DP and DSS GCSE options

(26 Posts)
shoppingfrenzy Thu 01-May-14 07:20:00

Regular poster on SP board, using a different name.

DP and DSS have a somewhat difficult relationship. DSS is early teens and often sullen, sometimes rude, non - communicative. I find him very tricky too. DP is not a Disney dad, in fact we struggle with boundaries we want to set as DP's ex doesn't set any of the same ones, and we are often "bad" cop. dSS has an explosive temper too, and can lash out physically against both of us and younger siblings(full and step). Of all our respective DCs, we both find him the most difficult and least predictable. His mum's solution to his tempers and moods seems to be to do all things possible to keep DSS happy eg. he threatens to spoil an outing, so the solution is to organise a special trip for him and a friend to do something fun. Our way of dealing with this is that he doesn't come but rather than have a special treat laid on (which we both see as rewarding aggressive and unacceptable behaviour), he stay home.

Anyhow, that's background...

So DSS has to choose GCSE options. He has a big booklet to read about all the options. He is bright and capable. DP asked him to look at the booklet. DSS refused. He will not discuss the options with DP. DP feels v strongly that DSS should choose academic subjects, but DSS wants to choose what DP calls "soft" subjects eg. Art. He says his teachers have told him he should too. So there are going to be clashes of opinion and will... I am in two minds - I don't think a "soft" subject or two matters if DSS is good at them and enjoys. But DP is really worried about the job market.

There are meetings at school to meet teachers and careers advisories. DP, after DSS totally blanked him, is saying that there is no point in him going to the meetings, since DSS won't listen to him anyway.

I think this is counter-productive, and will ensure that DSS doesn't want to listen to him! If DP doesn't attend important meetings then I think he'll have less "right" to any view. It's like not voting and then complaining that you don't agree with the government.

I think there is more to this than just options. It's about their relationship, which isn't great right now. DSS feels his dad doesn't listen to his opinion or care about him, DP feels DSS is being pandered to by his mum, and we are the only ones setting boundaries. We both feel emotionally drained as it seems to be one issue after another.

I am struggling too with the fact that DSS exhibits many behaviours that I don't like - he physically overpowers his younger siblings, he teases and makes fun of them, he tells them off at the dinner table. Last week he called his brother "retarded". When DP and I said that was unacceptable and tried to explain why, he shouted, threw a glass of water at DP, climbed over the dining table and whacked DP on the head on his way storming out of the room. This led to the not going on the outing I mentioned above.

So I'm not sure what I am asking. I feel torn. I don't like DSS' behaviour and think it needs to be dealt with strictly. But also think DP's approach of not going to options meetings will only make it all worse.

Also aware I need to support DP as he's finding all this with DSS very difficult and worrying.

Any helpful advice?

captainproton Thu 01-May-14 07:29:12

I don't have any answers about controlling your DSS behaviour. Regarding the GCSE options, I really think you should let your DSS choose them for himself. Maths, English, science are all mandatory.

If I had to spend 2 years studying geography instead of art I think I would have lost the plot too.

Your DSS is becoming an adult, if you try to control his choices that will affect the rest of his life he is going to hold it against your DP for a very long time.

Your DP needs to respect his decision.

Also I don't know what the age differences are in your family, but my DSS is 10 years older than his eldest half sibling. We don't even bother trying to expect him to enjoy days out with them. He either does his own thing or every so often DH will take him out 1 on 1.

Absolutely agree you need boundaries and rules but try to focus on what is happening in your home not his mum's.

shoppingfrenzy Thu 01-May-14 07:53:45

Yes I agree respecting his decisions. This is where I am uncomfortable.

Age differences onlyva couple of years. He wanted to join in the outing but his behaviour was awful and he threatened to spoil it for the others. He has done this before. sad

shoppingfrenzy Thu 01-May-14 07:59:28

Revwhat happens at his mum's, we wouldn't worry abworry about it, except it impacts on us when she makes it clear TO DSS that she would have sent him on a treat with friends rather than having to face consequences of aggressive behaviour. DP is totally undermined.

Malificentmaud Thu 01-May-14 08:00:21

Another one who thinks you should encourage your DH to let dss choose. It's all set up so they can't make a colossal mistake at the age of 15 and mess up their chances for life wink the "important" subjects are mandatory.

What your DH should do is say "I'm sorry son, I forget that you're getting to be an adult and I was wrong. Let me hear about the subjects you want to take and I'll support you" or something like that. I think it'll help a lot.

