Advice please

Please, kind Elsewhere citizens - especially of the parent type - I need some advice, if you’re willing to give it.

My nephew, 12 turning 13, started high school this year (late Jan). He chose to go to one further away from the nearest high school to ‘have a fresh start’ and, frankly, to get away from most of the kids with whom he’d gone to primary school.
He was suspended multiple times in grades 4, 5 and 6 for acts such as punching, violently pushing and swearing at kids and teachers.

Well. In the two or so months since beginning year 7 at the new school… he’s been suspended twice. The first time for breaching privacy of students and teachers by putting photos without consent/permission on social media; the second time (yesterday), I’m not sure what the infraction was.

Anyway. How would you deal with this? He’s always been a kid who seems to find any kind of attention, negative or positive, as GREAT. When he was excluded from the classroom in the youngest years of primary school, he thrived on it because he got the undivided attention of the teacher and seemed to regard it as a treat. Then things escalated to the punching, pushing and swearing which got him suspended. He just seems to regard the ‘punishment’ of time excluded from school also as a treat - “excellent, I’ve got time off”.

His mum, my sister, says he’s bullied and been bullied. His dad just yells. Their parenting has always been inconsistent in the sense of while he knows he’s loved and generally a good kid, there’s little follow-up. For instance, many times a day, he’ll be repeatedly told not to do something, or stop that behaviour, or whatever, but there’s no consequences or follow through from his parents. They just kinda… give up, give in or ultimately ignore it.

I asked my bestie - who’s raising two boys on her own, including one about the same age as my nephew - what she’d do. She thinks he needs counselling/therapy and that something more than meets the eye is going on.

When he was much younger, because he loved to destroy anything and everything, and take things apart to see how they worked, but never had the patience or discipline to finish the tasks, I thought he may have been on the autism spectrum and possibly have ADD or ADHD. But other than an inability to focus when he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t show any other signs of autism, autism spectrum or ADD etc. In the past year he’s suddenly started greeting his many aunts and older women (from mid-teens up) in his life by kissing us on the cheek. I think that’s utterly charming. My bestie thinks that’s weird and almost creepy, coming from a tween-teen boy. Now I think he’s possibly a sociopath!

Geez. This turned out longer than expected. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest! Now, what say you?


I am not a parent.

Or a very uncertain kid who doesn’t know what boundaries are / is completely spoiled / doesn’t have a ton of oversight.

It’s possible he’s both a bully and being bullied. Bullied kids often see the admiration / fear that is commanded by bullies and decide they want a piece of it.

Who knows where he picked up the kiss on the cheek thing. There was a time when it was quite common (“give auntie a kiss”) even if kids hated it. Maybe he saw it in a movie or read it somewhere or saw it in a meme and thought it would be funny / get him some attention.

I have a family member that I am convinced is a sociopath, but this is after more than sixty years of abusive, manipulative, self-centred criminal behaviour on her part. She, too, has almost never faced any consequences for her actions (or at least not ones she gives a damn about) but I would be very cautious about diagnosing any of that in a 12/13 year old. Kids that age are hugely into testing boundaries and buttons.

I do agree that a professional assessment might be in order. Depression can also manifest as anger and attention issues, especially in kids. Boys, especially, will often lash out. And the sooner, the better: not just for his emotional health, but his safety, too. Better to learn to handle himself before he gets to the age where it’s not “time off” but “time inside”.

Content Warning: a worst-case scenario without a happy ending

If I seem worried, it’s because I went to school with a kid like that, a kid whose parents made excuses about how he was “special” while his friends tried to corral the latest manic episode.

Two years after we graduated, he thought he could fly during one of those and jumped off a bridge.

I don’t think your nephew is worst case. I don’t even want to seem like I am diagnosing, but I agree with your friend that someone qualified should. Even with behavioural issues, early intervention is often best.

Hopefully you can convince your sister to get him some help – frame it as concern about him being bullied if you think that will help. The one thing I do know is that everybody doing nothing won’t make things better.


I’m wondering what your role is with him. How close are you to him and to his parents? How much influence do you have?

It’s clear to me that you love and care about your nephew and that you are concerned about him.

From my own experience, my aunt got very involved in my life when I graduated college. She and I have a close relationship. When I was launching, having her financial and emotional support made a big difference. I love my parents but they were both kind of emotionally crippled and lost in their own drama. Having someone pay attention to me who actually had the bandwidth to provide support to me - emotional and financial - changed my life for the better.

