The harsh truth about teenage boys
A FEW years ago I was standing outside my son's school, when a four-wheel-drive pulled up and woman got out, clutching a folder.
She stood a few metres away from me, pulled out a mobile and tapped out a text message. A few moments later a short, skinny boy in school uniform ran up to her. "Hello Simon, here it is, darling," the woman said, proffering the folder to the boy.
The schoolboy, not more than 13 years of age, took one look at the folder and said loudly, "That's the wrong one, you stupid cow! I needed my maths folder! Now I'm up s**t creek and it's all your fault."
The woman looked close to tears as she stuttered, "But Simon, I thought you said bring me the English folder. I did tell you to check your bag before you got in the car. I had to cancel an appointment to get this to you."
Simon regarded his mother with an expression of utter contempt and said, "You are just hopeless". No word of thanks, he simply turned on his heels and walked away.
Up until this point, she had not even noticed that I was standing there, but now she realised that this rather unpleasant exchange had transpired in front of an audience of one - me. I still don't know if she knew I was a child and adolescent psychologist, but she looked mortified and said to me apologetically, "It's fine, really, he's been under a lot of stress lately." She then returned to her SUV and drove off.
Now, as much as my day to day work brings me in touch with some pretty tricky situations and I have met some pretty challenging young people in my time, I can think of no circumstance under which it would be acceptable for any child to speak to an adult like that, let alone one's loving mother.
So, what are the lessons to be learnt from this?
In the first instance, Simon's mother should never have cancelled her appointment, in essence rewarding her son's forgetful behaviour. This is classic helicopter-gunship/lawnmower/snowplough parenting paradigm - swooping into rescue a child from his own indolence or laziness or forgetfulness.
We know Year 7s can be a bit scatterbrained, but the way they learn not to be is to have natural consequences for poor choices. Forget the book, face the consequences at school.
Second, Simon should never have been allowed to speak to his mother in such a disrespectful way. One of Dr Phil's favourite sayings is that "we teach people how to treat us" and Simon's behaviour is not surprising given that his rudeness has probably been tolerated, if not throughout his childhood, certainly in early adolescence.
In our new book, The Prince Boofhead Syndrome, Elly Robinson and I argue that the trouble with boys like Simon is that he has been brought up to see the world as one giant, personalised, all-singing, all-dancing, 24/7 catering service - exclusively for him.
These boys have never been challenged when they refuse to take out the garbage bins, pick up the dog poo or stack the dishwasher; in essence to contribute to the running of the family.
When I wrote The Princess Bitchface Syndrome in 2006, this type of disrespectful behaviour seemed more common among a small sub section of teenage girls that I worked with, but it now seems to have spilt over to boys.
And while they are not as verbal or vitriolic as their sisters, they are physically stronger and can be terrifying in their anger, especially when it is directed towards their parents, as it so often is.
Too many of today's parents exhaust themselves trying to make their son's lives easy by doing things that he can do for himself, leaping in to fix his problems, handing him every single opportunity on a plate, and being his full-time cheerleader.
All of these are the ingredients required for a self-absorbed, lazy, entitled, spoiled brat - aka Prince Boofhead.
The child-centred parenting movement has swung too far in the opposite direction. We have become too terrified to say no, to set limits and enforce consequences in case we damage our children's self-esteem.
We seem to have turned away from the focus of raising civilised, polite, well-mannered boys and instead have gone to worship at the altar of "happiness".
We are oblivious to the fact that by not allowing our children to learn from their own stuff-ups and develop resilience and self-respect, we are creating rudderless, disconnected, bitter and resentful boys who feel they can treat their parents (and other authority figures, like the police) in precisely the way Simon treated his mother.