We have a teenager that wants to visit his internet girlfriend and is being increasingly pressuring. We're resistant, feel that we are right in being resistant, but just wanted to check whether we're being reasonable or not.
So, given the details (and SO MANY DETAILS) below, should we be stopping this teenager visiting his girlfriend in another country? Or should we let him go?
posted by sockpuppettastic to Human Relations (68 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'll try and keep this as short as I can so I'll resort to bullet points. The question is whether or not it is reasonable for him to expect to be allowed to be driven/flown a very long way to meet an internet girlfriend, especially given the information in points 5 and 6, but even without that, is this crazy? Or are we just old?
Background is as follows:
1 - Son is 16, relatively mature for his age but not quite the outgoing and capable traveller as some his age could be, though he has traveled a fair amount on his own to visit family. He is sensible and (what we feel) is cautious to some degree, but suffers from that kind of teenage optimism where 'I can't see how that could go wrong' equals 'nothing can possibly go wrong'. I hope that makes sense. His caution is limited by his experience of nothing ever really going wrong for him, if that makes sense. He's had a more sheltered upbringing than he perhaps appreciates - no problems with drugs or alcohol that we are aware of and he is generally introverted and isolated from his peers at school.
2 - Son has had issues with depression and extreme loneliness over the last year (overtly) and for a number of years (we have since found out). He had an ...intervention(?) by an internet friend 9 months ago (not GF) where he was chatting online about harming himself (we were not home) and Internet Friend called the police, who entered the house and took him into custody for his own safety. This resulted in a stay in an adolescent hospital (restricted access) for a few weeks and he has been seeing psychiatrists and psychologists since that point. He is also on medication which seems to be effective (albeit slowly). He has got steadily better in the ensuing time and has gone progressively from very withdrawn to (in the last month or so for the most part) starting to show us the first signs of his 'old' self. He will now talk to his mum but not to his step-dad so much about things, but getting him to open up is slow going. Son was initially self harming and this has ranged from medium/not so severe (not life threatening) to now being fairly sporadic and light. I have no idea how to judge that, but I'm trying to measure it against the kind of thing you see on Tumblr. The kind of thing that we think is horrific, deeply concerning and scares his mum to death seems to be fairly mild by Tumblr self-harming standards. So do your best to get your heads around that.
3 - We were completely shocked by the need for the hospital trip as we had no real idea at the time he was that unhappy, so it has taken some getting used to for us and is possibly part of the reason for our second guessing still. We thought he was lonely and sad, but no idea the depression was so deep. It took us a long time to even know how to deal with this and so we still wonder if we are viewing this from a neutral perspective rather than an overly cautious one, or whether we're overcompensating for the over-caution. Gah. We have floundered a lot with how best to deal with this, but we *think* we've got it on a neutral footing now.
4 - Son has had a fairly active life on Tumblr, heavily into the self harming and depression side of Tumblr and met his GF in that context sometime during the latter part of summer last year (so 9 months or so ago). She also has issues with depression, self harming and the like. They met through a (what seems to us) pretty unhealthy environment initially and that has been a concern to us, although having said that they seem to be very supportive to each other, are very sweet and smitten with each other and send each other letters, packages and generally acting like very normal and infatuated 16 year olds - everything is VERY IMPORTANT AND SIGNIFICANT, they will never meet anyone else and this is the REAL THING and nothing else is as important. Basically the typical 16 year old intense as hell romance that feels so desperately real to each and every one of us until we get older and get a different perspective.
5 - The downsides - we've been trying to gently squash the realism of this trip without also squashing the complicated recovery of a boy that's been very sad and delicate. If he'd been completely fine and mentally healthy, we wouldn't even be considering this, we suspect, but GF has been supportive and possibly helped in his recovery. We also don't know how much of his recovery hinges or leans on this relationship or is entwined with it as a part of finding himself over the last year. We don't know if it will be helpful to him to meet and we should encourage this, or (when it comes down to it) we're terrified of being the ones that say no and in some way stop this relationship or are seen as responsible from Son's perspective for the relationship ending and causing a relapse.
6 - The other downside. GF has become less 'keen' on the relationship. She has mentioned that she wants them to see other people. She has said that if Son doesn't visit her soon she is considering ending the relationship. GF has also said that GF's Mum is going to stop her speaking to Son if he doesn't visit (which we are utterly convinced is fabricated as extra pressure). Basically it sounds like GF is bored of this long distance relationship and wants a proper boyfriend. GF is pressuring him enormously and he isn't seeing it as manipulative yet, just has made him more desperate to go and see her and made Son relentless in his desire to go. It has made us both a little relieved that it is possibly ending (because it likely isn't sustainable when they can't see each other at so young an age) but also terrified because if we stop him seeing her NOW it will be seen as our fault they break up because of the pressure GF is putting on Son. We both see this pressuring as a red flag, but don’t know how to explain our concerns there without seeming like we’re just down on her in general. She has been a help to him, from what we have seen, up until this.
Now, the biggies - the Logistics.
7: GF lives across an international border about 7 hours driving from us (or, crucially, anyone we know). This would mean either a $350 flight or a $600-or-so 3-4 day road trip (including hotels, gas and travel food etc) to get him there. Son is desperate to go and we have been officially 'not keen' from the beginning. It is a LONG way away and (cost aside for a second) having a Son that far away from us (in time and cost) that is perhaps not as strong as he could be mentally, with a family we know nothing about other than (possibly factored) information from Son... it just leaves us worried. It is a LONG way. It is a LOT of money, either way, for a 16 year old and a lot of risk from our perspective and a very significant lack of control?/protection?/safety-ensuring-capability? from our perspective. Mom has talked to GF’s mum once on the phone - GF’s mum seems to agree that they are too young to be traveling to neighbouring countries to meet, and seemed nice enough, but it’s hard to read a person well over a ten minute phone call. We are reasonably sure he will be “supervised", but not sure what kind of supervision GF’s mom would consider adequate.
8. It doesn’t seem sustainable, and we worry it will end up badly even if he does go and have a lovely visit. He’s asking if he can put all his allowance towards it, but then we wonder how he will go see her next time, as it would eat up a good year or more of his weekly allowance. He cannot work in the country we’re in for another year (visa restrictions), so he can’t reasonably expect to get a job soon, and what happens if she pressures him again in 3 months or 6 months?
So we are not at all sure that we should even entertain this - they are very young and this will likely (in all reality) peter out in short order anyway so we're not sure that we should take (what is to us) a huge risk of letting him fly down there on his own (he has flown on his own before, but only to family, not unknown quantities) or lesser risk but huge time and expense of driving him down. In addition, we don't have the kind of money where we could spend $3-400 on a flight for him, nor the time/money that the road trip would require to get him to go down there. In short, from a logistics and financial point of view, the answer is a flat no. It just doesn't make any sense from that perspective.
But. He's 16. Nothing is going to be about 'making sense' at that age and we're now worried that we're being TOO sensible and that this is something he should do, would allow him to grow and maybe this is us being over-protective. What we see as impossible logistics and too much money and "Come on, it's just teenage love it's just not worth it, he'll get over it,” he has built up into the one thing he MUST DO.
A. Are we being unreasonable to just say no?
B. For those of you who well remember 16, how do we approach this with him in a way that helps him understand our concerns without sounding like we’re just flat out denying the request?
C. Are we being too soft, and we should just flat out say no, no way, wait til you’re 18 and then hope he understands when he’s older?