I too have been caught between my husband and the kids too many times (and he is their father). It just doesn't work that way. Have you talked to the kids about their attitudes? Do you do fun things as a family? My husband rarely joined us in the fun things (social outings etc) so the kids never saw him as a fun person to be around - that has changed. He watched a weekly TV show with them - it is their night - and I stay in some other part of the house. If I join them - he immediately does something to pit me against him.
How about sitting down as a family and writing down all the chores that need done on a list - of course, some will have to go to the person that is prepared to do them like cooking, grocery shopping, oil change - but be sure to include some of these so the kids realize that they are not the only ones getting assigned chores. Then divide the chores up for each family member - if there are some that can be shared like feeding the dog, walking the dog etc - put them in a hat and draw them out. Or maybe they could pick the chores they want - each person picking one and going around the circle. Change them weekly or monthly so no one gets stuck doing the same chores. I found that my sister and I did better if we could pick the chores -my mom would leave a list and I did anything that involved cooking or kitchen duty and my sister did the cleaning ones. But if you get down to chores that no one likes - you have to find a way to assign them and rotate them. If is like when my kids were small someone told me to not ask my daughter if she wanted to go to bed - ask her which nightgown she wanted to wear to bed. She still felt like she was in control of the decision but her choice did not matter to me.

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R.M.

answers from Kansas City on

I would suggest family therapy. These kids need to understand that they do not make the rules, you and your new husband do. You and your husband need to stand firm with each others decisions and I know my kids are close to the same ages as yours and not allowing them to do anything, go anywhere, no cell phones, no regular phone, no internet, no video games, no tv, is no fun to them. I know it can be trying and a long process for us, but they have to realize that their behavior is not acceptable and as adults, if you whine and complain, no boss is going to want you working for them! Good luck! Madison

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N.A.

answers from Kansas City on

THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS I COULD WRITE, BUT I WOULD RATHER
'TALK' IT!

MY IMMEDIATE RESPONSE: YOU NEED TO TAKE BACK THE POWER
IN A HEALTHY INSTEAD OF GIVING THE POWER TO YOUR CHILDREN.
AND, AS LONG AS THIS HAPPENS, THE BEHAVIOR WILL BE THE SAME, BUT MORE AS THEY BECOME OLDER. AND, YOU WANT TO
UNDERSTAND HOW TO EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE WITH THEM TO
UNDERSTAND WHAT IS BEHIND THE BEHAVIOR. WITHOUT THIS THE
BEHAVIOR WILL NEVER CHANGE, BUT AGAIN 'WORSEN'.

I RESPOND AS A PRACTICING PSYCHOLOGIST. I AM WILLING AT
NO COST TO TALK WITH YOU FURTHER VIA PHONE.
MY E MAIL: [email protected]____.com, TELE: ###-###-####.
IF YOU WANT TO TALK, E MAIL YOUR TELE # TO ME, THE BEST
TIME TO CALL YOU, AND IT WILL NOT COST YOU FOR LONG
DISTANCE, NOT KNOWING WHERE YOU LIVE.

THIS IS NOT INTENDED TO SOLICIT A CLIENT, IT IS INTENDED
TO GIVE YOU SOME INFORMATION FOR YOU TO KNOW THERE ARE
OPTIONS THAT DO WORK.

MY BEST, N. J ANDREW, PhD
BU

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