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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 02-Feb-07


Monday 05-February-07

Teenage trouble 

I've written about my daughter's success more than once in recent times but have been sadly silent about my son, who will be 18 on Thursday. This is odd, as he has been on my mind a great deal.  Perhaps the reason I have not blogged on it is that there is little to boast about and things have been said and done that are deeply saddening.

He spent the last school year, pretending to work and spending god knows how many hours on the internet. His reward was a month-long holiday trekking in Africa. He was supposed to get a job and pay for half, but didn't (many excuses).

We hoped that seeing the world and then the shock of terrible exam results would help him grow up, and we persuaded the school to let him re-take the year. Yet whilst there has been some improvement in work, it may not be enough and the deception has continued such that we cannot really tell whether anything he says is true or not.

The computer and the internet still seem to be at the core of things and we have steadily clamped down on it. Problems have continued in one form or another, including things too difficult to mention. Most recently, he went through his sister's things when she was away, taking what he wanted, then saying he had been given them. When she discovered this she felt abused and defiled and unsurprisingly went incandescent and then very, very cold. He realized he had crossed a line and apologized abjectly, but after years of hurt, it was no longer enough and their relationship may be irreparably harmed.

After much thought we have decided to now cut off the internet altogether. He will object, no doubt, and maybe seek revenge. Yet he has already hurt this family so much already, blaming us for many of his ills and bringing shame through his actions.

If he wants to restore something of his sister's respect, the best thing he can do is knuckle down hard, really hard, and get excellent exam results, but I just don't know if he will do this.

One of the most frustrating things for me is that, whilst I have significant understanding of changing minds, my own son is so difficult. There is perhaps cold comfort in the fact that my wife, who is a teacher with a specialism in troubled teenage boys, has the same problem. Like many parents, we don't know what the right thing to do is, and so do what we can and hope for the best.

And yet there is hope. Now and again we see the kind, thoughtful and funny person inside. Will that true person emerge, or will the dark side persist? Only time will tell.

-- o --

Coda: We planned to have a family conference to discuss events and get things out in a safe environment. He pre-empted this by declaring he was leaving home, with nowhere to go. This would be the end of his formal education and the start of another education so harsh it would probably break him. We talked him down in a painful conversation where he, as usual, was the centre of attention but contributed little. There was talk of him rebuilding respect by working more, yet he subsequently went out and spent the evening playing video games. When I tried to talk with him he was back in the arrogant, sullen persona that is his suit of armour.

I am left feeling more desperate than ever, as is his mother. Que sera, but I fear it will not be good.

Update 26-Feb-10: See also Teenage troubles over?

Your comments

Well, that seems to be the real learning process. One have to experience everything oneself. You can talk and persuade but its just temporary effect ... ?

-- Ales

Dave replies:
I hope that some things will sink in eventually. I do think he'll turn out ok eventually, but I fear he'll blow his education in the learning process.

I was given the link to your excellent Syque site by a friend recently. Well, from there, I stumbled my way up to your blog, and discovered this story.

First of all, I'm sorry for your troubles.
I can imagine how distressing it must be for you, as a parent, to see your child make the wrong choices.

I wish I had an excellent course of action for you, guaranteed to cure what is wrong. But all I can offer is gratuitous advice. I'm no psychologist, but I can try to give you my take on this, from my limited experience of life. I'm sure its all stuff you already know, but if it even helps a little, Ill consider it to have been worthwhile.

When one is doing well, success builds upon success. But when one is in a rut of failure, it tends to spiral and also build upon itself. The worst part of all this, is damage to self esteem. I've seen absolutely brilliant people fail in life, because they couldn't for the life of themselves, recognise that they were gods among men, in terms of raw capability.

Lack respect for yourself, fuels self destructive activity. Be it relatively benign activity, such as spending your time on video games instead of more productive pursuits (and this is mostly because these more worthwhile activities, such as studying, seem to aspire to a success which is unattainable by one), or be it drugs (which hopefully your son has not exposed himself to), or alcohol, or any number of other things. Depression follows with almost assured certainty.

