Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Teen distancing himself?

Questioner: Paula


Subject: Teen distancing himself?

Question: --Kay --

Thank you for your excellent advice. I took great comfort in your last paragraph, in particular, where you said if this is the only challenge I've had with him, then we're doing pretty good. (paraphrasing, of course). I guess my only other concern is that we have had trust issues with him as well
 -- which "appear" to be improving. While always previously honest to a fault, it seems as if in the last 6 months or so, we have had problems with him cutting his SAT prep. class (a night class which we paid for) to go out with this girl and then lying to us about going. We found out, of course, and he said he'd never lie to us again -- which, of course he did. Not about "major" stuff, but it seems as if he lies simply to get to the easier resolution with my husband and I. For example, during my conversation with him yesterday about the volunteer work (my original question to you), he brought up the fact that if he would just lie about what he really thought and felt, "then this conversation would be over by now." I "think" he's doing better at telling the truth -- but it could simply be he's getting better about covering it up. Is this "normal" also? How do you gain trust back from this situation?

Paula

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Followup To

Question -

My 17-year-old son has started dating a 15-year old girl -- his first girlfriend. He seems to want to spend every waking moment with this girl. They have been dating for about 5 months now. My problem lies in the fact that it feels as if he is distancing himself from his family. I KNOW that some distancing is normal and expected at this age, but for example: My family and I have been volunteering at a facility for terminally ill children for about five years now. It's sort of like Make-A-Wish, and it's something we've enjoyed doing together for years. Now, however, my son doesn't want to go -- at all. He "says" he will go, but never makes arrangements to make it happen. The facility called tonight asking for some extra help, and my son didn't want to go because he wanted to make plans with this girlfriend. He did not do his chores when he left, and he and I were in the middle of a conversation about his no longer wanting to do volunteer work for the community when the girlfriend shows up at the door -- having apparently come to pick him up -- he just didn't tell me she was coming and when. He interrupts our conversation and leaves. I asked him why he doesn't want to help others anymore, and he said he doesn't see the point. He said he didn't see how helping "carry a kid's food tray or serve them ice cream helps them." I pointed out that it is a way of giving of ourselves. I pointed out that it is a way to make this child's life brighter by making sure they enjoy their stay here. He "didn't get it." I'm shocked! I feel like I no longer know my son. He says he wants to go to college, and he understands he needs a scholarship to get there -- but he doesn't want to put in the necessary volunteer hours to earn the scholarship. He has plans, but no plan of action. He is this way concering several things. I feel like I don't know him any more, and it hurts. Help? :(

Answer -

Dear Paula,

Yes, I can understand your hurting as every parent has a moment or two or three or four when they look at their child and think do I even know who you are. Sometimes this is because children have been so busy doing things to please their parents they haven't really allowed their parents to get to truly know them.

From what you are describing here I only have one word about your son's behavior. HORMONES.

The good news is yes his behavior is normal. At 17 years of age children who by the way are only 1 year from being legal an adult and month are nothing to important in their minds, are not as capable of regulating their emotions and behavior as say someone who is 45 years old and in love.

Even at 45 most of us at least think about the other person obsessively and sometimes can barely hold ourselves together to get our work done every day and all the other responsibilities we have. So is a 17 year old really suppose to make all the right choices when he thinks the Ms Right has shown up on his door?

What I hear in your writing here is your son is taking responsibility for his life choices here, what he doens't realize at only 17 years of age is what the consequences are going to be for blowing off school and his daily responsibilities.

What you are experiencing as a parent is now watching your adult child start down his path in life. He is going to hit some bumps and take a few wrong turns in life. He can't see where the wrong turns are and you having had a least one full grown teenage life behind you can see where the wrong turns are marked "wrong turns."

So when you say wrong turn he hears, she doesn't trust me to make my own decisions. He too feels like you don't really know him as he at 17, doesn't really know himself yet. He just knows he likes this girl and wants to be with her.

What is important for you to understand is this is your opportunity to keep your relationship with your son for the rest of his life and yours. Tell him from your heart what you see happening, what you are afraid is going to happen because he doesn't see these wrong turns and then, let it go.

