Like most teenagers, my seventeen year old can be very moody. There are time when he is wonderfully helpful and accommodating but other times the slightest request will make him sullen, disrespectful and irritated, as if his indignation is wholly justified. Do I just ignore these outbursts?


You are bringing up a very common problem of teenage-hood: moodiness. Our focus here is not the cause but the cure. Though truly nothing can cure this "condition" completely, there are certain ways to encourage improvement.

Firstly, as your question informs us, let's recognize your son's good traits. He has the ability to be helpful and very accommodating. This sounds like the basis of person who is reasonable and sees himself as part of the family "team." This is great news as it gives you a base to work on. From this we can assume that your son has a fair amount of good will towards you and the family in general. What is needed is a clarification of the relationship and responsibility towards it.

Many teens fall into this same predicament as your son: they do not mean any harm to their parents or family, but controlling one's emotions is the hardest part of being human. What's missing is the understanding of what it's doing to others and who bears responsibility for this situation. In other words, people are still responsible for their actions no matter what mood they're in or how their day went. I suspect we could all learn this lesson. To teach it to your son you should find a quiet time when he is in a good mood and have a talk with him. In that talk you should explain how you feel when he allows himself to be less than nice.

The measure of an adult is not who they are or what they do when things are going well for them, but what they are like when things are going wrong. Everyone can smile and be pleasant when things are going their way, but who you really are shows as soon as the clouds roll in on your sunny day. So far your son doesn't look too good. Your pledge is that you, as the parent, will keep your cool and try very hard to listen to him in any discussion. The result is that if there is a negative atmosphere it's his fault! Does he really want the relationship with his parents to turn negative or for there to be raised voices and hard words said—is this what he wants? Discuss with him what he wants in the relationship with his parents and how is he going to get there. Talk about the real situations that have come up in the past in as analytical manner as possible. Not as blame to be given but as a problem to be solved.

Lastly, you must talk with him about being disrespectful. This is never permitted—period!

Discuss this issue with him to the point where he agrees that there is never an excuse to talk to parents in this manner, then discuss what the consequences will be if he breaks this rule. Together, decide on the consequences and make it very clear that a zero tolerance policy now exists in your home.

If he then breaks the rules and is disrespectful, you could come down on him like a ton of bricks. But if he has problems controlling himself and is being sullen and irritated, he really needs a little help. Decide with him on reminder phrases to use at these occasions to help him catch himself, such as "Having a bad hair day?" or "Good time to look in the mirror..." whatever makes sense to both of you and he feels will not embarrass him if overheard by others.

One more communication tool must be in your "kit"; your son needs a way to communicate with you in order to tell you that he really needs to be left alone now and can't handle the requests you are making of him. This is a very legitimate part of the relationship which is based on mutual respect. As long as it is not overused and it's clear that in cases of urgency Mom may need help no matter how bad her son's day has been.

You both need permission to increase your communication, preferably in a fun way that allows for the meeting of needs, recognizes responsibility to respect each other, and recognizes the responsibility of a mother to run the home with the help and respect of all her children.

While discussing how to best meet these needs in your home, please remember that verbal communication gives so many other messages beyond the spoken word. Every word said harshly means, "I don't care about you." Every word said thoughtfully and kindly means, "I love you." This is what's meant by the term "loshon tov," or "good speech." Our Sages have asked the question many times: What is the most harmful thing in the world and what is the most healing thing in the world? The answer is the same; the tongue! Human speech has far reaching power and effects, choose your words well.

Wishing you and your family all the best!