Q: My 14-year-old son does not brush his teeth, except during the week before a dentist appointment. He doesn't have any cavities, his breath is fine, his check-ups at the dentist are at the “acceptable” level (not great, but passable), and his teeth look fine. So he feels like it’s an unnecessary bother. I, nevertheless, am concerned that he is setting himself up for dental problems. My wife wants to clamp down on this and insist he brush his teeth very closely, which would mean we sit in the bathroom and supervise his brushing. If we don’t watch him, he will just do a perfunctory job or wet his toothbrush and claim he brushed. Any advice?
A: My advice is that you accept that you have done and said everything you can do and say to get him to realize the importance of brushing his teeth. Now, stop doing or saying anything. Have you not yet figured out that short of standing over him while he brushes — something that is going to get tiresome very quickly — you aren’t going to win this battle? And I suspect, by the way, that this has turned into a power struggle that he is winning. He knows he’s winning, and he is going to continue winning no matter what you do.
If you stand over him in the bathroom twice a day, you are only going to stimulate more passive-aggressive behavior from him and become increasingly exasperated. He’s going to see to that. Drop it. It is only a matter of time before his peers begin telling him he has bad breath. One cannot neglect brushing forever and not develop halitosis. You can also inform him that if he develops a cavity, it will be his job to pay for the repair and that his privileges will be suspended until he has satisfied the debt. Let this monkey be on his back, not yours.
Rosemond, a family psychologist, answers questions on his website, www.johnrosemond.com.