Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Choose Your Own Adventure: 11-Year-Old Runaway

A case for your consideration, ripped from today's headlines and based on a true story:

If you read the link above, you know that Kane ran away on Tuesday night. Kane is my 11-year-old son. He and his brother Donovan are twins. Briefly, their history is this:
  • 2 years of neglect and abuse with their biological mother
  • 2 years of foster care with their cranky great-grandmother
  • 2 years of foster care with their great-aunt and uncle (my in-laws), with promises that they would be adopted permanently
  • Almost six years with Melissa and I. They've been adopted and are here permanently.
So, Kane's going through an evil phase where he hates his biological parents, but they're not handy, so he makes do with hating us. He's threatened to run away many times, but last night, he went through with it. Right before a typical Illinois spring thunderstorm hit. To his credit, he did come back. And to be fair, Kane has serious cognitive and emotional delays from the treatment he received as a child.

Now, this semester has been a roller-coaster of grades. At the beginning of the semester, Kane was doing no work and was on track to repeat the 6th grade. When the last report cards came out, he had begun turning in his work and managed to make the Honor Roll. Last week, he came home all excited about the Honor Roll Party, which is to be held this coming Friday night. I told him then that he could go to the party as long as he stayed out of trouble until then.

Fast forward to this week, when he threw stomping, screaming tantrums in public, refused to accept being sent to his bed as punishment, then ran away from home when we persisted, and even after that continued to refuse to go to bed for the night--then went to school the next day and bragged to a teacher that he would "do something" so she wouldn't be seeing him at school the next day.

Tonight he asked me whether he would be allowed to attend the Honor Roll party on Friday. I told him that of course he would not, and that he should have known what the answer to that one would be. He was utterly shocked that I would dare keep him from the party. A whole new tantrum resulted, and I sent him to bed again.

Now, here's the interesting part: I told Melissa about this, and she told me that she'd had a similar experience. Today, she was telling her army of individual education aides the Saga of the Journeys of Kane, and one of her aides (a mother of two, mind you) was also shocked. Kane earned the party before he ran away, she declared, and therefore it cannot be taken away as punishment for other actions.

So what do you think? Thumbs up or thumbs down on young Kane's party?

I'm not going to change my decision, but I was surprised that an adult took that stance. I wonder if any readers will agree that I'm doing the wrong thing here.


Steve said...


I firmly believe you did the right thing. While Kane certainly has reason to get his feelings hurt (he "earned" the party by making the honor roll), he forfeited his right to attend by not being respectful to his family.

Maybe a second chance at earning a family celebration is in order.

Good luck with them. sounds like you have your hands full!!


Anonymous said...

"I told him then that he could go to the party as long as he stayed out of trouble until then."

Seems like he didn't live up to the bargain. Permission to go was conditional.

The only time that I would let one of the kids go to an extra curricular activity in this type of circumstance was if others were depending on them. Team sport event, play, concert, or the like.

Sevesteen said...

"I told him then that he could go to the party as long as he stayed out of trouble until then."

In hindsight, not sure I'd have said that. Not sure I wouldn't, either. Since you did, it needs to stick.

Matt G said...

"In hindsight, not sure I'd have said that. Not sure I wouldn't, either. Since you did, it needs to stick."

My sentiments, exactly.

Trust yourself on this, Don. You understand that consistency is the most important feature of discipline. Stick with it. I take that Melissa is in lockstep with you (at least in front of the kids)?

You almost didn't get them in time. The going theory is that the door slams shut at 8 years of age, before the ability to develop further self-control is lost. You and Missy are pros, and the boys are going to make it, but there are going to be some hickups along the way. Expected. Heck, I'm highly impressed that you have so few.

They're going to grow up to be men who are proud of themselves, and proud of their father. I'm convinced of that. They won't feel any pride if their respect (and self-respect) is just given without them having to earn it. You're going through the drudgework of having Kane earn his self-respect, and are risking that he's not going to like you very much, in the process. A surprising number of parents and even supposed professionals in child development aren't willing to risk not being liked.

I always think back to that story in freshman psych, about a study done at UT campus. They gave random passers-by ice cream cones, and a couple of blocks later would poll them about how they liked their ice cream. Then they sold the same ice cream to passers-by for a nominal price, and a couple of blocks later polled those people on their appreciation of the ice cream. Universally, the people who had invested some money in their ice cream had a greater appreciation of it.

This is more widely applicable than I first realized.

Anonymous said...

Kids don't just need discipline, they WANT discipline...guidance, structure. They may not even know it, and they mail rail and struggle against it while working through the more challenging stages of life, but they really do want to be guided. They just don't want to believe that they want it.

Once you set a goalpost, you MUST NOT move it. That is also why it is so important not to make empty threats.

My ex-wife was terrible about that. She'd never follow through on her threats of overly harsh punishment and the kids knew it. They'd completely ignore her, while doing what I told them to do the first time, every time. It infuriated her (even more than her standard level of self-righteous fury), but it was a bed of her own making.

