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Son Putting Off Community Service

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My son has had to do 25 hours of community service for the past seven months and has been putting it off. He keeps saying that he'll do it tomorrow. My husband says if he doesn't do it, he'll suffer the consquences, but I say we should be firm and insist that he do it as soon as possible. I feel it's our responsibility to teach him to complete tasks by restricting his privileges until the chore is done, or at least until some portion is done. My husband, on the other hand, says if he doesn't complete the work the courts will deal with him and he'll find out the hard way. But shouldn't we impose punishments on our son for not doing what he's told?

A: I assume that your son is an adolescent who was given community service by the court or police as a result of his doing something illegal. Seven months is more than ample time to perform 25 hours of community service. Apparently, he has not responded to his sentence of community service in a responsible or serious manner. Punishing him for not being responsible in this matter does nothing to teach him discipline.

I would agree with your husband that your son would learn best from the natural and logical consequences of his being either responsible or irresponsible about fulfilling his promise to do community service. I don't suggest rescuing him in any way from the consequences that he will suffer if he continues to ignore his community service deadline. I suggest, however, that you have a calm talk with him and ask him what his plans are, in detail, to fulfill his community service commitment. After he gives you his plan, I would tell him that you believe that he will honor his commitment and that this is the last that you will speak to him about it.

Leave the "door open" to him for any help that you can provide him in planning out his remaining service hours, while making it clear that he should probably find out from the court what the consequences would be if he fails to honor his commitment on time. I know that it's maddening to watch him behave in this nonchalant manner, but you must allow him the opportunity to succeed or fail in this matter in order for him to learn from the experience.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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