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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 17-Mar-06


Friday 17-Mar-06

A parent's despair

My son, like many, has had problems growing up. Last night we went to a parents' evening at school to hear the same, depressing news. Like virtual every other such occasion, the message was 'could do better'. He has still been late handing in sub-standard homework. He doesn't seem to listen and has got worse results in resits of tests even after the teacher has gone through the papers in detail. And he doesn't ask for help.

And all I have heard from him at home is how well he is doing. I have been shown the occasional results when his true ability shines through and hoped upon hope that he was really growing up now. And then I talk with his teachers and my hopes for him are shattered again.

When I have tried to help him in the past, he has fought tooth and nail. The same is true with his mother and his sister. Whenever any of us has offered or tried to help, the result has been the same. Either outright refusal or dragging his feet until the helper gives up in frustrated despair.

We have tried many approaches and are at our wits' end. From bust-ups and groundings to giving him responsibility and letting him choose: nothing seems to work. He just nibbles and erodes, protecting his play time and sneaking in chat to friends when he should be working.

In short, his behavior has been slothful, arrogant and deceitful. Harsh words, I know, and very, very hard to say.

It is so desperately frustrating. His mother is a brilliant teacher who specializes in wayward boys. I am a specialist in change. Yet when it comes to our own son nothing seems to work. Like water off a duck's back.

So what's wrong? Is he a bad lot? No. He has a kind and gentle core. He does not smoke or do drugs. He does not fight or bully others. And he cares about his family.

A big problem has been denial, closing his eyes to others and hiding in fantasy. His online gaming is maybe a cause and maybe an effect. He has spent untold hours killing monsters whilst his own monsters roam free.

When a mirror is held up to him, all that happens is projection and transference. A description of his behavior, carefully worded to avoid blame and so on is reflected back in personal attack. Nothing is his fault. Nothing is wrong. Just get off my back.

I wonder: was it me? Is it me? Did I say or do something when he was young? Did we inadvertently create childhood trauma that has echoed down the years? Did we try too hard? Were we too soft? Did we go wrong somewhere?

Or is it just teenage angst? Is it the normal madness of youth and one day he will wake up as a fully fledged adult, able to support himself, ready to take responsibility and contribute to the world?

The question for us as desperate parents is 'what next?' Should we just give up? Should we control more?
He is 17 and on the brink of having to make his own way in the world, yet his eyes seem tightly shut.

Perhaps the last attempt at opening his eyes is a month-long and very expensive trip to Africa where he will be doing everything from trekking to Victoria Falls to helping build a hospital. Hopefully it will be a rite of passage, an experiential dawning of visceral reality.

Will it work? Who knows.

All I know is that we love the socks off him and fear for his future.

Your comments

I feel your pain - and can only offer deep support. My 20 year old went thru similar things - only worse - he progressed from poor school marks to drug use and addiction to crystal meth... similar story in ways, nothing seemed to get through, he games a lot, we tried Outward Bound and he was sent home after 2 days for smoking dope... and then, believe me when I say there are not days worse than when the police take your son away in handcuffs for committing robbery. Did me in, that.

And there's good news too - he's clean from the meth for over a year, has a job, got one years probation for the robbery... he also has a kind and gentle core and cares about his family.

So even though it seems "not good", please be thankful for and love him for who he is and the things he does get right. And hang in there! All blessings to you!

-- Mark

Dave replies:
Mark -- my problems pale besides yours, and it's so good to hear that your son is re-findng reality. I do believe that their core values will always reassert themselves in the end, so no matter what, I know my son will find his way. It's so sad to see them stray, and not see the pain they cause. See Blue funks and cosmic dust for my later perspective.

You could have been describing my 17 year old son, who also seems to have passion for nothing but computer games. Let's hope they both grow out of it and find a productive way to become engaged with the world.

-- Bill T

Dave replies:
Amen to that. I read a book recently that said computer games actually teach very useful skills, from risk analysis to social collaboration. At least it's better than watching TV.

I live in a self-imposed exile and a world of imagination. The world 'out there' has little to offer me. I have been bullied since the word go and nothing I do seems to help. When I'm out, I'm always polite, courteous and well-behaved yet I am told I am a 'freak', a 'weirdo' and have on one occasion been likened to a 'paedo' which I found very hurtful indeed. Something about my appearance (and I don't mean how I dress, the way I wear my hair etc etc) makes people feel ill at ease and it's very hurtful because it's something I can do nothing about so I live inside my head, I daydream and I pretend I am really good at something and people admire me. I know it's not real, an escape, but it helps me to cling on in a world with many many serrated edges.

-- Jonathan

My son does the same and he has a diagnosis of mental illness.

Dave replies:
We did take him to a psychiatrist, who said it wasn't mental problems.


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