Suffering the Consequences

Q: Two of our children are boys, aged 7 and 14, who have annoying daily habits that, despite negative consequences, they have not learned to change. In the long run, they only hurt themselves by their behavior, but it seems they don’t really care.

Our younger son leaves his snack at home every day. Sometimes he calls me from school, complaining that he is starving! I remind him in the morning (several times!) and he tries to decide what to take along. But he loses track of what he’s doing and runs for the bus without any food. We’ve tried to get organized the night before, but it never fails that he takes things out of his briefcase in the morning (to find this, that or the other item) — and, inevitably, even a snack that had been packed the previous evening gets left behind. I believe it barely bothers him; he simply goes begging to his classmates and they always give him some of their nosh. And when he manages to remember and brings a “desirable” snack to school, he shares generously in turn. This scenario doesn’t seem to bother him, but it bothers me.

My 14-year-old son is causing us to pay “additional tuition” for all the times he is late for minyan in yeshivah — and we end up paying his knas (monetary fine). Where does the school expect my son to come up with all this money? The buck stops with us, and my husband and I have to foot this costly bill. Who is being punished here — my son or us? Dealing with a teenager is difficult enough; you have to pick your battles. Like my younger son, the older one doesn’t seem embarrassed or uncomfortable about his ongoing situation; he’d rather sleep late than get to yeshivah on time. Even his peers’ teasing does not affect him. Since he is a generally conscientious student, he knows that he will not be expelled from school over this misdemeanor.

A: Learning from one’s mistakes involves learning the natural consequences of actions. If a person observes that certain negative behaviors promote certain negative results, s/he will then avoid such behaviors to avoid their painful consequences.

However, there are certain types of people who continue to exhibit problematic behavior patterns and appear oblivious to the uncomfortable results of these behaviors. Your two sons seem to be experiencing minimal discomfort due to their actions, and are not greatly motivated to change.

Such children usually fall into three categories:

1) A child with low self-esteem. “Who cares, anyway?” could be his mantra. Feeling second class is a constant state of being for him, and having to beg for a snack or getting punished for arriving late for minyan is par for the course. “Why bother?” is often his mindset.

2) The non-conventional child. This child may well do great things in his adult life, but school authorities may have limited impact on the way he attempts to “fit a square peg into a round hole.” He will come to minyan when he feels like it, and will not mind repeatedly asking for favors.

3) The day-dreamer. This child daydreams and would rather stay in his world of ideas than contemplate the consequences of his actions when he is non-compliant in school. A child’s daydreaming may be due to familial or classroom stress, or difficulty comprehending the academic material being taught. Whatever the cause of such behavior, this child may be labeled “spaced-out” by his peers, but his self-contained world doesn’t motivate him to change his “annoying daily habits.”

Ways to help motivate such children will be discussed in next week’s column, iy”H.