Of course, if he's a little shite then the gcses are not the problem but as least your DH will have done the right thing

Martorana Thu 01-May-14 08:02:20

In most schools they don't have much choice-if he is on an academic pathway he will only be able to choose two- or at the very most, three options. So I would be inclined to let him choose what he wants. If he is choosing Art because he thinks it's a soft option, by the way, he's got a nasty shock coming.

As for the "becoming an adult" thing- my ds has just chosen his options and he's only just 13!

Can you separate the options and the behaviour? Obviously the behaviour can't continue- is there anything you can do about it?

Endymion Thu 01-May-14 08:04:15

I know this isn't the real point and more about behaviour than the actual options, but FWIW art is not an easy ride at all.

Masses and masses or work - loads of research and project stuff which takes time and can't be rattled off quickly. If your dss is taking it because he loves it,then great. If because he thinks it's easy, then he needs to be aware that he's wrong!

VivaLeBeaver Thu 01-May-14 08:04:43

I agree that your DSs needs to be able to choose. He will have some academic subjects still as they're not allowed to drop all of them.

Not all kids are academic or want to be academic even if they're bright and capable. People have different talents and kids are good at knowing what their talents are.

I went to a lecture by an expert on the subject recently. He used to be head of a private school and is now a professor in America. He tells the tale of a woman who despaired of her dd, the dd wouldn't sit and concentrate at school, fidgeted all the time. The mum took her dd to see an ed psych and sat there saying how worried she was that her dd would never do well at school. The ed psych was watching the dd who was fidgeting and jumping out her seat and told the mum to take the dd to ballet lessons. That dd went on to be a senior dancer with the Royal Ballet.

I've no idea if the story is true or not but MAybe your dss has the ability to be the next David Hockney. Even if he doesn't he should have the chance to try if he enjoys the subject.

My bright, academic dd is also choosing art for an option. My mother is horrified. grin

shoppingfrenzy Thu 01-May-14 08:07:47

I think you're right re separating the behaviour & the options. Some of the behaviour is (I think) because DP is strict and has high expectations that DSS can't always meet.

I feel stuck in the middle as I can see both sides, although also struggle with the behaviour outbursts.

I want to support DP but at the same time point out where how HE behaves can inflame.

Difficult.

VivaLeBeaver Thu 01-May-14 08:12:29
shoppingfrenzy Thu 01-May-14 08:12:49

Thanks for advice all.

I suppose next question is how to encourage DP to "get" this. He went to v strict boarding school, choices just weren't there. He says they were either in the top stream or lower stream and you were put there. And it wasn't in the UK either. So all of this is so alien to him. I don't want to come across as all superior and condescending as that won't help either!

Martorana Thu 01-May-14 08:26:29

OK- let's deal with the options thing first. What are the non-negotiable subjects and how many choices does he have?

shoppingfrenzy Thu 01-May-14 08:56:45

Has to do eng lang & lit, maths, 3 sciences & a foreign language. So only has 3 options to add. Including host, geog, art, lots of design & DT related subjects, computing, electronics, dance, PE.

I think the 7 compulsories are all academic & he should be able to choose beyond that considering his strengths and what he enjoys. But it does need to be an informed decision. I asked DSS this am if he was going to read the booklet, he shrugged and said maybe. He does a good impression of not caring, but he does really. He thinks his dad doesn't support him. And I guess he has a point!

Peacesword Thu 01-May-14 09:02:06

I think you might need to disengage and leave your dp to it. Your dss's mum will also be having these conversations with him too. You might find it easier to leave them all to it.

shoppingfrenzy Thu 01-May-14 09:07:51

Yes Peace. You may be right. My issue is that this seems to be part of a wider problem with their relationship. I am struggling to disengage from that as it affects everyone, myself and my children included.

DPotter Thu 01-May-14 09:45:41

Another one saying let the young man choose his 3 subjects; Art & design related topics are not pushovers - as someone else said up thread, there is loads of research, sketching and pulling together of a descent size portfolio. At my DD's school, they are not allowed to choose more than one art / design subject because of the workload involved. Remember DSS is the one who will be studying the subjects not his parents.

When you think about it, GCSE subject choice time is really badly timed to coincide with teenage hormonal storms, so it's no surprise it causes so many arguments, even when relationships are on a more even keel.
It's also worth baring in mind that when Bill Gates was giving a lecture at Harvard (or similar), he was asked by a student what he (the student) should do to become the CEO of a global organisation. Bill's reply - drop out of University now. At the time of the CEOs of the major IT companies based in the States, none had finished University. So Bill's done not to bad for a drop-out - and I bet he it Computing at high school !

