What to Know About Having A Terrible Son (From Mom of 4)

From Sons of Anarchy to Malcolm in the Middle, TV sons are often depicted as harder to raise than daughters, but is that true? As a mom of three sons and one daughter, I have some practical experience with this. So what should you know about a terrible son, being one or having one, that is?

It’s important to know that a terrible son doesn’t happen overnight. Whether you are a terrible son or raised one, it’s not generally irreversible behavior either. Recognizing the problem and then consciously addressing it can salvage most relationships, but outlier situations can be more difficult.

First, the difference in raising sons and daughters is negligible at best when it comes to difficultness. While sons may be more challenging in some regards, daughters are in others. Essentially, most issues boil down to parenting.

Read on to learn from my experiences of raising sons (and a daughter); as well as ideas about how to handle when sons are terrible; what makes a terrible son specifically, and how to deal with it at all ages and stages.

Having A Terrible Son

Lois and Hal have notoriously terrible sons on Malcolm in the Middle, but that doesn’t necessarily mean if they’d had daughters it would’ve been any better.

What do you need to know about having a terrible son? As a new parent, it’s certainly not what you envisioned for your family’s future.

The way to deal with a terrible son is age dependent. Dealing with a terrible toddler requires strategies different from dealing with a terrible teen. Keep in mind parents have more control the younger the son, too. And often the best way to deal with a terrible adult son is with distance.

Having a terrible son is no one’s dream…the parents, his teachers, his siblings, and surrounding community included!

Thus, parents need to be proactive to stop the behavior immediately causing the son to be ‘terrible.’ Unfortunately, a big part of what creates a terrible son is usually related to a parent’s lack of attention and immediate responsiveness! A real catch-22 situation in the making!

Other articles you’ll enjoy about sons:

Let’s look at some sub-categories of having a terrible son, from what causes a son to behave terribly to how to stop the terrible behavior (from toddlers to teens) next.

What makes a son behave terribly?

The TV show SuperNanny often highlights the correlation of terrible child behavior and terrible parenting.

Parents often wonder why their son is behaving so terribly? As a retired teacher, I encountered many instances of both moms and dads asking for my assistance regarding their sons’ bad behavior and the most common question, of course, was ‘why?’

In almost all cases the number one cause of sons acting terribly is parents! This doesn’t mean that parents are negligent or abusive. On the contrary, often the parents of terrible sons are too indulgent and permissive (now whether or not that’s ‘abuse’ is another discussion/article!).

From day one, parents play the most impactful role in shaping their child’s personality and behavior…essentially what creates the ‘character’ of the child. When parents don’t perform (for lack of a better term) properly in their role, the child (and everyone connected to him) suffer.

Although I can’t possibly teach in one short article how to be a good parent, here are a few tips and suggestions for being parents who cultivate a healthy family home:

  • Stay in your roles: Parents are parents and kids are kids.
  • With roles in mind, ensure children aren’t privy to adult (i.e. ‘mature’) conversations.
  • Keep to a routine and regular schedule (While routines are important, everyone’s routine is different so make one that works for you and your family.)
  • Parents are partners; don’t get divided in your parenting decisions. When you disagree, discuss this away from the children.
  • Mean what you say and follow through with expectations and consequences.

How to stop a son from behaving terribly?

So it’s not enough to recognize your son is acting terribly (or that you have terrible parenting practices.) You have to be proactive to stop the bad behavior and make decisions that will correct the actions. So how do you stop a son from behaving terribly, then?

How to stop a son from behaving terribly is really tied to the age of sons. To be clear, how to deal with a two-year-old is going to be quite different from the way you address a bad 13-year-old son or a 30-year-old adult son who is a terrible son and/or terrible person overall.

Let’s look next at some particular categories of terrible sons: terrible two-year-olds; terrible teen sons; and last, terrible adult sons.

Terrible Toddler Sons

It’s common for parents to get exasperated with their toddler sons, after all it’s not called the ‘terrible twos’ for nothing.

The Mayo Clinic explains that one reason this stage is known commonly as ‘terrible’ is that parents are dealing with a big shift in their child’s moods and behavior as he or she undergoes lots of physiological changes.

Two-year-olds are going through a lot, both mentally and physically. They generally understand much more than they can express, so often their expressions come out as frustrated temper tantrums.

While it’s no walk in the park for parents when their sons are terrible twos, it’s much easier to deal with than when they’re terrible teens.

Trust me! I’ve been there, multiple times! And though it’s tempting to bribe two-year-olds (and easier sometimes in the short term) to act appropriately, it won’t produce the results you want.

In fact, it will promote the very terrible behavior you wish to eradicate.

