I am emailing you because you always have great advice for so many situations.
I am having a hard time with my 11-year-old son. I am beginning to contemplate sending him to public school. Last year was the worst year we have had. I am fearing this year is going to be just as trying.
Sometimes I think he is just manipulating me, and sometimes I think I need to get him checked out for a chemical imbalance or something. He breaks down into tears daily when things do not go his way, things do not go as he expected, or when things are a little tough. His dad and I have various rules, restrictions, consequences, etc. and he continually hounds me about what friends at church are allowed to do that he is not allowed to do.
Another thing he does that really aggravates me is this: if he is being corrected by me and he is continuing to talk, I tell him to hush, but he keeps talking, so I walk over to him. I am visibly upset, but he puts his arms up to guard his face and acts scared like he's about to get beat and says something like "don't hurt me." Then he turns on the tears like he is terribly afraid, and I hadn't even touched him! I chalked this up to "drama" most of the time, but I am starting to wonder how someone can cry as he does and it is not more than just a show for attention. I think I have allowed too much "negotiation" to occur between him and me and now when he doesn't get his way he is just going to have a crying fit. But at age 11 and in 6th grade it's too much!
I think, too, that he almost feels he is on an equal level with me and so he should get a say in everything.
I am afraid we have really messed up in our parenting somewhere along the line and I don't know how to get the upper hand again sometimes. Any words of wisdom?
Eleven would be just about the time many young men enter adolescence. Your description sounds fairly typical of a young boy experiencing mood swings due to wildly fluctuating hormones. Of course, I'm guessing because I haven't seen your son, but I'll give high odds that he is past puberty. So, in a way you are right, he does have hormone imbalances, but it is within the range of normal for a teenage boy.
Children have fairly steady, but low, levels of hormones in their blood. With puberty, these hormones drastically rise, but they do so unsteadily, swinging wildly up and down. The worse time is about the time boys go through their growth spurt and for about two years thereafter, it then settles down to a steady rate, but high, level of hormones. In a sense, during the teenage years, boys experience what you women go through monthly, but at very unpredictable times. I remember at age 17 getting angry with a rude fellow employee at the nursing home where I worked as an orderly. Then I got mad at myself for getting mad. Before I knew it tears started flowing and I couldn't "turn them off" for three hours. It was so embarrassing because I knew it was dumb, but I had no control. I finished the workday, but I wanted to hide! Now, years later I know it was a normal reaction to hormones.
The sexual hormones cause moods to be amplified. Happy is delirious bouncing around, sad is the world coming to an end, and mad is ready to rip something apart. This is one reason suicide rates are high among teenage boys. They don't realize that they are overreacting to the world. On top of this, the teenage brain is re-wiring itself. One of the parts that is non-functional in a teenage boy is the section that gives a person self-restraint -- they don't know when to stop (it doesn't even enter their mind that something might be risky or rash; it just seems like the thing to do, so they do it). A recent study proved that teenagers are unable to read body language. They strongly tend to over-read emotional expressions. For example, a stern face is seen as someone very angry. Teenage girls are very prone to this, but it happens with teenage boys as well. Your approach to him, being upset, sounds like a classic over-reaction and misinterpretation -- it is his problem, not yours.
None of this excuses bad behavior, but it does help to understand that you are not necessarily the cause of it. Your job for the next several years to provide stability in his life -- a tall order for most women. It is one of the reasons teenage boys respond best to dad's handling of situations. I would recommend arranging with your husband time to handle problems. One suggestion that has worked in many situations is to write problems on a list on the refrigerator. That helps you "let go" of the problem so you can keep a more even temperament. About an hour after dad gets home (so he doesn't associate dad's arrival with punishment), dad can get the list and go over the problems with son and measure out the consequences. An advantage is that where your son can play on your emotions, he will have a hard time doing so with dad. While the emotional response is normal, I suspect that your son has learned that he can use it to his advantage. Rather than learning to deal with his emotions, he is giving in to them because he can alleviate some of the consequences of his misdeeds with them.
You are right that matters of right and wrong should never be negotiated. There are expectations and there are consequences that need to be clearly presented and then upheld. While it seems too strict, most teenage boys find strict rules comforting because too much of the rest of their world is changing. One of the amazing things I've seen is visiting various facilities for handling wayward boys and drug rehabilitation centers; everyone uses very strict scheduling and expectations to get the boys to settle down -- and it works! Most boys do well in the structured environment only to breakdown into bad habits when they return home.
The authority issue is also typical. It comes from a natural inclination to become independent, though he is far from being ready for it. Again, dad is often well equipped to handle this issue. Dad should be getting in his face like a drill sergeant, telling his son that he will show his wife respect or he'll be dealing with the painful consequences.
I could go on and on, but I'll give you a chance to think about this and respond.
Next, if I'm right about puberty, your son needs to study about growing up and what is ahead of him. Things are easier to deal with when you know the weird things are normal. Take a look at Growing Up in the Lord: A Study for Teenage Boys. I would suggest either having your husband study it with him or if there is some way we can get together I'll go over it with him (I taught this material to hundreds of boys for over ten years now). The reason I'm offering is that I've found that it is hard to discuss some of these subjects with a person you see daily (it's too personal), but it is easier to discuss them with someone you only see once in a while.
I know I've barely brushed the surface, but hopefully, this will give you a start.