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Ask Mike: Forgetful Teen

The Saturday Early Show's family and adolescence counselor, Mike Riera, provides advice to parents who emailed us to "Ask Mike" about their problems with their kids.

Dear Mike,
My 16-year-old son is incredibly irresponsible. He constantly forgets his wallet (with his driver's license in it). Today, I found his ATM card and school ID in the pocket of his dirty jeans. He often locks his keys inside his car, and before that, he often lost the keys to the house. He doesn't return library books and owes $280 in fines. He has even left a stove burner on a couple of times. He's a smart kid but is doing so-so in honors classes. How do we deal with this problem?

He needs to be held accountable for his irresponsibility. That is, this is the place of natural consequences except in areas of health and safety. Let the situations play out without rescuing him:

  • You insist he pay the library fines
  • He pays to have AAA unlock his car
  • If he leaves a burner on, he can't use stove for a week or so
  • And you have to ask yourself: If he is this irresponsible, can he handle an ATM card? Maybe take that away as a natural consequence. Just tell him ahead of time this will happen.

    This kind of behavior is typical of 16-year-olds, though this is extreme.

    Often, it's just a developmental phase that he'll grow out of, with you insisting on natural consequences. If you constantly rescue him, he'll miss out on really learning responsibility in these areas. Often, it's a sign that he is overloaded and stressed out. Is he doing too many things?

    In general, stick to the natural consequences and let them teach him - lectures from you, by and large, won't be helpful.

    Dear Mike,
    My eighth-grade daughter seems to have lost the battle to fit in with the popular girls. She has one best girlfriend and has chosen to make friends with the boys instead. At lunch, she is the only girl at the boys table. I'm worried that she is not included in the social activities other girls enjoy. She thinks girls are shallow. How can I help her?

    In the short run, eighth grade is difficult, but just know it'll change next year when she enters high school. And with that said, sometimes this isn't a battle worth fighting. To fit in with the larger group, she would have to become someone she doesn't like. She is making her genuine self more important than fitting in with these girls, which is great news.

    It's fantastic that she has a best friend, which can be even more important than a group of friends at this age. That is, a best friend at this age really teaches intimacy, loyalty, and trust - wonderful and essential attributes that are more difficult to cultivate in a larger group.

    My question is: Is she worried about not being included in other social activities that other girls enjoy? Often times we worry more because, were we in that situation, we would be stressed and upset. So be sure to check in with her. My experience is that kids in this situation - not part of a group, but having a best friend - are just fine with the situation.

    Hanging out with boys is fine unless you feel inappropriate sexual play is involved. It probably isn't. At this age, boys are more direct and less subtle and power-conscious in their relationships. So being with the guys probably feels more naturally relaxing to her. Boys can be good friends, too!

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