My son stays up late on his phone and is missing school. What can I do?

Ask Brian: Secure family and school supports and prepare to take away treats

It can be helpful to inform the school of difficulties, and to engage with any supports they offer. Photograph: iStock

It can be helpful to inform the school of difficulties, and to engage with any supports they offer. Photograph: iStock


I am a single mum and worried about my teenage boy. He’s in second year and obsessed with his phone. He stays up late into the night and is exhausted in the mornings. He’s missing school and fell asleep in class recently. I’ve tried taking his phone away, but it doesn’t work and he has a second one. What can I do?

As a former teacher over four decades, I have come across many similar situations with teenage boys, usually from about aged 14 onwards.

Firstly, you should not see this as any failure on your part. You have loved and cared for your son since birth and it must be heart-breaking to see him suddenly transformed in to a surly, defiant teenager.

If it is any consolation to you, I spoke to a mum recently who went through the same experience as you are currently. She talked about the hell it was for her, but that in his early 20s now, her son has grown up to be the most loving and caring son any mother could want, so there is potential salvation at the end of a very tough road.

Firstly, you should be totally open with your wider family and your son’s school principal concerning the difficulties you are experiencing.

In the early teen years, boys need mentoring and support. It can help to have a strong, male role model, whether that is family or a friend. His grandfather, if he has a good relationship with him, can be invaluable in helping him successfully navigate his teenage years.

If his absences escalate in the months ahead, the school will be obliged at a point in time to formally report this matter to Tusla, the child and family agency, which will bring the State services into the picture.

He should be made aware of this and the prospect of their intervention may cause him to reflect on the pathway he is heading down.

I am also certain you can use your position as his mum in clearly laying out the consequences of his actions in terms of treats foregone or other positive aspects of his life that you have the power to withdraw.

It is of very little value to throw them out in a fit of rage and frustration, and then fail to follow through on them later.

That will totally undermine your capacity to influence his behaviour and disempower you as his parent.

Sit him down at a time when all is well, and calmly outline to him what you will withdraw if his actions do not change.

No more than we all did in our teens, he is going through a challenging time of his own. The early stages of this process, which usually occur in second year, can be very unsettling.

The key to managing this process is through securing all the supports available to you personally in your family and social circle and through your son’s school.

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