Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Overly mature 13 year old

Questioner: Shelly

Subject: My "over" mature 13 year old

Question: My son is 13 (soon to be 14) and has always been mature beyond his age. He thinks and acts and thinks that he is 16/17. He has been that way since he was born. He has had a somewhat chaotic life which we have tried to make the best of. His dad works all over the US and is gone alot sometimes months at a time. he is very close to his dad. Over the years we have taken time and travelled with my husband while homeschooling. It was good to be together yet very stressing to home school 3 children. We also have an 11 yr old daughter and 5 yr old son.

He does not do well in school yet has the intellect to. He has always been gifted yet will not do the work so fails. When he started 6th grade they tested him since he was home schooled and his reading level was at an 8th grade 5th month level. He is very smart. Yet he despises school and hates the work. That is a constant struggle. He wants to be grown and working...and that is all.

When he started middle school he totally changed. Friends changed, interests changed, clothes changed etc. It was very hard to see. My husband and I both had dysfunctional families and both of my parents were alcoholics. I left home at 15...so naturally I was very afraid. We have always been very open with him regarding sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. Beginning very early I answered his questions very honestly and told him about our experiences growing up. He has seen his grandparents alcoholism and his uncles drug abuse.

Because of his changing actions, I took him to a therapist. He had gotten very rude, disrespectful, cussing, listening to explicit rap music that he would get from friends. He had also been caught smoking cigarettes. The therapist said that he was very smart...very intelligent and they bonded. However, the therapist also said that he saw no cause for concern regarding drugs or alcohol and that he changes were normal.

About 2 months after going to the therapist for several months he quit going and confessed to me that he had been drunk on several occasions and had also smoked pot on several occasions. he did not tell the therapist because he thought he would tell us. So I thought that it had really been a waste of time because all of the fears that I had suspected and wanted to address were not and had happened.

Recently I have found out that he had sex with his girlfriend. Only once several months ago. He got in serious trouble with us and grounded for stealing his aunt's car in the middle of the night to go see his girlfriend. He was caught and immediately brought home (it happened at my in law's house) Then he confesses this to us later. I am shocked...my husband is not because we had been concerned about this happening for some time now. He talked to him about protections and being safe and he did use a condom. We have since talked about the reason why he did this and he said that his girlfriend wanted to and he wanted to show her love. They have been together for 6 mos now which is forever at this age. So we talked about showing her love by not having sex and respecting that for them both.

We are at a loss...I want to lock him in the house but know I can't. I don't know how to deal with all of this at such a young age. I did not anticipate on this all happening so soon. My 11 yo is nowhere near all of this. Do I respect him and his space and personality? Or how can I when I disagree with his choices. He has admitted that the drinking and drug thing from last year was a mistake and he will never use drugs. I am concerned and not sure what "help" to get for him. I know this is long but any advice is very much appreciated!

Thanks from a concerned parent!

Answer: Dear Shelly:

Gifted children are a handful for any parent. It is a challenge because we tend to want to treat them differently because they are gifted and yet they still need the structure and guidance of their parents.

What you are dealing with her is a child who is between being a child and an adult. Sounds like he is either not challenged at school or he possibly could have a learning disability. Even smart children can have learning challenges. I would check with the school to see if he has been screened for a learning disability. Children who are home schooled may not exhibit a learning disability because they have their challenges met with one on one instruction which does not occur in public schools.

It is very unusual for a child of only 13 or 14 to be sexually active. Regardless of what you may have heard teen boys often do not have sex until they are about 17 years of age. When I hear a child has had sex at such an early age I find myself wondering if he has had sex inappropriately introduced to him at an early developmental age.

Substance abuse is very common in children who experience inappropriate sexual experiences young, who are exposed to emotional and/or physical abuse.

One of the major challenges of children who are gifted is learning to deal with repetition or boredom, both which are often experienced in the school system because there often are not special programs for these children.

I think you need to stop focusing on how "mature" you son is as it does not sound like his behavior resembles mature behavior at all. He needs to know regardless of how he sees himself he is only 14 years of age and you as his parents are financially and legally responsible for his behavior. Therefore there are rules which are not up for negotiation.

It is illegal for him to use drugs or to drink.

It is illegal for him to be allowed to have sex.

It is illegal for him to hold a job and to not be in school.

He needs to be placed on a rewards system. Reward behavior you approve of and disengage when he is behaving inappropriately. Figure out what he likes and use it to your advantage. Spend time as a family doing things he enjoys. DO NOT go into a punitive or punishing system as you will increase behavior you do not want.

Do let him know that you love him and you are here for him. Make a list of the things you love about your son and remember to tell him about these traits.

When he acts out simply state we do not behave this way. Do not hold eye contact with him or engage in any negative arguments. Hold your ground and stay firm. Let him know exactly what behavior you do expect from him.

Spending time with friends is not a right it is a privilege and you need to determine what privileges he can earn. Make sure you are consistent and respectful. You have to model the behavior you want him to emulate so it is important to keep in control of your own behavior.

Teens have two developmental stages to work through. The first is separating from their parents to become individual adults. The second is to socialize. They practice socialization skills on the same sex (making friends) and on the opposite sex (girlfriends/boyfriends). They will practice these skills repeatedly and often to the dismay of their parents. They are just doing what teens are suppose to do at this age. However, you are the parents and still need to be the support he needs until he is 18 years old.

Hope this helps!

Best Wishes.

M Kay Keller

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