Parent and Fifteen-Year-Old


This is an embarrassing situation for me. I have a strange problem with my son that I have never heard about before. He is fifteen years old and has been stealing my clothes or his sister's clothing and cutting them up into little pieces with scissors or cutting our underwear into a thong. We have had him seeing a psychiatric therapist for over a year, with no resolution to this problem. He seems to do this without any warning or reason. I can't link it to anger at us, although he may just not be expressing his anger. It seems like an act of anger. He doesn't talk or express his emotions much at all.

I have required him to earn the money to buy us new clothing to replace the items he destroyed, but that has not stopped him from doing it again. Is there anything you can suggest?

Thank you.


Don't be embarrassed. Puzzling situations like yours are occurring more often with today's teenagers.

Most boys will not express their emotions by engaging directly in a conversation. Engage him in some activity first. When he is involved in something, the chances of his sharing his thoughts and emotions are much greater.

Link to parenting. Print "Tips for parents' and refer to it often.

Completely stop all forms of coercion. When you have a conversation with your son let him know that when he feels pressure from you, he is to let you know—so you will be aware of it.

But keep your standards. When he does something that is not acceptable, simply say in a calm voice and relaxed body, "That is not acceptable. What do you suggest we do about it?"

Notice that rather than imposing a consequence you are eliciting one. Eliciting a procedure to redirect impulses is a key to success. It is also the one parents so often forget to implement. Also, focus on a procedure he can use in case he gets the urge again. If he says, "I don't know," then say, "As capable as you are, we both know better. What would an extraordinary person do?"

If you are still not successful, suggest that he share with one of his friends or counselor what he has done and suggest that they may help him come up with a procedure (not punishment) which may assist him. He won't want to take you up on this. But notice that you have employed the second principal of "Tips for parents": the empowerment of choice.

Good luck and persevere in being positive, offering choices, and asking questions which will prompt him to reflect.

More ideas on this topic are available at