Aunts can make a difference. He sounds like he is seeking approval. Maybe you can find a way to be that person he needs right now.


This is gonna sound harsh, but I’ve dealt with parents who didn’t get it until it was too late:

He’s 13. That means, at least where I live:

  • in three years he can get a driver’s licence
  • in five years he can join the army, get married, vote, and legally drink

You are right to be concerned about this now. High school is in part a signal there isn’t a lot of time left.

I’ve met way too many 16 year olds who were still coasting on being cute but mischievous kids (including one guy who was well over six feet tall).

I know people love to talk about how the brain isn’t fully matured until you’re 25, but adult consequences set in well before that. The whole family is going to have to start thinking further ahead on this kid’s life than just how many days it’s been since the last suspension.

And he’s gong to have to as well.

How? Don’t know. But the idea of engaging a professional seems sound from what you wrote.


Sounds like the nephew doesn’t have a vision of who he wants to become. I was a bit of a holy terror at that age (unintentionally, I wasn’t doing pranks out of a sense of malice, but curiosity) but I also knew that I wanted to become like my grandfather.

The kid needs an intellectually stimulating hobby that isn’t school.

As adults, it is all too easy to slip into status quo mode, where try to just keep on keeping on and have everything remain the same. But life is not static; it is ever changing. To a kid, life is full of changes and a single year is a very long time.


My first instinct here is to wait for more information.

There’s a huge difference in both type and severity between, “I put a picture on Facebook” and “I’m attacking people violently” (assuming the picture itself wasn’t an act of bullying).

You could suggest to the parents that any day he gets suspended, he needs to spend doing housework. But if there would be no consequences for not doing that, either, it’s a hollow threat.

She thinks he’s a Transformer?

Joking aside, I think that having him see the school counselor might be a better start than an immediate escalation to therapy. Depending on how much stigma your sister and BIL attach to mental illness, it might also be an easier sell to them. If more therapy is needed, you can proceed from there.

More than anything, though, I would offer your nephew a non-judgemental ear. Tell him stories about how you got in trouble when you were a kid. While the fact that you’re not his parent means that you can’t discipline him or make his parents do so, it also puts you in a unique position as someone who he might be able to open to more easily. Just make sure not to abuse that trust by telling his parents what he’s told you in confidence, or you’ll lose that relationship.


I’m going to disagree with one small part of your excellent post, @nimelennar: I don’t think going to the school counselor is necessarily the right step. Why? Because within two months at the new school, their solution for his behavior has been to suspend him, twice. I think the school can’t be trusted to have the child’s best interests at heart. It’s the polar opposite to the home life: swift punishment meted out without love or compassion. He sees it as attention, but this sounds like the kind of school that will call the cops first, not a counselor. Not the kind of attention anyone wants.

I agree with everyone that the boy needs proper counseling from an LCSW or clinical psychologist. I would also argue that the family would benefit greatly from family counseling, maybe with the same LCSW, for example.

And definitely, be the aunt in his life! For me, it was an uncle. Makes all the difference for a lot of kids.


Thanks everyone.

There’s so much more I could have added to the original post, so I’ll run through some of that now rather than answer/respond individually.

His mum asks aunts etc to speak with him following suspensions. I’m comfortable with doing that but also run my approach by her beforehand and give her the gist of his responses after (not including things shared in confidence by him to me). I check-in with her beforehand because I don’t want to cross any line about discipline, pseudo-parenting etc. Particularly because I’m not there 24/7 and as I don’t have children, I’ve nothing concrete, such as experience, to base my responses on. I’d also never broach the issue uninvited.

It’s precisely his responses to having a chat which make me wonder if he’s got sociopathic tendencies (and I’d never say that to him or his parents, ever). He’s pretty smart and clever and quick-witted but most importantly, he knows what adults want to hear and has no difficulty glibly rattling off what sounds good with no intention of putting it into action or changing problem behaviours. I can see a switch in his eyes when he begins answering on that level.

Example: first time he was suspended. Convo:
ACTM (Aunty Come to Mumma): so, about your suspension. What happened?
N (Nephew): we were standing in line. [Kid] was annoying me so I told him to fuck off and pushed him. He fell.
ACTM: what made you so angry?
N: He annoys me all the time and picks on me and so does everyone else.
ACTM: Ok, well that sounds like bullying and trouble-making. You know what they are, right?
N: Yeah.
ACTM: do you want to get a reputation for being a bully and trouble-maker for acting like that, even when it’s because others make you mad?
N: no, I’ve got to behave better and control my emotions.
ACTM: is that what you really think or do you just want me to shut up?
N: (cheeky smile) shut up! Let’s eat!
We were having lunch. We ate.

