Ten Year Old Son Is Testing Our Limits

Updated on March 13, 2009
A.A. asks from Sunnyvale, CA
5 answers

Hi Moms,

I've been blessed to have two sons who came to me in entirely two different ways but love each other and me so much. My ten year old stepson is with us full-time so I refer to him as my son and he calls me "mom" which he chose to do on the day my husband and I married two years ago come June. We were so fortunate to get pregnant pretty quickly and are now enjoying each and every day with the other side of the spectrum, a 10-month old boy.

After being a product of a mixed-family where I was estranged with my real mom for 17 years (this is the case with my stepson) I have been able to empathize with his situation in many ways. Now that I am on the other side (as parent vs. child) I have so much respect for my stepmom!

What is hard is everything my stepson has gone through and all the issues he has to deal with as is dealing with everything else a pre-teen and teenager often times deals with. I work hard to understand and improve upon what is best needed for him. My goal is to get him reconnected with his real mom once she shows improvement from her current state.

What's bothering me now is a lot. I have encouraged my husband to have my stepson go into counseling which he has visited a counselor they both saw many years ago. My son is all sorts of things but he has charm on the outside when he knows its going to get him something (mind you he won't even say thank you on his own volition unless I am there and remind him), he will lie to both his father, myself and others that include the principal at his school (I think he really wants to be accepted so will go this far to make us think he did right vs. wrong), argues beyond measure with both his father and I with issues that we know to be correct on our part and incorrect on his, and has been suspended two times this year from the 4th grade (he is hanging with the wrong crowd after we tell him over and over to not hang with these boys at school).

What I think is that he is dealing with issues of wanting to control things. He knows if we find out he did the wrong thing we would give him a consequence. What I need to know is whether we are trying to have too much control over his life and we need to loosen up, or do we need to tighten up? If it was his choice he would be playing video games or watching TV so I think that is grounds to ask for permission since I don't like the fact he could do either forever. but when he does anything else in our house, he tends to ask about it (can I go to a friends, can I have dessert, can I play on the computer). I grew up in a family with five kids and we all did our own thing and punishment didn't come around very frequently, unless we really deserved it.

Are my husband and my standards too strict and is this why he might be acting out? Sorry this is SO long and please comment wherever you like.

Thanks! A.

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So What Happened?

Thank you moms for your advice. Tonight went a little like this. After baby went to bed I played a game with 10-year old son. When it was over he said he wanted to play another (well aware it was bedtime) and I told him it was time to get ready for bed and we'll play another game another night. So he starts complaining (he's testing limits now or trying to get my attention because this isn't normal everyday behavior) and says he doesn't want to go to bed. So I say I am sorry but it's bed time and he knows he shouldn't complain. So he keeps trying to push my buttons so I say that tomorrow will look different if he doesn't start moving himself to get ready. So I go to put laundry in washer and drier and after completing this he should have been ready for bed. He came to find me once wondering what I was doing and why I hadn't checked in on him. When I was done I realize what game playing he was doing as he hadn't done a thing and was lying fully dressed head down on the floor.

So at this point i know he's trying to get my attention so after I tell him no Xbox tomorrow (mind you he still has other video game options in addition to TV and a basketball game) I ask him what is bothering him and if he needs to talk about it. He says that he doesn't see why that was a big deal) lying on the floor) and he used to do it at his grand parents. So then it goes on and he after he finally gets ready he says he'd like to write his dad a note (who won't be home till after he's in bed) about not taking his mattress from his bunk which he isn't even using. So finally I tell him get to bed but find a note written after all on the floor.

So you can see the game playing or need for attention but he won't admit it to me when I ask him. And how it frustrates me but I have to keep a calm level head or he'll know he's gotten to me which is what he's trying to do.

So any advice here?! Thanks!

More Answers



answers from San Francisco on

Hi A. -

You're right in identifying that his lack of relationship with his mom is causing some of this conflict. He is angry and sad, most likely, and acting out those emotions. Punishment is not going to help. Giving firm but loving guidelines with consequences will.

I strong recommend getting in to a really good family counselor/therapist. He is young enough to 'save' at this point, but if this goes on much longer, he may not be...

Please let me know if you need a referral -- I have several I use in my practice who are excellent.

Best wishes,

J. J-T



answers from San Francisco on

Hi A..

See, we really do need to get together. I think J and K are cut from the same mold. In our situation, I did let up and things went completely haywire. He got even worse. So I am tightening up. We still have a struggle, but I know what is important to him and can usually figure out how to get him thinking again. But wanting to fit in definitely has a lot to do with it. Give me a call or email. Lets not keep putting off getting together.




answers from San Francisco on

That's a big one.

Children need to feel control and have power over things. How will they ever learn to use it properly if they don't experience it.

Seems like it's time for a family plan. Working together, you lay out expectations and what can happen after the expectations are met.

In our house, school work (old classwork, homework, and daily reading....and Kumon)and chores are done before any play, play dates, TV, drawing, games, etc. I never waiver. At times, I do decide that some piece of HW is too large for one day and help divide it up over the week, so it is manageable.

We have chores that need to be done. We sat down as a family with the list of jobs that need to be done. Then we picked. My daughter dusts the stairs, collects trash from upstairs once a week, clears her dishes after every meal, clears the entire table once a week, sets the table 3x a week (days decided upon based on her schedule), and cleans up her room, toys from other rooms, and playroom EACH WEEK. Certain jobs have days assigned, so they happen before play.

Work together as a family to create the expectations and he'll buy in to it.

In another posting a mom said she does not tie allowance to chores. But if she has to do her child's chore, she charges him for it and deducts it from his allowance. Sounds great to me. I'm adding that into our routine.




answers from San Francisco on

Dear A.,

You do not need to loosen up on a ten year old, who is getting suspended from school and hanging around with the “wrong crowd”. If at all possible, I would put him in a small private school or a different public school.

Your ten year old may be acting out for a number of reasons:

1. The new baby – Your 10 year old might feel you love your on child more then you love him. He may also resent sharing his father’s time with you and the baby.
2. The feeling of abandonment by his natural mother

I recommend some one on one time between the boy and his father and the same with you. Let him know that he is equally loved.

I do think you should have a very serious talk with him about his behavior at home, school and his choice of friends. If he disobeys his parents, I would take away all fun items and let him know that he has to “earn” back one item at a time by good, consistent behavior.




answers from San Francisco on

Hi A.,
Sounds like you ave your hans full! I am a family therapist specializing in teens, I would recommend both the books 'The Answer Is No!' which is specifically for parents of teens, and 'How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk'. They're both easy to read and very helpful for talking to kids.
Also, I'd recommend your husband find a new therapist-- if he and his son saw this therapist 'years ago' then teens probably aren't a speciality of his/hers.
Once you've read the books, you can talk to your son from a 'hey, tell me more about your new friends' angle and less of a 'those kids are no good-- stay away from them' angle, which may get your further.
Lastly, when it comes to limiting computer time, a great way to do it is to say, 'You have X amount of time to play on the computer' or 'you can only play after homework is done' so that it's in his hands how much/when he gets to use the computer. If you go that route and he doesn't follow the rules, lock the computer where he can't get to it-- like your car trunk-- for a pre-determined amount of time.
Good luck!

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