First, thank you for your calm and sensible way of dealing with these problems. We have appreciated the help.
We have a dilemma. Spring break is coming and a trip has been planned. Our 17 year old son, for whom we started your program doesn't want to go. He would like to go on an alternate trip with a friend and his family, which would only be for part of the time we will be gone and just staying around town at home or with other friends the rest of the time.
One of the reasons we started your program was a little incident earlier in the year when we found he had a party with alcohol in the house when we were out of town. We tried to get him to talk to us about what he thought would be an appropriate punishment but when he didn't come up with anything on his own we came up with some restrictions he of course didn't agree with. He did stick to it pretty well with only a few changes that we discussed prior to the events. Another was his lack of motivation and sort of a passive aggressive way of dealing with us and blowing off chores and school. He's had a few angry outbursts but nothing violent towards us, he does have a punching bag that has gotten a workout on a couple of occasions.
Since starting your program things have improved but I'm still concerned about leaving him here while we're gone.
I thought about getting him to write an itinerary of where he would be each day with phone numbers of the homes he would be staying in so we could call there each evening and make sure he was actually in those places. The other idea was to write up a contract of what was expected of him while we were gone.
I'm feeling apprehensive but would really like to trust him to do the right thing. He will be going off to college next year so it would be great for him to show more maturity at this point.
If you could help in any way we would really appreciate it.
Here are a few questions to think about:
- Can your son understand and follow safety measures?
- Does your son follow your instructions about staying away from strangers?
- Does your son know basic first-aid procedures?
- Does your son make good judgments about what kinds of risks to take?
- Does your son show signs of responsibility with things like homework, household chores, and following directions?
- Does your son understand and follow rules?
- How does your son handle unexpected situations?
- How calm does your son stay when things don't go his way?
Even if you're confident that your son does well with all of the above, it's wise to make some practice runs, or home-alone trials, before the big day. Let your son stay home alone for 30 minutes to an hour while you remain nearby and easily reachable. When you return, discuss how it went and talk about things that you might want to change or skills that your son may need to learn for the next time.
Even after you decide that your son is ready to stay home alone, you're bound to feel a little anxious when the time comes. But some practical steps taken in advance can make it easier for you both:
1. Schedule time to get in touch. Set up a schedule for calling. You might have your son call as soon as he walks in the door (if coming home to an empty house), or set up a time when you'll call home to check in. Figure out something that's convenient for both of you. Make sure your son understands when you'll be able to get in touch and when you might not be able to answer a call.
2. Set ground rules. Try to set up some special rules for when you're away and make sure that your son knows and understands them. Consider rules about:
- answering the phone
- getting along with siblings
- having a friend or friends over while you're not there
- Internet and computer rules
- kitchen and cooking (you may want to make the oven and utensils like sharp knives off limits)
- not telling anyone he is alone
- opening the door for strangers
- rooms of the house that are off limits, especially with friends
- TV time and types of shows
3. Childproof your home. No matter how well your son follows rules, be sure to secure anything that could be a health or safety risk. Lock them up and put them in a place where your son cannot get to them or, when possible, remove them from your home. These items include:
- car keys
- guns (if you do keep one, make sure it is locked up and leave it unloaded and stored away from ammunition)
- lighters and matches
- over-the-counter medications that could cause problems if taken in excess: sleeping pills, cough medicine, etc.
- prescription medications
Mark Hutten, M.A.
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