I would hazard a guess that failing in exams, and far more importantly, failing in your eyes has taken its toll on your son's self esteem.

The only answer is for him to find a way OUT of the rut of failure. Even ONE success can reawaken the realization that he is a bright, intelligent, competent and good person, worthy of all the best things in life. And that the world is full of excellent opportunities, far more worthwhile than some stupid game that'll be out of date in a month or two.

As a parent, its hard to let go. But there is truth in the old maxim, "you can take a horse to the water, but you can't make him drink". I say, DON?T indulge the child who wants to be told what to do, so he can blame his misfortunes on others. My dad always made it clear to me, that he loved me, no matter who I was- a success, or a screw-up--and that it was up to me what I would be! It was a blow.
I was robbed of all the luxury of wondering what I wanted, and being angsty. My life was in my own hands. An enormous responsibility.

I'm sure that an experienced professional such as yourself will be able to encourage the responsible young adult who knows what's best for himself (though of course, its so easy to seem patronising in the eyes of an unhappy teenager).

When we realize that our future is in our own hands, that we are not sheltered, that our destiny is of our own creation- we generally make the right decision.

The future sometimes looks bleak when we don?t see all the good that it holds.

I'm sorry this message is somewhat disjointed, it was written on the fly.

I do hope that every thing works our for you, and your family, and that your son realises that these are some of the best years of his life, and that he should get off his rear, and go out and meet them with a cheery disposition. Life is too short to waste it being unhappy.

Warm Regards

-- AS

Dave replies:
It's a wise reply and thank you very much. I do try to give him opportunities for success but believe that, for esteem, he must pick up the baton himself.  I also do look for things to praise him for, but there are also relatively few things here. He knows we love him. He also knows that laziness is not an acceptable place in this house.

Over the past few days, since the internet has been off, he has been much nicer and worked harder. I suspect there's an addiction pattern at play here.

I think he'll turn out ok. His sister at his age was a terror, but now is a well-qualified and successful businesswoman. I know that's no guarantee, but it does give us hope.

An interesting and sad story. Your situation is one that repeats itself everywhere - no matter what theories there are humans are so complex and have motivations that are often not apparent to ourselves even.

Just some initial ponderings:
It would be very hard living up to a family of achievers - your son, may just be having some time out from your stress on results and not being "lazy" as you put it. Perhaps you may all benefit from some meditation or yoga etc to ponder on how people are different and that what your goals may not be right for your son - at this time.

Your definition of success may be narrow as well - you mention that your daughter is a successful business woman so she has turned out okay - but is she really happy? Is she contributing to the world in a way that truly satisfies? Perhaps she is and that would be fantastic to combine success in both personal and 'professional'/occupational life.

You mention that you have not mentioned your son much in the past but have lauded your daughter - doesn't that show such disrespect of your son as an individual - there must be something you can find to be proud of - that he is great on some internet games for instance - this is a skill too. what about other interests that he has or had had when a little boy - nature? movies? the environment? ...

It seems sad that in such a competitive environment, for one to be successful others have to fail - for one to do well in exams, others have to do poorly...obviously someone's son or daughter will be the ones who do poorly...perhaps it is the competitive system that is at fault rather than the individuals who choose not to partake in such "sorting" activities.

Your language is too deterministic - such as your sons and his sisters relationship may be lost forever - that is a long time, and your son isn't even an adult yet. From your language it seems that they have not got on for some time - perhaps it is time for some psychological counselling to help the family towards some respect for each other as individuals with their own path to fulfilment?

Personally I like family systems therapists, but there are many different theories and types, and sometimes you just have to search around to get the one that suits all.

