How Independent Should My 12 Year Old Be?


Dear Robin:

My wife and I are in constant disagreement about our oldest of 2 boys who is 12.  I think she needs to stop coddling him and work with me to make him more helpful and independent.  She says she loves doing things for him and it helps him focus on school and sports better.

She cleans his room, does all the laundry, walks the dog he swore he’d walk when he begged us to get a dog, makes all his meals, plans his social outings and basically anything else you can think of.  He is incapable of doing anything for himself and relies heavily on her to do the most basic of tasks like getting ready in the morning or figuring out his homework.

I make efforts to have him do things on his own and sometimes I see him becoming more independent, but then there is a backslide.

I’m worried we might be raising a spoiled brat.  Do you have any advice on at what age or ages it is appropriate to make a child learn how to take care of themselves sometimes?


Dear Frank:

Not only are you probably raising a spoiled brat (let’s call him Johnny because that’s my brother’s childhood name and I know it will bug him), you are also raising an incompetent nincompoop so dependent upon his mommy that he could someday be the illustration for a story about how evolution can also operate in reverse.


This seems to be a trend that was not as prevalent when I was younger.  I think many parents are so concerned with taking great care of their kids (as they should be!) that they forget along with the job of keeping these little assholes breathing also comes the task of raising them into independent and fully-functioning members of society.

After all, one can’t swim without the water, and your wife is draining the pool Johnny needs to fill every chance she can get.  Her hovering and doing for Johnny ensures that once he leaves for college (assuming he can struggle through the SATs without her) he will be promptly arrested by the campus police for coming to class without his pants.

“But I couldn’t find them!” he will wail as he is led to the clink.

She seems almost pathologically intent upon keeping this young man tethered to her apron strings, so I strongly recommend you get some marital counseling to discuss the reasons for her behavior and the deeply negative impact it will have upon your son, not to mention his future wife whom I feel incredible sympathy for.


When we chatted last week you mentioned that she will actually stop Johnny and take over when he is doing something you have asked him to do such as make his bed and when he is taking the initiative to get something done on his own.  As an example, you mentioned he started to make his own breakfast in the morning but she will run in the kitchen and do it for him.


Along with the marital counseling in which you should examine your wife’s parenting style and propensity towards undermining your efforts I suggest your wife spend some quality time with a therapist to explore her issues.  You have two boys to release into the wild and I’d hate to see these perfectly good humans go to waste as they are chewed up by a society that won’t tolerate folks who can’t toast their own bread.

When I was 12 I was babysitting and by 14 I had a job.  Before I started working “outside the home” at 14 I was responsible for much of my own care and feeding.  As for social events?  Those didn’t happen with any parental involvement that I can recall.

Come to think of it, those didn’t really happen at all.  That’s another blog entirely.

I worked through college and law school and became the internationally famous and fabulous advice writer you see before you in part because my parents inadvertently instilled in me a survival mechanism and strong sense of independence due to their disinterest in and neglect of me.*


Lest you think I am coming off a superior, you should know that I am also guilty of over-tending to my child.  I’m not sure if it’s the fact I only have one to focus on or residual guilt over my divorce, but I have for years done anything and everything my son needed doing, much to his detriment.

While we dined at a restaurant last Sunday, my son perused the menu and repeatedly inquired of me whether the establishment, called “Biscuits,” had biscuits.

At that point Mr. Patience and Understanding’s youngest son relayed a story about pledging his fraternity and often being accosted with the demand, “figure it the fuck out!” whenever asking for help with something.

Pledge: Hey, do you know where the mop is?

Fraternity brother: Piss off, pledge bitch, and figure it the fuck out!

Since “figure it the fuck out” could be deemed verbal abuse, I’ve decided to just holler “FITFO!” whenever my 13-year-old son can’t find a sock or a snack.

Like I did, you should first have a conversation with your son admitting that the parenting style needs to change in order for him to mature and push his own boundaries.  Then, teach him the things you want him to know: cleaning, laundry, basic food prep, walking and cleaning up after the dog, etc.  After the talk and the lessons, FITFO the hell out of him when he asks for help with something you know he can do himself.

Lastly, don’t abdicate your role as a parent.  This has been going on for a long time but you told me you have been very hands-off in this area to avoid confrontation with your wife.

I’m not saying you are a bad father, but you could definitely improve by being more proactive and less reactive when it comes to your kids.  Your inaction is hurting your sons so jump in there and be as influential in their lives as your wife is.


(The following story will seem at first to be a non-sequitur but don’t worry, I’ll wrap it all up in a pretty package at the end)

The other day I found myself confused and befuddled in the bathroom at my health club.  After I evacuated my bladder and stood up, the toilet didn’t flush on its own.  I was stunned to discover I had to push the handle to make the pee pee go into the Willamette River.

I was further confounded when I approached the sink and the water didn’t appear when I waved my hands in front of the faucet.  Mentally exhausted after solving the mystery of the flushing method for the potty apparatus, it took me a full three minutes to manipulate the water machine and start the flow to cleanse my paws.

I damn near fell apart when it came time to dry those paws, as no amount of gesticulation would produce either air from the hand dryer or paper from the paper towel dispenser.  Luckily for me, a severely retarded toddler toddled into the ladies’ room and showed me how these two drying systems operated.


Why is this happening?  I’ll tell you!

Mr. Patience and Understanding and I spend as much time at the golf club as we can in the summer, and a recent renovation made all the bathrooms fully automatic.  I’m surprised my bottom isn’t wiped by a machine when I make the poopy at the club (the golf pro takes care of that – he can’t fix my short game but my thongs are clean)!

My point is, when I use other bathrooms I am sometimes honestly waiting for things to happen that I need to do on my own.  Don’t raise your son in a manner that will leave him baffled when he needs to take care of himself.  He’s got six more years at home to learn some important skills so get going and help him grow some wings.

PS: Your wife needs to get a job, hobby or both.

PPS: Here is a fun blog that deals with children and letting go so please read! The Nest


* That’s not really true; sorry parents!  It makes for good blog content!




This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. John Descamp

    Great post. It’s very important for kids to be self sufficient but the use of “Johnny” is not only inaccurate but slanderous. I was so independent as a child that I routinely left for camp every summer. For 9 weeks!

  2. george shearer

    i think someone has been in the adderall. all the above hinges upon ‘free will’ (jokes appreciated here) being a ‘reality’. if it is not, we are all floating down the river, flailing and knashing in varying degrees of denial (i know, it’s not a/the river), to no avail. other than entertainment.

    i read a quote the other day, from a famous person, who more than likely lifted it from a less famous person (read about what happened to the first person to go over niagra falls in a barrel and live. a woman btw.), who said, “people don’t want the truth any more, they simply want to be entertained.” thank the entertaining gods for robin. i disagree with everything she says, especially when she contradicts herself :?) hell, i disagree with everything everyone says. but only because i didn’t say it first.

    my kids are perfect. so are yours. we all survive childhood. (well not all, but that’s because they are not white and live in places with white cops.) adulthood is soooo much longer than childhood because it takes that long to get over it. fuck up your kids for as long as you can. life will take over from there.

    i could be wrong, but at least i am not right :?)

  3. Brandi

    I don’t usually comment on these, but I just cannot stand people (mothers) that do this to their sons & daughters! Let the child grow into a man, if you coddle him and cater to his ever need and want, he will never learn to work for what he wants. I have 4 boys and the youngest is 8, he as well as the others can clean a kitchen, wash clothes, do yard work, etc. This women needs to back off and let the kid learn to do things on his own, or he will get a bad taste of reality when he is grown and leaves the nest.

Comments are closed.