Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: Why Does My Teen Blame Everyone But Himself?

Sometimes, when teens face challenges they feel unequipped to meet, they disengage. That may mean cutting class, forfeiting assignments, or “forgetting” to study. If your teen seems not to care about school and blames everyone else for his failures, heed this practical advice for balancing support with consequences.  

Q: “My son does not take responsibility for his decisions; everything is someone else’s fault and he blames others. His teachers have pretty much given up on him because when he knows that he needs to put in the time and effort to do well in school, he says he will do his work, but then he doesn’t do it and comes up with excuses. He has an IEP, but he doesn’t show that he’s interested in doing well enough in school for it to help him. At home, we fight constantly about chores — he wants to do them when he wants and not by following the schedule. We’ve tried everything and nothing seems to be working. Thoughts?” — AtWitsEnd

Dear AtWitsEnd,

The behavior you describe is typical of a teenage boy who struggles with learning and behavioral disabilities. Though you haven’t indicated your son’s area(s) of weakness, I can say with some certainty that this phenomenon of teens blaming others is extremely typical of a preteen/teen with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) and the executive functioning issues inherent to ADHD. How do we address these behaviors and how do we transition a child to independent living? That is the pivotal question.

The trick is to balance two things: ensuring that your son is receiving the support and strategies he needs to combat his academic and behavioral difficulties, while also holding him accountable when he fails to complete a task. One day, when your son holds a job, he may enjoy some flexibility in deciding when and how to complete some work requirements — but certain things will be strictly deadline bound. You’re not doing him any favors by shielding him from this reality.

I recommend that you consider working with an educational advocate or an educational therapist to ensure that your son’s IEP is meeting his current needs. The IEP might include good-sounding goals and accommodations, but it still might not truly meet his needs unless a professional is working with him in some capacity to develop organizational, coping, and completion strategies.

When students don’t fully understand or remember what to do, it feels overwhelming to even get started. “Get organized!” sounds like a simple command to you, but your son might not have any idea how to get started or maintain an organizational system. It would be helpful to find a professional — remediation specialist, expert tutor, educational therapist, counselor — to bridge that gap and help your son understand the value and usefulness to the responsibilities he’s practicing at school.

[Take This Test: Could Your Child Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

Through your son’s IEP, the school is obligated to provide him with a meaningful educational benefit and to enlist providers through the IEP that can address his needs. The teachers shouldn’t be giving up on your son; they might not know what to do next to reach him, and that’s okay only if they also agree to an interim IEP meeting to review what is currently in place and consider changes.

At home, I would consider giving your son choices when appropriate and in keeping with your house rules, of course. He must do x, y, and z, but he can have a little bit of control by dictating the order in which he completes the tasks. His list must be completed by a clear, designated time.

Don’t get into a heated verbal battle with your son if he doesn’t meet your demands. You can’t allow him to escalate the situation and feel that he has “won” or has too much power over the situation. Stay calm and let him know that he has chosen to not complete his home responsibilities — and because of that he has made the choice to not have a pre-determined privilege. He can earn that back tomorrow by meeting tomorrow’s expectations, as agreed upon.

Keep it simple and not so wordy. He knows that it’s fair and just for him to help in managing the household; you don’t have to oversell it. Don’t be afraid to hold him accountable. You will only have so long to do so before he is off and running.

[Read This Next: The New IEP App Will Make Your Life a Lot Easier]

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The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.