All the best, hope these ramblings have been useful, H.M

-- Heather

Dave replies:
Thanks, Heather, for your thoughtful comments. My ranting here does not reflect my language with my son. I do look for ways to praise him every day. I try hard not to be a pushy parent (and sometimes wonder if I have not pushed enough). I believe in offering opportunities but not force-feeding. My daughter is happy enough -- as all early jobs, it's up and down. All I want for my children is that they are independent and happy. My wife and I practiced Tai Chi for many years and now incorporate principles in living. I've also been trained in counselling. Is the family responsible in some ways? Yes. Am I? Yes. Do we work on it? Yes. We use blameless in-family talking sessions to air issues rather than repress. And it's still hard.

 Like other folks, my heart goes out to you and your wife. Having suffered and survived the teenage heebie jeebies with a daughter, I wish I could offer the answers. Recently found a wonderful book of parenting called "Parenting with Love and Logic". Has one specially for the teenage variety of kids. Anyway, what is so powerful and helpful, is that it foils the "blame it on someone else" syndrome and it eliminates the anger thing on the part of parents. Give it a read and it will click or not.
PS: I am on this blog because I am checking a reference that a student provided in a paper :)

-- Janet

Dave replies:
Thanks, Janet. I'll look out for it. At the moment everything is ok. He's just turned 18 and we've given him 'adult responsibility' for revising for his exams, which means we will support him but will make no suggestions that could be interpreted as parental pressure. I hope he'll get there. In the end it's his life and he must learn the law of responsibility and consequence.

 Dear Dave:

Just arrived at your blog. There can be a beginning, a middle, a near-the-end and an end of a project, job, state of understanding, or whatever. What if you, your wife and daughter are in the middle, but your son is at the end? Your son may be in a state of transition, while the rest of you are not.

Perhaps you are at different points, so you have different understanding or understandings. You are an engineer, your wife is a teacher, your daughter is in business. What if your son is an artist, and only senses at this point a creative urge, but does not yet know what or where it is or how to express it. He may need to sink within himself in order to change his perspective or point of view, and that will refresh him. Is he musical? Does he write? Buy him an instrument and a nice journal and fountain pen. Maybe he can appreciate the abstract, while his family members appreciate something else.

-- John Williamson

Dave replies:
Thanks, John. He is certainly trying to figure himself out in some ways. He would like to be an artist and draws a lot. We encourage him to express himself but he is not a good artist. He could be musical. We bought him a guitar at Christmas but it got played little. I think he'd like to be able to play but lacks the motivation to learn. He has a good pen and can write very well when he chooses, but this is infrequent.

Update: we have removed the computer from his life and his behaviour has significantly improved. The vitriol has largely gone. He has also turned 18 and some more of the responsibilities of adulthood has sunk in, I think.

 Applying logic to teenagers can sometimes be...well illogical. However, just because someone has illogical behaviour doesn't mean that he is excused from accountability. I've always been a huge advocate of wayward teens getting a job. Your family will forgive many transgressions that an employer will not. I never liked being dependent on my parents, so I started 2 successful businesses even before I got a job mowing lawns, landscaping, and the like. I rarely met any of my family's unrealistic expectations, but now enjoy a much better life for myself having worked as an engineer for the past 10 years. Sometimes, it's best just to set boundaries and stick to them. Keeping the plug pulled on the computer is a very good start. Just as few neighbourhood football players are good enough for the World Cup, few gamers are good enough to compete or program new games.

-- Martin

Dave replies:
Martin: do you want a job - as a son? I have tried getting my son to find work, from washing cars to working in a games shop. But all I get are excuses and I know enough not to push. I've also shown him the rudiments of programming in the hope that he's find interest there, but no.

I'm now pretty bereft of ideas. He just rolls downhill. Without computer games he watches TV, and without that he just sits there. He's had medical attention and is not depressed. And any attempt to talk with him is met with appalling unpleasantness. It just seems like an extended period of the Teenage Troubles. Sorry to go on about it, but that's partly what a blog is for and expressing my feelings helps, as does the kind thoughts from people around the world like you.

I don't think he is bad and still have hope that he will wake up one day, but I cannot see it before the horizon. I fear he will fall further before he turns the corner. See more recent notes at Reality blindness.