I think your DP needs to go to the meeting at the school - even if DSS doesn't listen he'll be better informed about the options and hopefully better understand the choices, process etc. Your DP needs to act the adult here admittedly in the face of much provocation. It might be a difficult message for your DP to hear, however I think he needs to be less worried about his son listening to him, and he (your DP) need to listen more to his son.

brdgrl Thu 01-May-14 10:43:57

Whoa - two totally different things here - his behaviour generally and the GCSE discussion.

I am in a minority, because I don't actually agree that children should choose their own GCSE subjects. I think it needs to be done jointly with parents, and that means compromise on all sides. Children do not have the knowledge or the self-awareness to make the decisions independently. Neither should parents be independently making the decisions for the child. There needs to be compromise, and there needs to be a great deal of listening. Your DP could be doing more listening, by the sounds of it. Not (just) to his son, but to his son's teachers, and even to those who work in the arts and humanities.

Art subjects, in my experience as both a stepparent of two, one an art student (now at uni, previously in a very good grammar), and as a teacher in an Arts subject at the university level (seeing many, many first years!), actually are pretty easy. In the sense that it is possible to get a very good mark without doing very much at all. These are very much 'get out what you put in' subjects. A student who is passionate and committed will get quite a lot from a good art course; a lazy student will get very little; a poor teacher will not demand very much. This does not mean that these are subjects not worth doing, however.

I think your DP is wrong, too, about his assessment of the future prospects. Many employers recognize that skills in the arts are highly transferable skills, and will look favourably on these. As well as that, it matters more what these skills are paired with, in terms of employability. A student with strong arts and IT skills, and with a demonstrated skill and passion, is likely to find many more employment options than a student with all hard subjects and no particular flair or passion in those.

What I'd be asking is why your DSS wants to do the subjects he wants to do. What are his skills? His interests? It really sounds like your DP is so caught up in rigid ideas about employability and the job market that he is making up his mind based on generalities rather than on THIS KID and what might be best for him.

Also worth considering - art is a very good outlet for troubled teens, and there is an absolute shedload of evidence that indicates that involvement in the arts, both at school and extra-curricularly, can lead to improved behaviour and fewer discipline problems.

One final thought - your DP is absolutely not wrong to feel he should have some involvement in his son's GCSE decisions. But what would be very wrong would be to drop out of the conversation now because he feels he is not being listened to. He has a responsibility, not just a right, to guide his child in this process. That means going to the meetings with an open mind. Talking to the teachers about what they have observed of DSS. Talking to DSS about his expectations of the courses. Looking at what DSS is doing outside of school - does he have an interest he's already expressing? Talking to DSS's mum about her view and her observations of DSS's skills and abilities. Keeping a very open mind about this and accepting that there is more than one path to a successful life.

shoppingfrenzy Thu 01-May-14 11:13:57

Thanks brdgrl.

Yes, there are two totally separate issues, the behaviour and the options discussion. Although there is some cross over in terms of DSS's general dissatisfaction with DP! DP thinks very much along the same lines as you - he wants his son to listen to his viewpoint, and to be able to offer some advice. At the moment, he is being met with a brick wall, which he is finding impossible to penetrate.

I am an Arts based person myself, DP and I have discussed (aka argued wink) many times about the validity of education for education's sake, and the value of non-vocational studies. He doesn't see the point of a degree in an arts subject, which doesn't lead to an obvious career. I do, and actually find his view quite insulting to my degree and post graduate studies!

I think you have hit the nail on the head - DP is a very practical person, driven by consideration of economics and employability rather than enjoyment and interests. His view is that DSS can do art outside of school, as a hobby, but it won't get him a job. But I say, neither will doing badly in a subject you make him do which he hates!

And your last paragraph sums up my biggest concern. Because he is not being listened to, he is contemplating dropping out of the discussion - which is an instinctive gut reaction because he feels hurt. I suspect that he will go to the meetings in the end, and he will be involved because he will take a few days, assimilate that hurt and realise he needs to be the adult here.

Effectively, neither DP nor DSS feels listened to by the other, so they are both putting up a brick wall between eachother. They are actually very alike....

shoppingfrenzy Thu 01-May-14 12:18:51

Brdgrl, any advice about the behaviour more generally? Thanks!

ContentedSidewinder Thu 01-May-14 13:00:49

When it comes to education I think playing to your strengths is a good thing. Is he good at the subjects he is wanting to take?

Dh was good at maths, physics, chemistry etc and loved them, went onto do them an A level and then did engineering at a good uni. It was a 4 year course with the 3rd year in industry. He hated that year out. He did the job but it confirmed what he already knew, it wouldn't be challenging enough.