Meanwhile it’s 2.20am and I start work at 4.30am and this is exhausting. I’ll post more later. Snd thank you all again.


I would add “to do with an adult mentor/counselor/friend who is really enthusiastic about said hobby.” I’ve heard that such things can change lives.

Though I agree from what I hear that therapy is warranted.


Again, that convo isn’t necessarily indicative of anything, considering his age. It might be that he had a glib answer ready, because three other adults had already had that convo with him that week. And everybody wants him to do this really hard thing like its super-easy and will solve all his problems, when he knows that’s bullshit. So, yes, he is telling you that so that you can stop poking at this painful thing and have fun, because he likes you.

And it’s even harder when everyone tells him what to do, but no one gives him any tools or idea how to do it.

I know of a kid (well, not anymore) who had similar issues around anger regulation who took up knitting. When he felt himself getting worked up, he’d take out his knitting. Having something else to focus on helped him get his anger under control. It let him create instead of destroy and gave his body something to do. That last part is important. Anger often demands a physical reaction and too often we deny ourselves that until it becomes one of violence.

In other words, Don’t Panic. Just because he’s having trouble does not mean he’s irredeemable. Kids often are glib and superficial. It’s a defense mechanism, especially when you don’t want to feel bad, right now.

I agree with @chgoliz. The school is not going to be of help here. School counselor is quite possibly where he got his rote answer to start. He needs to talk to someone who can not only assess him, but give him the tools to help himself.


Hi and thanks again all.

They’ve investigated a behavioural psychologist. $800+ for an assessment, $200+ for sessions. They’re doing ok financially but I’m pretty sure they can’t afford ongoing expenses like those. But family counselling sounds good: I’ll suggest it.

Hobbies etc: he’s been through and discarded cricket, soccer, swimming, AFL, basketball and probably others I can’t think of. Similarly with computer games/coding, lego, model-building (as in airplanes and such), basic electronics. He’s so keen to begin, promises he’ll stick with it. Within about two weeks, starts showing signs of losing interest and is usually done two weeks later. Then the search is on for the next interesting thing.

Even his mum acknowledges he doesn’t have any friends. Neighbours and kids in the street even when younger than him “get sick of him being bossy” so it’s not just a problem confined to school (general interaction I mean. The violence and swearing is confined to school).

Another convo we had before he started high school:
ACTM: how are you feeling about your new school?
N: good, I’m excited to have a fresh start and meet new people.
ACTM: Great! You know how you’ve said in the past that you need to control your anger, walk away when you get angry or annoyed and take some time for yourself?
N: (eyes switch) yeah.
ACTM: now that you’re going from being in the eldest year-level to being the smallest fishes in a much bigger pond, how are you going to approach it if, say, older kids start hassling you?
N: (almost robotically) I’m going to step back, not let them get to me, walk away.
ACTM: are you sure? That wasn’t very convincing!
N: I’m sure. I have to control my emotions.
ACTM: ok kiddo. I hope it all goes really well for you.

Maybe I ask the wrong or too predictable questions. Or respond the wrong way. Dunno. All I do know is nobody seems to know what to do or how to help him. I even suggested to his mum that if she hadn’t cried about it in front of him, maybe crying before him would help him understand how serious the situation is and how it impacts others, not just him. That she’s upset, not necessarily angry, but this could have long-term consequences. She said others had suggested the same and that in anger (more like angry desperation, I’d suggest) she’d told him he was a disappointment, cried and that she’d have to quit her job if this kept happening b/c of staying at home with him while suspended. I don’t think I would have said that last bit as it gives him too much perceived power in my view, but realistically, who knows how I’d react in the same circumstances.

TL;DR Apparently this is really bothering me as I haven’t written so much on any previous topic. And thanks again for your patience, understanding and suggestions!


I’m more interested in why he’s getting so angry in the first place, where what the other kids are calling “bossiness” is coming from.

I’m reminded of something one of my profs said he’d encountered:

  • “I can’t control my success, but I can control my failure”
  • “I can’t control others, but I can control pissing them off enough that they’ll leave me alone”

He definitely knows the answers to the behavioural questions, but he doesn’t seem to see any consequences for either good or bad behaviour. If the worst thing to come out of a school suspension is a brief and awkward conversation with a relative, or mum freaking out (again)… why should he behave?