You are absolutely doing the right thing. You are doing your son a service by teaching him that all actions have consequences and it is important to consider those consequences before performing the actions.

An important lesson that many people fail to learn these days.

Forgive me for taking the liberty of directing you to a post I made a week or so ago. I just think that it may serve to give hope to parents struggling through these stages. It just seems especially apropos to what you're going through right now.

frostedlexicharm said...

I think you did the right thing. When someone is fully capable of reaching a goal you set, yet they choose not to, the answer is not to lower the bar to make it easier for them. In future he'll remember that his own behavior caused him to miss out on the fun party, and it may help him make a better choice with regard to his behavior.

My parents were good people, but they treated my middle sister with more of a relaxed attitude than they treated me. She is a very talented vocal performer, and the ultimate threat was that she'd have to miss choir practice, would have to pay her own way on a singing tour, etc. But they never followed through with it. If she was told "Do your homework or you don't get to go to practice tonight." somehow she'd still end up going with the homework left unfinished, even if that meant she had to stay up all night working on it.

I don't know if this would hurt or help, but here's a thought. Instead of allowing him to go to the party (which he lost out on due to his behavior), possibly do a "not as fun but still acknowledging that he did well by making the honor roll" event at home, just the few of you? My concern would be that he'd see the punishment of losing out on the party as a reason not to bother trying for high grades again. There should be some kind of recognition for him making the honor roll, even if it's an ice-cream cone, or some fun board games.

Hope that wasn't too garbled. It's nearly 6:30 a.m. and I haven't been to bed yet. --lexi

Feanaro said...

I suspect your wife's aide is raising some spoiled brats.

Mr. Fixit said...

I have to side with you on this. You did the right thing.

Mr Fixit

Ambulance Driver said...

"So what do you think? Thumbs up or thumbs down on young Kane's party?"

Thumbs way down. He needs to learn that there are consequences for unacceptable behavior, and that rewards are something you get for *continued* good behavior, not just the occasional oasis between tantrums.

Michael said...

As a parent, I side with you and urge you to stay the course without any regret. Actions have consequences. . .

Brandon said...

I won't repeat what's already been said above, except to mention that I think you took the right action in this case.

Anonymous said...

It's called give-and-take: You told him he could attend the honor roll party IF he behaved. He didn't. If he's a smart kid (and if he made the Honor Roll,so I'm guessing he is) he'll take you seriously next time.

Obviously, you love him, because you did what's right (saying no) rather than what was easy (letting him have his cake and eat it, too).

J.R.Shirley said...

Consistency and respectful interaction, in my experience, are the most important characteristics when it comes to successfully training kids. Probably even more important than whether you tell them you love them.

Anonymous said...

You absolutely did the right thing, or at least exactly what I would have done.

Consistency is the key to parenting! Good job!

Anonymous said...

You did the right thing.

One of the most important things parents need to learn is to say "NO". I wish I had figured this out sooner. My initial impulse, generally, is to spoil my kids; it takes disipline to say NO.

Anonymous said...

You did the right thing. It's a shame the poor boy didn't choose to protect something he wanted so badly.

Jonathan said...

you did the right thing.

hold him accountable.

Dedicated_Dad said...

I won sole legal custody of my children. Their mother had ruined one child, and was well on the way on the second. When my eldest began exhibiting the same oppositional/defiant symptoms, I acted.

Her response was to accuse me of beating her and the children, tacking on allegations I sexually molested my daughters. This got the court to finally order the psych eval I'd been seeking.

My eldest was asked -- on hidden camera -- "if your Daddy gets really mad will he spank you?"

"Oooooooooh YEAH!" she said.

"What sort of things do you get spanked for?"

After some thought "I don't know."

"Well -- think back to the last spanking you got. What was THAT for?"

Some more concentration, then a somewhat surprised sounding "You know... I don't think I've ever really had one."

"Well... Why would you say 'oh, yeah' if you never had a spanking?"

Well, ... you hafta understand about my Daddy. He never breaks a promise about nothin. When he gets mad, he gets really, really quiet and says stuff like 'I promise, if you do that again I will spank you.' When he says 'I promise'... well... I ain't stupid, so I stop doing it."

I've never been more proud in my life.

The truth is that I WILL spank if I have to. I believe corporal punishment is a valid option of last resort, but ONLY in cases of willfull disobedience, and ONLY when the child has been given ample warning.

The truth is also that my consistency meant that I never had to do more than PROMISE.

Consistency is key.

NEVER make an empty threat. NEVER.

ALWAYS follow through -- WITHOUT FAIL.

Do this, and in time the child will learn where the lines are drawn, and they'll also learn to stay within them.

I've kept my kid from such events. It tore my HEART out to do so, but they learned.

Today, my "oppositional/defiant" child -- who only ever acted that way with her Mom -- is an amazing young woman in all regards -- AP student, leader, pre-professional ballet dancer -- she's going to rock the world.

Because Daddy showed her that promises were inviolable, and that actions had consequences.

You have to love them enough to do the hard stuff.


Anonymous said...