DEAR EXENE: There was a time when I was between the ages of 14 and 17 years old that you could say I was a bit of a kleptomaniac. I grew up in a small town, where a mixture of boredom, angst and the need to test authority became a terrible combination; I was stealing small things all the time from grocery stores, gas stations, even my family and friends. I eventually grew out of it without much more than a few slaps on the wrist, but it did sort of give me a bad reputation with a lot of people in my life that was really hard to shake. I never really got any heavy discipline, per se; the people in my life just stopped trusting me with anything, which seemed almost worse. I'm now in my late 30s, and I have an 8-year-old son who was recently caught stealing something small in a convenience store. I came down on him pretty hard. I spanked him in the store, yelled at him, made him sit in his room for the entire weekend and only let him out to eat. At a certain point, I realized I was projecting a lot of my fear and anxiety over my bad childhood reputation onto him, which isn't fair. But I also want him to know that that kind of behavior is never okay. How do I explain to him that I overreacted without seeming weak on the issue?
DEAR ROSCOE: It's good that you realize you overreacted with your son's stealing. Lots of kids, maybe most kids, steal from a store or their friends, or they try to. Usually, they get over that. You don't want your son to get into the same thieving pattern you fell into. Apologize sincerely to your son. Sometimes, parents overexplain; you don't have to go into all the details about how you behaved as a teenager. He's too young for that. Just say you overreacted because you feel strongly that stealing is wrong. You are worried about seeming weak? An adult physically and verbally abusing an 8-year-old is weak. Don't do that anymore.
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