APSGO Parenting Blog

Dear Helen,

My seventeen-year-old son comes and goes as often as he likes. What bothers me most is his habit of coming home at very late hours. He has a curfew of 1am but usually ignores it. On the advice of friends and even a couple of family members I have taken his key and let him wait outside when he came home long after curfew. One time he could see that we were awake and kept banging on the door and ringing the doorbell. It was very upsetting, but we didn’t let him in until morning. What should I be doing next to deal with his behaviour?

You should be giving him his key back immediately. Of course, it is upsetting. Locking a teenage son or daughter out must be the worst piece of advice a parent can get. Here are important things for you to consider.

  1. Check on the credentials of the people who are advising you to lock your son out. Are these people sitting with you while you are tormented by the sound of your son knocking at the door?
  2. Who decided on the arbitrary time of 1am for a curfew? Do you think that he cannot get into trouble before 1am?
  3. Examine how this helps your relationship with your son. If the environment at home were more appealing, he might stay home occasionally.
  4. Check out how this plan is working. Has he started coming home at curfew?
  5. Examine how your life with him is better since locking him out.

Your son is 17 years old. Give him his key. Tell him that he’s old enough to be responsible about coming home. Tell him you love him and want him to be safe and that you know he is smart enough to be careful. Ask that he come in as quietly as possible. Let him know that you’re ok with him having a friend or two over once in a while. Give him something to live up to, your opinion of him is more important than you realize.

Start living your own life. Read a book, call a friend or plant a garden. The choices are endless. In this way you DEMONSTRATE how responsible and contented people live. Your son will have more respect for you when he sees that you have a satisfying life of your own, and you owe this to him. I cannot stress how important this last comment is.

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5 Responses

  1. I’m disgusted by this answer. Why do you assume this woman is not already living her own, satisfying life. She certainly didn’t give any hint of that in her letter. Why be so condescending?
    How can we trust the rest of your advice when that part is so clearly uncalled for?

    • “Taking the house key and locking him out” doesn’t sound like it would be coming from someone who is living a satisfying life.

      It sounds like someone who feels angry and helpless. Listening to your child banging on the door to be allowed in is stressful for any parent. This mother describes it as “very upsetting”. She asks what she should be doing “next time to deal with his behaviour”, which means she expects it to continue happening.

      Is this the ‘satisfying life’ you meant?

      In this instance, the son is seventeen years old and almost an adult in the eyes of the law. Can we help this mother adjust to treating her son like an adult? Parents sometimes need assurance that it is OK to let go of arbitrary rules. Friends and family however, often advocate for strict consequences, believing they are supporting the parent. They are not the ones who have to implement these actions or experience the results.

      Doing more of the same failing behaviour with anyone is never satisfying. Our lives become better when we gradually stop making rules for other people and demonstrate what a satisfying and responsible life looks like, especially for our children.

      Any action by a parent should focus on bringing parent and child closer or at least should not increase the distance between them. There is a time and place for taking a stand and it can be done with respect for oneself and the child. The only behaviour we can control is our own and when we attempt to control the actions of other people including our children, we store up frustration and failure for us and for them.

      As for trusting my advice, I don’t suggest anyone trusts what I say. I suggest they think about it, possibly try it and decide for themselves or ask someone who has.

      Helen Jones

  2. “Reading a book, calling a friend, or planting a garden” is clearly the part of the response that I take issue with. Most of us seeking this advice are quite fulfilled by the other parts of our lives. There was no indication from this parent that she is lacking other interests. These, in themselves, do nothing to help with a difficult teenager.
    It is being dismissive of serious concerns to insinuate that the parenting problem comes from a lack of personal interests.
    I don’t disagree with the rest of what you are saying, but I find that portion of your response needlessly condescending. Unless the parent indicates that all they do with their free time is fuss about their child. It makes it seem like you think you’re talking to 1950s housewives rather than people living fulfilling lives aside from problems with a teenager.

    • There are two areas of clarification which may help you understand. The first is that this mother is not simply anxious over her almost adult son coming home late. Like other parents who contact this organization for help, her issues are much more serious. Her son is verbally abusive and threatening. He vents by punching holes in the walls. The police have been called and this mother has reached out to her family physician who referred her son for counselling. Her son has been ‘diagnosed’ with various mental and emotional disorders. None of this has helped, including the drugs prescribed for him, which he stopped using because of the disturbing side effects.

      The second piece of information relates to the method which is taught and applied in APSGO. We teach that the only effective way to bring about change in the behaviour of others is to change our behaviour first. Even the most simple change can bring about significant improvement. Reading a book, going for a walk may seem simple and crude to you but to a parent in this situation it represents a whole new and hopeful way of living and helping her son and of allowing her to establish much needed peace and control in her own life.

      These changes seem simple. They are not. They are profound and difficult, especially in the midst of the chaos caused by an angry adolescent. No parent in APSGO is expected to implement them alone but to do so with the support of the other parents in APSGO, who are trained and experienced.

      For many years, this approach has been helping parents and their offspring regain control of their own lives and go on to successful futures including helping other parents.

      This information should help to alleviate your dismissal and disgust at the work done by the dedicated volunteers of APSGO.

      Helen Jones

  3. Hello,
    I actually applied what Helen is suggesting and the minute I started trusting my son, told him that I wanted him to be safe and when he did come home, I told him I was glad he was home safely…. well, he started coming in at a decent hour, all on his own. My big job was to “self soothe” and control my worrying monkey mind… that took some work, but eventually, I managed to fall asleep when my 17 year old was out until 3 am! The curfews never ever worked. Best piece of advice I ever got!
    Claudia

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