Thirteenilitis by Sharon O’Donnell

My son is suffering from Thirteenilitis. Yes, that same syndrome that talk show host Wendy Williams’ son seems to have. They are both 13 years old and seem to be trying to push dear ole’ Mom away (I feel your pain, Wendy!). They also seem to have a bit of that infamous teen attitude that they dish out to dear ole’ mom (I feel your utter frustration and exasperation, Wendy!). I didn’t find out about Williams’ emotional display on TV until several days after the event occurred. I had been very busy and hadn’t seen much television and then suddenly there it was before me. When I first saw the image of her face, crying and dabbing at her eyes, I thought that perhaps something about a celebrity report had upset her — and I almost didn’t watch the story, but something made me continue to watch. And when I heard her say she was having trouble communicating with her 13-year-old son, I yelled at the top of my lungs, “Jason!!” to my own 13-year-old work-in-progress down the hall. “Come watch this!” I saw immediately this was a rare chance to have a validation of my feelings right on TV.

Of course, my 13-year-old, Jason, did not come when I called him, remaining in his closed-door bedroom at at the end of the hallway. Surprise, surprise. This is the crux of the problem that Williams talked about on her show, how she repeatedly has to ask her son to do something, and he doesn’t do it, sometimes not responding at all. As a mom, I know Williams doesn’t want to resort to ‘nagging’, but I guess we still think that surely we will get through to him ‘this time’. And then we don’t . . . again. The frustration and the lack of respect we feel can be palpable. Then when they finally ask what OUR problem is, why do we overreact, why do we get mad . . . well, it just gets to us, especially when we think about that sweet little boy he was just a couple of years ago and how he’d hug us and want to spend time with us and tell us without our asking that we were beautiful. Ah, yes, the good ole days.

Click here to read Williams’ comments.

To be fair, my husband and I BOTH have had similar encounters with our son, but it doesn’t bother him the way it does me. But we have both been totally perplexed at the change in our son in the past year and a half. He doesn’t seem to have any motivation the way he used to, and perhaps it’s because the school work has gotten harder and the competition in sports has gotten tougher. His attitude is so lackadaisical. Take away his phone? Check. We’ve done that for a few months until for logistical reasons we had to give it back to him, but there was no difference in his behavior during those 3 months. Take away video games and TV? Check but again with no visible results.

Jason loves to read, but he doesn’t read as much as he used to. He plays the saxophone but doesn’t practice at all like he used to do. He plays rec basketball and baseball, but his passion for the games is not what it used to be, and he has lost his assertiveness on the court. Last quarter, his math and science grades dropped from a B to a low C; hey, math was never my best subject either — I understand that — but that is not Jason’s problem. If he studied and still didn’t get it, that is one thing; when he doesn’t study and doesn’t seem to care if he makes a low grade, that is another. His problem is that he doesn’t know how to study, and when we sit down and make him study for math or science and show him how to highlight text and organize notes, he rolls his eyes and sighs like he can’t believe we are putting him through such agony. One weekend when my husband was out of town, I grounded Jason for the entire weekend, and we stayed in and studied inequalities — truly, not a top ten way to spend time in my book. I, of course, had to brush up on them myself. He seemed to have a good grasp on them and did a whole packed of material he was supposed to turn in to his teacher that Monday. He FORGOT to turn it in! How does one forget something so important??? His teacher knows Jason is as mind-boggling to us as he is to her, and we have had him apologize to her. But it is like he is not making common sense connections like he used to.

Yet, when he received his Common Core test scores recently, he scored a 94% in Language Arts. I know he is smart, but he has to apply himself. He has to have a motivation for the things he does, and a passion in particular for something. I’ve talked about this with several people at work, and I’m met with knowing nods as other women tell me that their 13 year-olds have gone through the similar stages. (I hope to God this is a stage he will outgrow!) Yet, it is new to me. My other two sons were not like this when they were 13. My oldest son, now 22, was a very independent, go-getter who was organized and had study skills. My middle son, now 19, had an auditory processing learning disability and later in high school – even had severe anxiety; he actually probably went overboard with the studying because he worried and obsessed about things so much. He’d often stay up until 1:00 in the morning studying before a test in middle school, begging me to call questions out to him one more time so he’d have it “fresh” in his mind. Looking back, we know this had been the anxiety talking. Jason had seen all this, and he knew what a tough time his brother had in his last two years of high school. So my husband and I were relieved when we realized early on that Jason was probably not going to have anxiety issues because he didn’t worry at all like his brother and was very laid-back. We were glad Jason wasn’t going to be a worrier.

However, we wanted him to at least be somewhat concerned about his grades. No, let me amend it. Jason does sometimes show concern, and I’m sure he would love to snap his fingers and have all A’s. It’s not that he doesn’t value good grades — it’s that he doesn’t value them enough to DO something about getting them. Still, I’d much rather have a son who is exasperating and hard to motivate, rather than a son struggling with anxiety like my middle son did. Anxiety was a hellish experience for us all. This situation with Jason is nothing compared to that. But it is still stressful, and there are a lot of ahem — disagreements, shall we say. Other parents whose kids have had Thirteenilitis say it does get better. In the meantime, we are trying to figure out how much still to help him with the studying, despite his efforts to avoid it (which is stressful and results in arguments) or if we should just let him go totally on his own without us knowing or caring when tests or projects are and let him sink or swim. 7th grade is the time to do that, and perhaps lessons can be learned before the high school years — lessons we’d thought he’d learned in elementary school that he evidently hadn’t. I know you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink — but I keep hoping that he might at least take a sip or two. And I feel it’s still my duty to provide the water. If I don’t go crazy in the meantime.

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  1. One Response to “Thirteenilitis by Sharon O’Donnell”

  2. Oh, Sharon…you have a thirteen-year-old teen who has my 10-year-old son’s disposition regarding school work. And my son also has auditory processing disorder. I decided at the beginning of this school year, and shared my thoughts with his doctor, that this was going to be the year of “Natural Consequenses.” Yup. I don’t ask about homework, don’t help him with it, don’t care if he doesn’t even open his backpack. But he is “learning” that his teacher is not exactly pleased when a project he had a week to do is not handed in on time. His teacher has spoken to him many times about very poor scores in areas he excels at: math and science. Life has been very peaceful here with “NC.” And my stress level has gone way down. I know my husband tries to “help him out,” which ultimately turns into “Dad’s homework.” But I remain steadfast. If he choses to watch TV instead of doing his homework, he has to look his teacher in the eye and explain why. It’s not that I don’t care about my son’s academic future. I care greatly. What I care more about is my relationship with my son. Taking away privileges, issuing consequences have already added up to zero results, damaged relationships and far too much stress. Your son and mine will end up doing extremely well in life. They have it in them. Just leave him at the watering hole by himself and he’ll realize how thirsty he is ;)…

    By Cara Meyers on Jan 31, 2014