David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]

Who’s Who?

My son, Leon, is oppositional and defiant. I have the evaluation from the psychologist who wrote up what I told her. I’m starting to think he’s definitely bi-polar. At the very least, he’s seriously attention deficit.

Every homework assignment brings on the third world war. Every single day. He refuses to even do assignments let alone study in advance for tests. He says the teacher doesn’t tell them when the tests are. Can you imagine? I believe the teacher. Leon lies all the time to get out of doing his work. Of course, his grades are terrible. I’ve told him again and again how important his marks are in the eighth grade. Next year counts for college!

His behavior at home? Unbearable, thanks for asking. He won’t clear the table after dinner never mind pick up his room. Yesterday, he rode his skateboard into the house. Unbelievable. A skateboard. Admittedly, I was in a terrible mood to begin with–my boss is an idiot and is always screaming at me for no reason–but Leon hadn’t even told me where he was going when he left the house. He knows he’s supposed to be home by dinner at six. These are tough times and he knows how much I worry. Not to mention that his friends are low life idiots majoring in “Pre-Thug.” I need to know where he is. Atlanta isn’t safe like when I was growing up here years ago.

So, anyway, he rides the skateboard right into the living room. We just had the wood floors redone; he knows how much that cost. I asked him politely to get off the stupid skateboard, but he refused. Maybe he didn’t hear me with those lousy earphones–he listens to the most offensive music–but I had to grab him. We got into a tussle and he pushed me. His own mother. And after all my sacrifice. He pushed me. I’m at my wit’s end. I don’t know what I’m going to do with that boy.

My husband is just about fed up. He may be thinking about leaving me and I don’t know that I blame him. If my marriage fails, it will be all Leon’s fault. He just won’t listen.


Noel is my favorite advisee here at the boarding school where I am also his English teacher. In my class, he “gets it,” makes insightful comments about the reading, is always prepared for discussion. He struggles in math but has asked to be seated in the first row and seeks out the teacher for extra help several days a week. His most recent test on factoring quadratics was a B- and he is studying constantly.

In residential life, he is emerging as a leader. He makes the newer students feel at home. He helps out on the weekends when the boys clean the dorm and takes on the least glamorous assignments for himself. He is respectful with teachers, staff and residential life. He looks us in the eye and says “thank you” several times a day.

He has tried out for the cross country team and, although he’s not all that fast, he may end up as the captain when the kids vote next week. His peers respect him tremendously; he runs his heart out and they admire that. And he’s always encouraging the other runners–even the ones who don’t go to our school. In short, a great kid. I’m glad he’s a student here.

The funniest thing is that we almost didn’t accept him as a student. We got this evaluation–“testing,” I guess they call it–that said he was oppositional, defiant, maybe even bi-polar. There were pages and pages about how the kid didn’t get along with his mom at all, about how they had been physically violent with one another. There was some ugly incident with a skateboard.

I have to tell you, I don’t know who was being written up in those notes, because what I read and the kid that I taught just can’t be the same child. I really think there may have been a mistake because they even spelled his name wrong.

The psychologist got his name backwards: “Leon” and “Noel.” Kinda funny if you think about it.


Why was Leon failing at both school and life in his home in suburban Atlanta? Why is he so thoroughly successful in his boarding school in the Northeast? Any of the following reasons may have something to do with it:

The curriculum in Georgia wasn’t meaningful to him. He wasn’t able to connect with his teachers at his local middle school. The teachers in boarding school are “better,” more caring and insightful. Leon needed a “break” from the family dynamic at home; a “parent-ectomy” if you will. Maybe Leon was able to take responsibility for his grades and his behavior when he was a thousand miles from home. Maybe Leon just “out-grew” his bad behaviors. Maybe he finally listened to his mom when she told him–for the hundredth time–that his grades were important. (I don’t put much credence in the “He finally listened” scenario, but I’m not willing to leave out any possibilities.)

Maybe the moon was in Aquarius.

Sometimes a change is called for. If what you’re doing isn’t working, if you’ve given your parenting strategy your best shot, if you’ve given your parenting strategy a fair chance, maybe it’s time to try something else. Change can be hard, but change can be necessary.

You owe it to yourself; you owe it to your family; you owe it to your child.


I’ll be interested to hear your stories of when making a change was helpful and appropriate.



Copyright © David Altshuler 1980 – 2022    |    Miami, FL • Charlotte, NC     |    (305) 978-8917    |    [email protected]