- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 23, 2009

Q. My 16-year-old son has started using curse words in our home. What’s the best way to deal with this?

A. I would imagine that a youngster who has never used curse words around his parents until age 16 and knows his parents disapprove is simply testing the waters to see your reaction. In addition, this is a rather ornery way of asserting his independence and letting you know he’s grown up now. What he doesn’t know, of course, is that people who truly have grown up don’t engage in gratuitous cursing, if any cursing at all.

Since independence is what he’s asserting, I suggest making his independence the central issue. Tell him since he obviously feels free to curse when he is at home, you can only imagine the lengths to which he takes this self-assigned freedom when he’s not at home. That concerns you greatly because when he is out in the world, he is an ambassador of your family.

As such, his behavior reflects on you, for better or worse. So because this involves what people think about you and your values, he is not allowed to leave the house again except for school and church and essential appointments until he has managed to go two weeks without uttering a curse word within your earshot. If during his two weeks of house arrest, he curses, then his rehab starts over the next day and becomes three weeks. And so on.

You’re obviously going to have to accept that you can’t stop him from cursing when he’s with his friends. You can, however, cause him to accept that you won’t tolerate cursing while he’s in your home.

Q. Here we are, not more than a week into the school year, and there’s an 11-year-old boy classmate who is beginning to bully my son — pushing him in the hall, calling him names, throwing pencils at him in class and so on. My son, who is shy and doesn’t have a lot of friends to begin with, reacts to all this, which throws fuel on the fire.

I’ve talked with him about possible solutions and he’s already moved away from the boy in one class. I want him to solve the problem. Am I being unrealistic?

A. Time will tell whether you’re being unrealistic or not. This is the age at which bullies begin to come out of the woodwork and target vulnerable kids like your son. I think you’re right to expect your son to try and solve the problem, but the fact remains he may not be able to. It is the rare 11-year-old who has the emotional control required to ignore taunting and other acts of humiliation.

In the final analysis, it is the school’s responsibility to provide a safe learning environment. That means it is obligated to protect children from physical and emotional harm. If the bullying continues, and it becomes obvious your son’s efforts aren’t working, then you should inform school officials of the problem and make it crystal clear that you expect them to do whatever it takes to solve it. So informed, I would have faith that they will jump right to it.

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

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