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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have a conundrum in the form of my nearly 11-year-old nephew. He used to stay with me frequently and we did all sorts of fun, mostly animal-related stuff together. But lately, the kid is out of control. At home, he gets to play video games for HOURS every day, with little to no parental oversight. He’s allowed to “make his point” any time he’s in trouble. He lies. He mouths off. He gets into stuff that isn’t his, then lies or blames someone else.
Most recently, during a visit to my house, we got out some of our ferrets to let him and his brother play with, because the kids love animals and I felt sorry for them because my brother recently got rid of their dog (because the little asshole was feeding it people-food behind the adults’ backs, and it couldn’t be trained without the kids undoing any training that was being done). We thought it would be fun, until the nearly 11-year-old picked one of the ferrets up and DROPPED IT TO THE FLOOR INTENTIONALLY. When all the adults lost it on him, he simply said, “Well, Aunt [me] said they’re resilient!” Then he and his brother asked if they could stay the night. In what universe?
This cannot be age-appropriate, right? I’ve talked to their mom about getting him into therapy because of the behavior, but she won’t go for it. Aside from banning him from ever even looking at my creatures again, I don’t know what to do. We’re my brother and sister-in-law’s backup if something happens, but right now, I can’t imagine allowing the kid back into my home. Any suggestions?
— I Like My Ferrets More
Both your nephew and his parents will have to grapple with what comes of him being allowed to behave as it seems he is. When he is in your presence, you should politely but pointedly correct his behavior. If this most recent visit wasn’t terribly long ago, talk to your sibling about what you’ve observed. Explain that you love your nephew, but find some of his actions to be somewhat challenging. Ask how things are going at home and at school; his parents could be proactively trying to correct his behavior…or, they could totally be letting him get away with it not quite realizing how obnoxious it is. The only way to find out where their heads are at is to talk to them, with more concern than judgment. Though I wouldn’t suggest rushing to change the plan in place for if his parents were to be incapacitated, you can (and should) shut down his access to your animals during visits, and if you see fit, to limit how often he spends time in your home.
I do think that you should consider that your nephew’s behavior could be influenced by a number of factors; this could be the byproduct of how his parents allow him to act, but it could also be related to anxiety or even a behavioral disorder. It sucks that you like the ferrets more than your nephew, but you should at least try to be sympathetic to the fact that he is just a child, not an “asshole.” He might be on the path to becoming an asshole, but for now, he’s a kid who needs some guidance that he may or may not be getting. Allow him to experience you addressing his antics, with love, but with also sternness. Let him know that in your home, lying and mouthing off will always be called out for the negative actions that they are.
More Advice From Slate
I am a 27-year-old woman without children, and I’m encountering an issue with some of the boys in my neighborhood. There is a group of about five boys with whom I have had multiple run-ins. I think they might be about 10 to 12 years old.
I will freely admit that I am uncomfortable around children and downright dislike poorly behaved children. While I enjoy spending small quantities of time with my friends’ kids, I have a tendency to be curmudgeonly and am also intensely introverted. My childhood was spent playing with Breyer horses and reading Anne of Green Gables as an only child. I have no experience with boisterous or disruptive children. So I am perplexed by the issues at hand: Several times now, the neighbor boys have screamed curse words and epithets at me.