Stepson breaks house rules in front of friends

Dear Dr. Mike

My stepson tends to act up when his friends are over in an attempt to look cool and often he breaks the house rules when he does this. What should I do to discourage this action and should I say something in front of his buddies?

Dr. Mike Responds

There are at least two dynamics at work here so you need to remain cautious in your responses.

THE STEP RELATIONSHIP

The first dynamic is the stepchild - stepparent relationship. Typically, and appropriately, stepparents are not the primary enforcers of discipline in the home. This is the job of the biological parent. However, this does not mean that the stepparent is powerless. Just like any parent, stepparents are tested by teens. My sense is you are facing one of these tests. Your stepson is daring you to try to discipline him. You cannot ignore this challenge, but neither can you respond in a stereotypical manner.

FAMILY VS. FRIENDS

This brings us to the second dynamic, the pull between friends and family. In this realm your stepson is obviously showing off for his friends at the expense of family: "See how powerful I am. Nobody in my house can stop me. I am in charge. " In this role he feels that he scores points with his friends--they respect and value him more for this behavior. Consequently, if you immediately challenge him he is forced to fight back in an increasingly hostile manner as that is the only way he can save face in front of his friends. Thus, your first level of response needs to protect your stepson from a reactive and escalated reaction. This is difficult under the best circumstances.

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