Pick your battles wisely. Voluntering with you is not as important as abiding by the family rules out of respect for living in your home. If he has chores to do before he goes somewhere and this is the standard in your home then he needs to understand his relationship with his girl friend will be outside of his responsibilities at home. Just because he is almost 17 doesn't mean he can ignore your requests.

Sometimes these kind of open, honest times of communication help the situation and sometimes it seems as if it is going no where. What you have to be prepared for is letting it go and letting it go where ever it is he is going to go.

We only have control over our children while they are little, they humor us as teenagers and give into what we ask them to do mostly out of respect, then they hit adulthood and make their own decisions whether we choose to support them, agree with them and back them is up to us.

Parenting doesn't end when children turn 18, it only changes into parenting of an adult child. We find new ways of communicating with them which will allow them to hear what we are saying without making them feel bad about themselves or their lives.

One last word, it sounds as if you have done a wonderful job of raising this young man if this is the only challenge he has presented to you at the age of 17. Trust what you have imparted will grow and you will see the results, just maybe not this year! :)

Best wishes!

M Kay Keller

Answer: Paula,

This doesn't sound like a problem with trust or honesty at all. It sounds to me like your son is communicating his discomfort with the topic being discussed.

His response to you "that the conversation would be over," tells me he is VERY ANXIOUS about having this conversation with you. Has he decided he doesn't want to go to college and is hesitant about telling you? Does he not want to face up to the disappointment he thinks he will be responsible for if he tells the whole truth? Or is he unsure about his abilities to test? Sounds like questions which need to be ask.

I will share with you in my experience with children of all ages no matter how old they get, no one wants to face parents who are disappointed in them.

We all want our parents approval even if we have to lie and live two seperate lives.

+++What this tells me is YOU ARE STILL very important in his life and his value system or he wouldn't be violating his own value system of not telling the truth. Your OPINION of the decisions he is making is so important to him it is easier for him to say what you want to hear rather than what he is really thinking about doing.

Sounds like he already knows what he wants and cannot face the consequences of how it will impact his relationship with his parents.

As most Young Adults are at this stage in their developmental processes he is torn between living out his life as he chooses and not hurting his parents in the process.

This is the test I think every parent faces at one point or another in their role as a parent. I hear him asking you, "do you love me for what I can do or do you love me for who I am." He wants to make his own choices even if they are not the ones you want from him and know his relationship is still okay. He wants your approval so badly he is lying to keep your approval and not have to face the consequences of what being real with you is going to be all about. It sounds like FEAR rather than dishonesty especially if this has not been a pattern in the past. If it was then you are just now more aware of this particular personality trait. I suspect FEAR. I suspect his stomach is in knots when he has these conversations and he just want out of the situation and says what he knows you want to hear, sound like people pleasing behaviors. There is something he doesn't want to face up to which involves his parents, be it disappointment, anger, or pain.

The best resolution is to ask him what is going on? What he is so afaid of he cannot be truthful with you? Then just listen, listen and listen with an open heart. This is a window of opportunity to keep this relationship open.

M Kay Keller

Follow up:

Thank you for your excellent advice. I took great comfort in your last paragraph, in particular, where you said if this is the only challenge I've had with him, then we're doing pretty good. (paraphrasing, of course). I guess my only other concern is that we have had trust issues with him as well -- which "appear" to be improving. While always previously honest to a fault, it seems as if in the last 6 months or so, we have had problems with him cutting his SAT prep. class (a night class which we paid for) to go out with this girl and then lying to us about going. We found out, of course, and he said he'd never lie to us again -- which, of course he did. Not about "major" stuff, but it seems as if he lies simply to get to the easier resolution with my husband and I. For example, during my conversation with him yesterday about the volunteer work (my original question to you), he brought up the fact that if he would just lie about what he really thought and felt, "then this conversation would be over by now." I "think" he's doing better at telling the truth -- but it could simply be he's getting better about covering it up. Is this "normal" also? How do you gain trust back from this situation?

Paula