 I feel your pain - literally. I have a son who will be 18 in a couple of months and he has shown a lot of the same apparent lack of motivation/passion for life as your son. A bright and capable guy, my boy seems to have squandered too much of his youth on a similar style of laziness. Added to this sad scenario, he has now discovered the opposite sex in a rather unwholesome way, which he is unable to or uninterested in controlling. This is now leading him further away from school work, a normal family life, or anything resembling a bright future. The most passionate thing going for him now is his desire to rebel against mom and dad. He has "run away" a few times now only to return in progressively declining condition. Sex, drugs, late night hours, unsavory associates, disrespect and just plain ignorance are what seem to rule his existence now. Plenty of people will say that this is just a phase lots of kids go through. Part of me believes this too as I have an unexplainable faith that he will turn out OK -eventually. I guess this is part of what Jung calls the individuation process.
In the meantime, I just want him to survive long enough to discover what his life could really be about.
As I see that your original post is well over a year old now, please tell me there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

-- Manuel

Dave replies (May-08):
It's almost like a disease, isn't it, Manuel? And the 'will he survive' question has been in my mind more than once. Thankfully, my son does not seem to have got into drugs. I wrote a more recent blog on 'the story so far', though since then he has improved a lot -- the real difference was when he got a job. We had a 'no internet until you've held down a job for a month' rule, which seems to have helped a lot. He has lapses but is much more civil now. I think it's partly to do with self-respect and partly to do with having to be pleasant to people all day has led him to appreciate others more.

We've had a philosophy of keeping the communications channel open and, whilst not accepting bad behaviour, we have (mostly) not responded to anger with anger. His older sister, who he respects, has helped too. She can be more direct with him and he has listened more to her. In any case, we have our fingers crossed for him.

i don't offer my opinion but rather, an acknowledgement of the situation. I am 15, and in my household.. i see the same, accept my older brother is having problems.. and i am doing well. But i have something that i dont show. This is that.. i sometimes feel sick from worrying about him, and i feel so sad for him and living up to the goal my mum has set isn't easy, it feels like the only thing that matters to her is that i am successful from other peoples eyes, and not happy in myself which seems to me, to be more important.
My brother hasn't got a job. He has alcohol problems and so much more. It is hard for my parents i know, because there is a language barrier between them and their children. this makes it hard for any one of us to come to them with our problems.
Also being the youngest makes me the last one out of home, the last child. I think my parents, especially mum is having trouble dealing with this. She is going through a crisis of her own i suspect. Even though i want to help her. My relationship with her isn't that strong and sometimes i find it easier to cut her out of my life for a day or two, just so i can get away from all the stress. Its hard both ways.
Not to mention the school environment stress.
Its not easy.

-- Ania

Dave replies (Jun08):
Hi Ania. Many sympathies. I wasn't too rebellious as a child myself but remember well the problems my parents had with my sisters. They turned out ok, though at the time I wondered what I should do. In a more recent blog
I noted that my son has improve hugely after getting a job. He's not perfect but I think the job has done a lot for his self-respect -- and that's a key part of it all. When teenagers are rebelling, it's not really about other people it's about them, and what's going on in their heads.

Hi I'm Tina and I have two sons one will be 13 in April the other is turning 15 in 2 weeks, the younger is a kind gentle child still while his brother and I have butted heads for a year solid. His dad who is not in the home decided to let him live with him to see if that helps, he doesn't act this way around him. So I allowed this move. His dad and I split up 2 days before his birth. So I thought that he really seeked knowing how it is to live with him. It's been 6 months and his dad has allowed him to miss school "sick" at least twice a month so now he's in trouble with truancy or whatever and telling me handle it all. Well I just want my son home, but now he's enjoyed the easy life of laying around the time no chores nothing. I truly think he agreed to this so he'd get out of child support, he was behind and now it's caught up and I will owe him 75 bucks next month. I don't know what to do, he doesn't think he should do anything but eat sleep and shit and i hate seeing lazy people anyone, especially my own kid just lazying through life. Thanks for any advise.