He told his parents during his final year at uni that he wanted to go into IT (bear in mind that he was 22 at this point) his Dad hit the roof. He wasn't dropping out, just changing his career choice.

What followed was a 2 hour lecture about him chucking his life away and no-one would employ him in IT and he should just go into engineering. Roll on to now, Dh did get that graduate IT job and has been very successful. He loves it, loves the challenge and is really happy. He is 20 years into it now.

I think there is a lot to be said for being happy and choosing subjects you like (looking at you parents of mine who forced me to do computing instead of drama, I was the only girl in the class. Sob) Your DH can't live his children's lives. You have to let go at some point.

Viva nails it with her link to Ken Robinson. Watch the video. I have worked in a school. Nothing worse than a child who won't engage.

Behaviour wise, it must be very hard to be bad cop. But my friend's step son (14) recently admitted that it was refreshing to have boundaries. Because real life is full of them. He doesn't get that from his Mum.

shoppingfrenzy Thu 01-May-14 14:17:27

Thank you.

brdgrl Fri 02-May-14 00:14:40

Well, I might not be the best person to ask as we have plenty of problems with DSS (16 now)! But unlike your DP, my DH is the one who is too soft and is very, very inconsistent, and that makes the problems worse in my experience. I am the 'bad cop'; DH tries to stick to consequences and keep on top of things, but he just doesn't seem able o stay focussed long enough to see it through. We don't have a second household, so in our case the inconsistency is all happening here, but maybe in your's it is happening because of the two different households with different parenting styles.

But what I do know is that my DSS (when not complaining that we are way too involved in his business!) feels that his dad doesn't listen to him and doesn't care enough about his interests and what is going on in his life! Same as your's. I think a lot of this is inevitable, it's just about age and not being sure how much they want to get away from dad and how much they still want him to be in control and looking after them. My DH is like yours in that he gets frustrated and wants to give up when he meets that resistance. Whereas I think he can't do that, he has no right to, his son needs him to hang in there and not make it all about himself (DH I mean) and his feelings.

How do you and DP decide on consequences? I'd actually argue that missing an outing (depending how much he really wanted to go on it) is really not that serious a consequence for the violent outburst - he threw water at your DP and hit his brother, and obviously you have to nip that stuff in the bud. I'd have been tougher, honestly.

The things that have worked for us when we are able to stick to it are 1) being really clear and precise about what the rules are and what the punishment will be if broken and 2) being absolutely consistent in applying the rules and consequences. 3)Giving him more DH attention - both the 'fun' bits, talking to him about football and hanging out with him AND the 'dad' bits, insisting he share what's going on with his schoolwork, checking on what he's doing instead of leaving him alone in his room all day like he wants! And 4) limiting screen time! Seriously - we take away his xbox, and his levels of aggression and disrespect go wayyyyyyy down!

Letitgoletitgo Fri 02-May-14 12:19:35

No advice on the relationships and parenting of your dss, but as a secondary school teacher, my advice re GCSE options is to let him choose whatever he enjoys. He will have to do the basic "academic" subjects anyway. If he likes art, music, etc, let him do them. Remind him though that they are often very time consuming subjects to follow.

shoppingfrenzy Fri 02-May-14 15:59:20

Thanks again all.

Think options issues are more sorted now, I had a chat with DP, and he'd already decided that the best approach was to try and see if DSS would sit down and go through the booklet with him, and he'd decided that DSS needed to choose for himself, but with DP and his mum's advice alongside. Which seems sensible to me.

Brdgrl, missing the outing wasn't all - after he threw the water and hit DP, he spent the rest of the evening (it was at 5.30 pm) in his bedroom on his own while the rest of us had pudding etc, and it was made very clear how shocking we had found his behaviour. The outing really was something he was keen to do, and he really hated not being able to join in. His behaviour once he realised we really were going to see through the consequence of him not going was significantly improved, and he and DP were able to discuss what had happened.

Agree re screen time. They all seem to disappear into their own worlds when a computer is in front of them, and it's often argument time when it's time to stop...!

Interesting that your DSS complains of the same things in relation to his dad. Maybe some of it isn't actually personal, but is about sons and dads finding a new relationship with son growing up into his teens. DSS moans and groans when DP asks him about school and what he's up to, and then complains if DP doesn't show enough interest in him. It's frustrating!

Salazar Fri 02-May-14 16:00:34

As long as you've got maths and English, soft subjects with high grades look better than a scattering of passable ones.

brdgrl Fri 02-May-14 19:20:04

That's great, shopping - maybe your DP just needed to cool down and arrive at that place (you did say that he and his DS are a lot alike!).
Glad it's sorting out.

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