By Clarice J. Kestenbaum, M.D.
Q: Despite my best efforts, my son (age 11) has never learned to take responsibility for himself or his actions. He always tries to blame me or someone else instead. Is there anything I can do to fix this problem?
A: Human beings have developed significant ways of warding off anxiety and depression. Denying that an event ever occurred, shutting off powerful feelings from gaining consciousness a type of forgetting, and blaming others instead of taking responsibility oneself are all common "defense mechanisms" people use. A child may explain his failure to get a good grade on an examination by rationalizing "the teacher has it in for me" rather than admitting that he didn't study for the test.
Your son is at an age when he blames others. In adolescence, reason usually takes over. Teens develop the ability to examine behavior and predict the outcome of their actions. In the meantime, I recommend that you speak to him quietly, not in the heat of battle, but when he is responsive to discussion, about his behavior. See whether logic can prevail. The blaming habit should disappear in time and your son will develop more mature ways of solving his problems.