-- Tina

Dave replies:
Hi Tina. Tricky situation you have there. Now that your son is with his father, it doesn't seem like you can do much about it. One of the most difficult things for a parent is to let go of their children, letting them live the lives they will live, especially when you know it's not so good. Your son's making choices, just as mine made, that he will regret later. If he matures and you let him, he'll feel able to admit it. It's difficult to tell how things will turn out and it looks like you must, for now, just let things go as they will. So don't worry too much for now. One day your son will have to grow up.

One thing you can do is not to give him anything to push against when you see him. If he's being lazy, say nothing. Ask what he's been doing, and when he says 'nothing', just say 'ok'. Beware of becoming a soft touch. If he comes back to live with you at some time (maybe when maybe his father gets fed up with him), impose conditions and be straight. Tough love and all that.

My son is now 20, living at home and slowly becoming more civil. He's got a job at the local supermarket and beginning to notice that he's somewhat smarter than the others there. It's his life, though, and he must live it himself. Regret is tough, and he's not admitted any yet. He doesn't save anything, but we force it by charging him rent, but are putting it by for when he leaves.

 Oh my can I feel your pain. My son is 17 and has been in and out of school because of behavior problems his whole life. I am so over this...he is doing online high school and is almost finished. Has 3 classes and chooses to be on the internet - I can't take away the internet b/c that's where his school is. He is mouthy and disrespectful to his father and I. My husband is in the military overseas and so we have to tread a very fine line b/c the military will come after my husband if we choose to really discipline. My son has been the cause of my depression throughout the years - I have broken my back trying to ensure he is not labeled in life. He is very smart, plays football and basketball for the high school (they let him play as a homeschooler) and does not drink or do drugs, but the laziness and disrespect is too much. I am so ready for him to move out...I now resent him and know that I don't want to live with him so I am counting down the days.

-- Morgan
Dave replies (Sep09):
My son has now moved away to stay with friends. No job, but there you go. He's got to live his own life and I believe he's trying, in his own way. He's still making a meal of 'growing up' and is not ready to talk about a range of subjects, but I know he'll get there one day. Till then I'm getting on with my life too.

Dave my heart is with you. As a parent, I believe that we want our children to grow into responsible reliable trustworthy people. My 15 year old daughter is struggling as well, refuses to attend school (bullying that is not dealt with by teachers, etc), sick of going to counsellors (because of reactions to bullying - she has an 'attitude') but now she really has an attitude and has become what she detested - a bully (especially towards me). All she desires is to spend every day wandering around with her friends at the local shopping mall and swimming in the creek. "I am happy there". Has horses that are not cared for by her, is musically talented - "you say I am musical because you are a parent but I am not!" She plays piano, drums, guitar, clarinet, several types of recorder (mainly self taught) and reads music easily. She was an A student until 2 years ago and now is failing at school, "doesn't care", and "it's my life" while holding her hand out for money to buy junk food. Tough, I am now refusing the money because we have food at home - get a job. The school has said she doesn't need to be there but hopefully we have convinced her to attend next year and maybe get a traineeship. Her hair is black, with black eyes and wears skinnies with singlets and death jackets she gets from her friends. The abuse and foul language she throws at me is quite frankly scary and her home habits are filthy and totally disrespectful. Occasionally, I am able to get her to do the dishes but her room is trashed, literally. Her father knows little because she insists that he not be told anything and when she is with him on weekends, she is not with him because she is everywhere else. How to motivate and encourage our kids - no matter what I say, positive or negative, it is returned with a mouth of foul language so I stay silent which gets me a dose as well because I am ignoring her. I am tired and want it to stop. I love her but don't like her. Will she turn her life around? Will her failings now destroy her future opportunities?

-- Heather

Dave replies (Nov09):
Hi Heather. My very deepest sympathies for your plight. It's so frustrating seeing talent going to waste. You're doing the right thing in not giving her money for junk food. Tough love is the right word. She needs to know that you love her but also deep inside needs you to provide stability and control whilst she also feels in control of her life. It's a lot about control and it's a very tricky path to navigate -- too much by you and she'll pull away too much. It's a bit like fishing -- you have to give them space to grow up but at the same time quietly reel them back to sanity and adulthood.