And what happens when he does behave?

Note people who train orcas and seals don’t make a big deal about the failures to comply. They make a big deal about compliance, no matter how small. From the animal’s point of view, it’s “all I have to do is swim 'round the tank once and do a stupid backflip in front of that human, and they give me FISH!”

But if they don’t, no fish.

It does work on humans too.


Junior Kidd has ADHD. We first talked to his doctor about his attention issues (in Kindergarten, no less) that his teacher had noticed. She was no slouch - 35 year veteran who had no need to work (her husband’s a surgeon). Junior’s doctor sent us off to a psychologist to get an assessment. We tried counseling with the same guy, but he has ADD himself, and it was going nowhere. We managed to keep him off meds until last year when he was getting his behavior micromanaged by his teacher, which can be a serious trigger of negative feedback loops for ADHD kids. (Later found out that this teacher had a rep for picking on kids, and other parents pulled their kids from her class as late as spring break.)

It was last year that we discovered that school counselors and social workers aren’t there to help your kids, they’re there to cover the school’s ass. I recommend against going there.

So, we ended up starting meds last spring as a last resort, really just to make sure the poor kid didn’t get kicked out of school. There is a clear difference between the boy on the meds, and not. He’s much more able to focus on subjects he doesn’t love, and can more easily follow a regular routine. We also see a lot less negative self-talk and irrational anger.

Just one parent’s experience here, but the attention seeking behavior you talk about up thread sounded so eerily familiar. Our son did a lot of that until we started basically bribing him for good behavior and minimizing our reactions to the bad.

It’s not a good sign that your nephew’s parents are bad at following through. That’s kinda the number one thing a parent has to do to get through to their kids. There’s no one single approach to help kids, but nothing can improve if parents give up at the first instance of failure.


Based on this:

a teen who’s a little older might even be better. Either way, this reminds me of that Big Brothers Big Sisters program.


As someone that went through a lot of these things I can concur that having an adult or older teen mentor can really do wonders.




raises hand.

This is pretty common ADHD behaviour. I know.

Sometimes “want” is not a part of it. The age of dvds and streaming for me has been a godsend, because it means that I can put things on pause, and this is with shows that I like. I take colouring pages into meetings and training so I can mitigate the drift. But they said the same thing about me, because if it is something I am into, I can focus or even hyperfocus (which is it’s own problem, sometimes).

The difficulty with mental illness and learning disabilities is that not everybody will display all the symptoms. And everybody can have some of them. That’s why a professional assessment can be so important.

Again, this is just my own experience. No one pegged me as having Attention Deficits, because I learned how to cope and pull out enough salient points from lessons to get good grades, how to take shortcuts, and reading is one of my hyperfocus things. And I was bullied mercilessly, too, and if I was a boy, I might have reacted like your nephew.

I also noticed that a lot of the things he’s tried and abandoned have been team or group activities. Those tend to be regimented in what you need to pay attention to when, which doesn’t always play nice with attention disorders.

Sometimes, too, other health issues can affect behaviour. Anything affecting his sleep will mess with his attention, motivation and impulse control. Even something as seemingly minor as allergies can have an outsized effect.

It sounds like there might be a bunch of different things affecting his behaviour. Again, don’t panic. It means there’s a bunch of different things you and his family can do to help him help himself.


Real talk but goddamn does that ever hit a nerve. I’ve been seeing a shrink regularly for years and whenever I hit a wall it comes down to that. It pisses me off no end. Yes, I fucking want to change the circumstance but, how?


Hi again everyone. You can probably guess where this is going. Yep, nephew suspended again.

This time for taking a knife to school. Jesus, that sounds so bad. Mitigating factors: it was a pocket-knife. Which was our dead dad’s/his grandfather’s. Nephew apparently had no intention of using it, just wanted to show friends.

When I asked why he took a knife to school when he knew they weren’t allowed, I didn’t get an answer. But his sister said ‘because his friends did’. I don’t know if they got away with it or not, but it seems that he did it to a) show off b) show it to his friends c) maybe see if he could get away with it, as his friends evidently did?

Consequences: time off school. Knife confiscated and handed in to local police. Cops gave him a ‘talking to’.

My sister seems more concerned that dad’s knife has been forfeited to the cops than anything else. Maybe that’s just her way of coping. I don’t know. I’ve re-read this thread and I’m still outta ideas, that much I do know.


He could be bipolar and/or have poor impulse control. It gets worse in adolescence. Especially with boys.