Paula Subject: Teen Acting Out?
Question: Help! My 17-year old son has started behaving in a way that we are not familiar with at all. He and his twin brother have been "ideal" children. People comment all the time on how nice they are. Lately, though, "B" has gotten his first girlfriend. He says he's in love.
She's almost 16 and they've been going out for about 5 months now. Since B has been seeing her, he has gotten a speeding ticket for doing 95 in a 70 zone, gotten in trouble at his part time job by doing 55 in the employee parking lot. In that instance, he was issued a trespass warning, suspended for 2 weeks and allowed to return to his job.
Yesterday, he was caught stealing from this same job. Apparently, he has been taking $20 or $40 at a time for about a year now -- almost ever since he had the job. He has stolen an estimated $1,100. He obviously lost his job, and has to pay back the money somehow.
They did not press charges because he confessed to doing it. (They caught him red-handed.) We told him to come straight home and he replied "maybe." He wanted (tearfully) to go talk to his girlfriend. I called the girlfriend and told her we needed to chat with him. She seemed upset at what he had done and appeared supportive of us. B came home and seemed very sincere, apologetic and tearful. He told us he knows he has disappointed us, that it's nothing we did, and that he was doing it "to show off" to a friend of his who showed him how to steal like this. (The friend was fired last week, unbeknownst to B). However, B then proceeded to tell us (in tears) that he did not want to be at home right now.
Although we "appear" to have a good home life, he wanted to be with his girlfriend to "get away." He didn't want to have further conversation about this situation; he didn't want to face his brother or sister the next morning, etc. He said he wanted to spend the night at his girlfriend's house in her mother's spare bedroom. We considered his request (despite our initial objections) and contacted the girl's mother. She said not a problem.
We told him he was not allowed to use his car (that he shares with his brother) but that we would take him to the girl's home. He spent the night in the spare bedroom. I called him this morning to see if he wanted us to pick him up to go to lunch with us, or a little later and no lunch. He sounded tired, depressed, and said he did not care. His initial response was "neither" -- as if he did not want to come home at all.
Needless to say, I am hurt, upset, and fearful. I don't want to be too harsh and controlling (I've had this problem in the past), nor do I want to be too lenient. He seems to realize that what he's done is very bad, but I'm not sure where to go from here or how to handle any "consequences." He knows he needs to find another job in order to continue paying his car insurance and to repay his former employer.
I suggested counseling, either private or family, and he was very adamant about NOT going. I don't know how to handle this. I don't know how to handle him, and I don't know "how to act" when (or "if"?) he comes home. I don't even think he knows what is motivating these actions from him. Friends have mentioned "boot camp" but I wonder if that is too harsh since he appears sincere. He "seems" like a good kid at heart -- or always has been. I've never had an inch of problems with him in any way until about 6 months ago.
I don't know what his problem is, if he's just acting out, if this is "normal", if he's angry about something, or WHAT? I divorced their biological father when the boys were about 5. My husband adopted them when they were about 10. During the interim, the boys got out fabulously with my husband, but did not appear to care a hoot for their father -- who basically had the same attitude.
Sometimes he'd pick them up for visitation, sometimes not. My ex gave up his parental rights without even talking to the boys about it, and never even said good-bye to them. He dropped them off angry one day because the boys did not want to go visit him. He was angry, brought them back to my home and said that "[my husband] might as well just adopt you." I just found out that, despite how close my son is to his girlfriend, that he JUST RECENTLY told her about his biological father. That surprised me.
According to the girl's mother, B hates him and would "kick his ass" if he ever ran into him. I don't know what to do for my son. I don't know how to handle the "discipline" of his latest actions. I don't know how to trust him again, and I don't know how to feel like I have a "good" son again.
Please help me. I'm desperate.
Answer: Dear Paula, So you haven't had too many problems with your twin teens up until now? Well take a deep breathe and as you exhale say THANK YOU. Considering all of the things you could have experience up until now this is pretty good. Not that what is happening is okay, however, you need to realize you must have done a great job AND from your email it appears you are continuing to do a great job.
You mentioned boot camp was too severe and I agree wholeheartedly. You appear to be listening to your parenting instincts and good for you. While this appears to be a bad situation more than likely it is all aboout something your son is going through internally. Hear me on this one, IT IS OBVIOUSLY not about your home or your parenting. IT IS ABOUT SOMETHING going on inside of your son.
Now at the end of your email I picked up on something. You son states he hates his biological father and many parents do deserve their children's distaste and lack of attachment due to their abandonment etc....however, I am very concerned about your son's hatred of his father on 2 levels.
1. Rejecting his biological father and hating him is also about self hatred as the reality is he has his father's genes and is biologically at least 50% his father's son. He really rejects many wonderful things about himself when he rejects his father. When he can get to a point of forgiveness and even accepting his father for who he is, (notice I didn't say he had to approve of his father) he will find more peace inside of him.
2. Hatred for anyone is only poison in one's own soul. Hatred and resentment are seriously like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die. The other person is usually blissfully clueless. We cannot make another person feel our pain by hating them or by resenting their behavior. Sounds like his rejection is festering inside of him. He needs to know nothing he did or didn't do as a child was responsible for this especially regarding how you stated this relationship ended.
Remember we can know something with our head and not feel it in our hearts. Children often believe if they had been better somehow or they believe they can never be good enough to make what hurts emotionally right.
This is the toughest part of being a parent, seeing your child make dangerous choices and not feeling like you can do anything. Let me reiterate, spending as much time as you can listening is the greatest gift you can offer your son right now. He is nearly a legal adult and the good news is he hasn't done anything serious enough at this point to really mess up his life.
You are making the right choices not bailing him out of trouble, letting him reap the consequences of his actions and standing your ground. You are also not going into overkill, (really the boot camp thing - good call) and allowing him space to make mistakes and sitll be in contact with him. Trust your judgement, trust your history with your son and relax knowing at this point it is about the choices he is making and must have some very strong feelings about his life and what is going on from reading your email. The most important thing a parents has is the communication, that he is still talking to you and being open about what he wants and needs is a good sign, (not that you have to agree or like what he is asking, just the act of doing so is great!). Give yourself some credit for sticking with the most difficult job you will ever face in your life, parenting your children and now your adult children!
M Kay Keller