Regarding my son, the last 'friend' he stayed with bled him dry of funds then kicked him out. He's back home and in college now. We've our fingers cross and he says he's doing well but doesn't seem to be doing any work at home. I can only believe the actual results I see, which will be next Summer.

My name is Jeannie. The letter that follows here, are things a 33 year old gentlemen (and full time college student) said he wished he would have said to his father before he died. Unfortunately, he had not matured until long after his father had died and he had become a father himself.

Dear Dad,

So many times when I failed at a task, your encouragement helped me succeed.

I learned that every accomplishment is it's own reward, but nothing compared to your pride in me.

When high school began something had changed; I never felt less assured.

It seemed anything I'd say or do was always subject to the values, views and expectations that came from your life, whereas before this time, your life had been mine too.

I didn't understand why I was feeling so separate from you.

I kept trying, and no matter what, I could never hit the hit the mark.

Dad, I know you were disappointed when I didn't finish college. I have been trying to get my degree again, but it has been so hard since the kids came along. You'd said I'd be sorry, because it only gets harder.

But what I am sorry for, was that I did not grow up fast enough to gain this perspective as well as the words to finally tell you...

You were right about many things. You were not right about everything.

I started to realize how much I loved you, by how much I missed you. But this was before I became a parent myself.

Now, being as concerned for my children as I know you were for me, overwhelms me with sorrow to have not understood your love for me while you were still here for me to thank.

-- Jeannie

Dave replies (Nov-10):
Lovely letter, Jeannie. Thanks. My son continues to wake up, though in fits and starts and slides and leaps. He got mixed results in his AS exams last Summer. Could have been worse, could have been better. He admitted he could have worked harder and resolved (again) to pull his finger out. Will he do enough to get to University? Perhaps. I'll believe what I see, though I'm more hopeful than I was. He's plenty bright enough and he's gradually getting a better grip on reality. He's also getting much more civil and is now more often polite than rude. I have always believed in his potential. Fingers crossed (but not as tightly as before).

Iam 18 & have a brother who's 15. Us being teenagers puts a lot of pressure on our parents. I've successfully gained a medical college and my brother is in 10th std. When i was 15 or 16 i used to be very rude to my parents, lazy, disobedient and everything. The last thing my mom told me was "u'll know when u'll be a mother" which of course didn't make any sense. My parents never forced me for studies but they were damn strict 'bout certain things. Now i understand a lot 'bout their pain & life.

-- Rachel

An eye opener for me. I have two kids son is 18 years old. He has not been a problematic kid, except in few situations. My daughter is 15years old. I am much worried of her, as she lacks interest in anything and is not serious about her studies. Her lack of concentration and daydreaming are her major drawbacks. I wish I could help her get through this phase.

-- bharthi

Dave replies (Sep 11):
It's always a worry and can get problematic. My son is now 22 and is just off to university. He has improved over the past years but has not yet fully woken up. We have our fingers crossed, as always. I read some research recently that the best thing you can do as parents is to keep loving them and let them know this, even if you have to take stronger control sometimes. Love,  patience and doing the best you can. It seems to be the right way.

My boy is only 14 doing drugs with my ex the father of my younger two, we dont have any thing to do with him since i found he was to my boy, now my boy takes off a lot there we. We moving states in five months my boy says he not coming he say he take off what can i do :(

-- melissa

Dave replies (Aug 12):
Goodness, Melissa, you've got serious problems there. If this is illegal where you are, then maybe get the law involved? Moving state is probably a good move. If you are still his legal guardian then he won't have an option but to go with you. I'd also look around for local social help.

An update about my son: he survived his first year in university and came back more sociable than when he went, but still can't face home truths. He is still deceptive, but not as much as he has been. He's off for his second year next week. Fingers crossed he'll wake up a bit more in the coming year.

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