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Ask The Expert: How Can I Help My Difficult Teenage Son?

Dear Your Teen

How do you deal with a difficult teenage son who has never really been disciplined and refuses to help around the house, or makes any type of effort in school? His parents are divorced and his father spoils him with whatever he wants, even though his grades are poor and he refuses to work. He has no respect for me and I’m ready to just give up on him.

I’ve already offered my ex full custody, but they don’t want him full time. I’ve seen a counselor but it hasn’t helped. I want him to get some direction in life, but any discussion turns into a shouting match. The only time he is happy is when he gets exactly want he wants. But he gets super upset when told to do homework, get a job, or clean up after himself. I don’t see any way to change his attitude.

Ideas for Dealing With Difficult Teen Son

EXPERT | Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D.

I am so delighted that you reached out for help. Your son is clearly struggling with life and you in turn are struggling with feeling helpless and very distressed. It is so difficult to maintain empathy for a troublesome teenage son who doesn’t seem to be motivated to look out for himself in life. And, as much as you would like to help your son, it doesn’t appear that he wants to be helped. Nonetheless, please don’t give up on your son. It sounds to me like he is in a lot of trouble emotionally. Perhaps he is depressed, having academic difficulties or he may even be abusing substances.

Please have your son talk to a trusted adult. I’m not sure who that is in his life but it may be a friend’s parent, a guidance counselor or even an uncle or an aunt. If there is no one in your son’s life who he can confide in then please get him a therapist who specializes in working with teens. I am quite sure that your son is going through some sort of struggle but it needs to be identified before he can get help and get his life on a good track.

If possible, perhaps you and your ex can go to family therapy with your son as well. A family therapist may be able to identify the family dynamics which are contributing to difficulties and may help everyone develop new dynamics that gradually lead to improvement in your son’s behavior and mood. Please don’t give up on your son. Even though he is unable, at this point to articulate it, I am sure he would be devastated to feel abandoned by you. Your role is extremely important.

Dr. Barbara Greenberg is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of teens, children, and families. She is the co-author of Teenage as a Second Language. She writes and consults for several publications and frequently appears on TV. You can find her work on her website

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