Teen Son Seems to “Protest” Chores by Breaking Things

What we do about a 14-year-old boy who ends up destroying something every time we require him to do a chore around the house? When asked to unload the dishwasher, he cracked a set of expensive glasses. When assigned to clear the driveway, he broke the snow shovel. We already know that he dislikes work of any kind. This feels like a form of passive-aggressive, rebellious "payback." We tell him he'll have to pay us back for the damages, but he's too far in debt to do anything about it. Any suggestions?

This could be a behavioral issue, but based on what you’ve told us, we have a feeling that it may be premature to label your son’s behavior as “rebellious” or “passive-aggressive.” Perhaps he’s just awkward, clumsy, careless, or immature. He might also be moving too fast or trying too hard to do too many things at the same time. There may be chemical, neurological, dietary, or other physical factors you need to consider. Depression, anxiety, or substance abuse could also be involved. It would be wise to refrain from jumping to conclusions before you’ve had an opportunity to check out all the possibilities.

We suggest you begin by ruling out any potential medical or psychological issues. Make an appointment with your physician. Have some diagnostic work done. Test for drug use. Find out if your son is suffering from chemical imbalances. Arrange a consultation with a licensed family counselor and get a professional assessment of his mental and emotional condition. If at the end of this process you determine that the problem has no verifiable physiological or psychological basis, you’ll be safe in assuming that it’s primarily behavioral in nature.

At that point you should sit down and have a heart-to-heart talk with your son. Find out what’s going on his life. Is he upset, worried, or scared about anything? How are things at school? Is he experiencing academic difficulties or dealing with a bully problem? Is anything else happening that might induce him to act out by breaking things or balking at chores? Have there been any difficulties on the home front or recent struggles within the broader family dynamics of your household? In any of these cases, it might be a good idea to think about getting some professional counseling for everyone concerned.

Call us. Focus on the Family’s Counseling department can provide you with referrals to qualified Christian psychologists practicing in your area. Our staff counselors would also be more than happy to discuss your concerns in a free, over-the-phone consultation.


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