To Stop Terrible Two-Year-Old Sons:

  • Stay calm. You’re the adult in the situation, so no whining! If you feel like crying, do it later (alone).
  • Be direct, succinct, and clear. Remember two-year-olds have limited understanding.
  • Also, be consistent. Don’t say one thing and then do another.
  • Remove your child from problem situations or instances. If he can’t handle shopping, don’t take him with you.
  • Keep to a routine and schedule as much as you can. Two-year-olds especially need routines, and naps!
  • And anyone who cares for your son should follow your parenting expectations. If grandma or a babysitter gives in, then your child’s bad behavior will not change.

Terrible Teen Sons

If parents are doing a good job of parenting, then usually sons (and daughters) will form good character and the household will be peaceful. Yet, even under the best cultivated circumstances, problems are apt to arrive during the turbulent teens. It’s inevitable!

While a book like The Turbulent Teens by Clinical Psychologist, James Gardner, can be helpful for parents with terrible teen sons (and daughters), truly the best way to deal with the turbulent teen years is by proactively dealing with the terrible twos (and threes and tens…). Again, terrible sons don’t happen overnight; they happen over years.

And yet, as said before, you can do everything ‘just right’ and still have a terrible son when he hits sixteen ( or some other ‘teen’ age). So what then?

While discussion isn’t a suggestion for terrible twos, it is definitely called for when you have a terrible teen. Teens are able to comprehend and though they struggle with empathy and underdeveloped brains, they have the capability to reason. If you’ve employed reason in your household over the years, it will make the discussion even better and more profitable.

Tips for Dealing With Terrible Teens:

  • Stay calm and try not to take their barbs or insults personally.
  • Keep routines but be willing to adjust them for changing situations and dynamics.
  • Give and take. While teens are still children in many ways including age, they are able to handle more responsibility and perhaps flexible rules.
  • Remember you’re still in control and as the parent, you are in charge. Parents shouldn’t give teens full freedom and parents must remain alert regarding internet usage, social media, and other outside influences.
  • And don’t be afraid to homeschool if you don’t already! (Here’s a related article specifically about homeschool behavior: Tips from 20 Years of Good Homeschool Behavior Management)

Terrible Adults Sons

Just like with terrible teen sons, the best way to deal with terrible adult sons is by prevention.

Being proactive, responsible, intentional parents while your sons are young and still in your household is the best way to set up having good adult sons. But outliers exist!

While it’s not likely that parents can do everything ‘just right’ and have terrible adult sons, it’s possible for it to happen. So with these two scenarios in mind, here are some ideas and suggestions for dealing with terrible adult sons.

When Sons Weren’t Always Terrible, But Became Terrible Adult Sons:

  • Keep distance a part of your plan, if safety is an issue. This is primarily in situations where sons are drug/alcohol dependent and have aggressive tendencies. Parents should never put themselves in harm’s way just to maintain a relationship. Rather meet in public places or in groups with other family members when possible to talk or see your terrible adult son.
  • Treat your son like an adult but also stay in your parenting role and as such, expect some respect too. Be clear about expectations, but remain calm when discussing them or anything else.
  • Remember that you don’t have to like your son or agree with him, for him to be good or terrible. Sometimes we confuse having a different lifestyle or interests with behavior. It’s entirely possible that your son isn’t terrible, but just different from you. Try to keep an open mind.
  • Think about the catalyst that’s made an otherwise agreeable person become ‘terrible’. Has your son been influence by another such as a spouse or significant other? Is he hanging around bad friends? If these are the causes, then talk to him about it. If there’s something negative that happened in your family that caused his new behavior to surface, you might look into counseling or talking about it as a family with your priest or clergy.

When Terrible Adult Sons Were Always Terrible:

  • If you’re son has always been difficult, you shouldn’t really be surprised that his behavior hasn’t changed, so keep realistic expectations. Just because he’s an adult now doesn’t mean his character will automatically change for the better.
  • Think about what behaviors deem your adult son ‘terrible’. Is he rude, disrespectful, and difficult to talk to? If so, speak up about the unwanted behavior and call him on it when he exhibits it. As an adult, he should be able to recognize his actions and at least curb them to some extent.
  • And maintain perspective. You’ll always be your son’s parent, but you don’t have to be his friend (and I’d say, you shouldn’t be his friend). So while you should actively work to continue a family relationship with him, you don’t have to get along all the time and spend every week together.

The Takeaway for Having A Terrible Son

The takeaway for having a terrible son is basically this: rather than focus on why your son is terrible, look at your parenting practices. Often the problem with our kids is really a problem with us.

Of course, there are some practical tips and suggestions that you can try when your son is behaving terribly and this means modifying your behavior, too.

Keep in mind that you need to tailor your strategies and tactics to the age of your son because dealing with a terrible two-year-old is much different than how to handle a terrible thirteen-year-old, or thirty-year-old for that matter.

And while it may not seem like it at the time, it is possible to correct bad behavior, so don’t give up!

For further reading, I highly recommend these related sons articles:

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