- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 16, 2008

My son’s first-grade teacher says he frequently “zones out” and doesn’t finish assignments in class, even simple things such as coloring each number on the page a certain color. She says he has a desk full of unfinished papers. I told her to send them home; he would do them and return them to her promptly. Is there anything else you would suggest?

A: That’s exactly what I would do. You go, girl. I also, however, would ask the teacher not to let future unfinished class work accumulate (she shouldn’t have done that to begin with) but to send the work home the day it should have been done. Then I would tell said son that papers the teacher sends home from this point on will mean not only that he finishes them as soon as he arrives home, but that every assignment sent home means he goes to bed a half-hour early. In other words, three papers sent home means bedtime is 90 minutes early that evening. That combination of consequences should send him the wake-up call he obviously needs.

Q: We have a son who just turned 18 but is still a junior in high school and a 14-year-old freshman daughter. While my husband and I were away, our son went to visit his girlfriend (who lives an hour away) after we had told him not to because it was too late and a school night. He told us, “I’m 18 now and can do whatever I want” and then hung up.

He has not given us much trouble in the past and accepts responsibility for both his job and school. Our concern is his blatant defiance over the girlfriend, with whom he recently skipped school. How should we handle this?

A: This situation is precedent-setting, for better or worse. Your son’s defiance of your authority could get much more blatant and outrageous unless you respond to it with a display of very tough love. You need to make it very clear to him that as long as he is living in your home, he is not an adult in your eyes. Therefore, he will abide by your rules whether he likes them or not.

At the next possible opportunity, when he is gone from the house for a few hours, I would clean out his room, leaving only essential furniture and his clothing. Take everything he owns, even things he purchased, to a storage facility. When he comes home, tell him that either he agrees to obey you, without exception, for as long as he chooses to enjoy having you pay most if not all of his bills, or he can move out immediately.

If he chooses to move out, return his possessions when he is in his own apartment (as opposed to staying at someone else’s house). If he chooses to stay in your home, tell him he is on a two-month probation period, after which his possessions will be returned. (By the way, if his car is in your name, take the keys and allow him to drive only if he agrees to your terms.) If, during his probation, he defies you one time, his two-month probation begins over again the next day.

This is a watershed moment in your relationship with your son. If you don’t assert your legitimate authority, and assert it with a vengeance, he will begin taking advantage of you at every possible opportunity.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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