Sanity check on teenagers and their whims, please!
March 17, 2014 6:54 PM   Subscribe

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?

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 He has got steadily better in the ensuing time and has gone progressively from very withdrawn to (in the last month or so for the most part) starting to show us the first signs of his 'old' self.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.

The questions:
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?

posted by sockpuppettastic to Human Relations (68 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Why not just invite the girlfriend to come visit? That respects your sons feelings and gets rid of 90% of the barriers.

I think the fact that he came to you to ask instead of just taking off (as I and my friends did a couple of times at his age) is pretty respectable and deserves for you to take it seriously.)
posted by Saminal at 7:04 PM on March 17, 2014 [26 favorites]

Having successfully gotten 3 teenagers into their 20's with a minimum of angst, "no" seems to be an appropriate answer.

He's 16.
posted by mygoditsbob at 7:08 PM on March 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

I could have been your son. I was in the exact same situation at sixteen. I didn't have a good relationship with my family. I just took off, I didn't speak to them about it at all. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

I don't think 7 hours is a LONG way away at all. The Internet Girl I went to see was a 42-hour drive. That's pretty far. 7 hours is an easy overnight trip.

Your son's asking for your help making decisions about his life, using his allowance money. I don't want to tell you what to do, but I would hope that if I were ever in your position, I would help my son have as safe of a trip as possible. Could it go bad? Sure. Young hearts break easy. But I'd rather my (hypothetical) kid regret lovestruck decisions he made than a love not pursued.
posted by Jairus at 7:08 PM on March 17, 2014 [33 favorites]

I wouldn't let him go, though some of your reasoning seems strange to me:

a huge risk

What risk? You've let him fly on his own before.

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

A seven hour trip is easily done in a day. Not a great day, but it sounds like you're catastrophising here.

Finally, point 8 has nothing to do with this trip, and sounds like you just trying to justify your decision.

If you give those three weak "reasons" for why he can't go, it's only going to make him less willing to accept your decision as they don't make any sense.

Again, I wouldn't let him go, but entirely because of his mental health history. Otherwise, I probably would.
posted by spaltavian at 7:15 PM on March 17, 2014

Why can they not meet in the middle somewhere? Perhaps there's an activity they might like to do in a place that's equidistant from you. Parents can come along (with much rolling of eyes, but them's the breaks), the costs are less. Maybe a camping trip?
posted by woodvine at 7:19 PM on March 17, 2014 [11 favorites]

My first instinct was to suggest inviting Internet GF to your place.

My second instinct is to suggest that one of the parents go with him on this visit. If either of you can take a 3-day weekend, you can leave at 8am Friday, and be there by 5pm (assuming extra time for breaks, etc). Then you can leave at say noonish on Sunday and be home before dark. That's plenty of time for a first visit and you can meet GF and GF's mom, make sure he's ok, etc. Son should (at minimum) split the cost of gas/hotels/food with you.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:23 PM on March 17, 2014 [28 favorites]

A. No. Zero unreasonable, but he's going to firmly see it as such for a long time.
B. I don't think you can say anything to convince him.
C. This is a perfectly reasonable answer.

I think that you should say no on financial grounds. If you can't afford to pay, you also cannot afford to advance him a year's allowance, and that demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of how money works. I wouldn't try to address the emotional issues head-on - she's going to dump him no matter what he does. You can try pointing out to him that people who care about each other do not force each other into financial hardship, but he won't hear you.

But I agree that the simple answer is invite her here, with her mother if that's what her mother wants. Put the burden on them and see how the tune changes.

I was an exchange student in a foreign country when I was 16, so maybe I'm just the meanest, but I had a history of emotional stability and personal taking-care-of-self-ness and I was going to be under the specific auspices and guardianship of an adult (two of them, one of whom was a high school teacher).

Perhaps you guys could discuss this further like adults do, and have a conference call? You, him, her, her mother. If the two of them can make it through that without getting caught in creative fictions, you can try to find a solution that will suit everyone. Or you can just say no, sorry, I tried really hard and this isn't okay.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:24 PM on March 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

There needs to be a longer and sustained phone call between you and GF's parent(s), where you can both come to an understanding of what a visit would entail. Depending on the countries you are in, you may even want to consider contacting your respective embassies for advice and legalities you may not be aware of. But if all the parents are in agreement about rules and boundaries, it's safe and legal, and he wants to spend his own money to do so... I think it's okay to let him do it in general terms. Don't front him the allowance money, though. He needs to be able to pay for his leisure activities upfront.

When I was 16 and my boyfriend was 17, we lived in different US states about 8 hours apart. In the summer, he would frequently (every other weekend-ish) drive down and stay at my house, camping out in the living room, with our respective parents' permission. Sleeping bag and everything, since we didn't have a spare bedroom. Those weekends were awesome and we went on all manner of adventures, and though we are no longer together - it's been 15+ years - we are still in touch and both remember that summer fondly as two young dopes in love.
posted by juniperesque at 7:26 PM on March 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

Is there a train route that travels between these two cities? Can he stay at the home of the girl in a guest room or with another friend in the girl's city? That could substantially change the budget, timeframe and risk.

My parents were inexplicably OK with me taking the train from Milwaukee to New York City alone - much further than the trip your son wishes to take! - to visit a friend for an entire week when I was 17. This was before cell phones and email. I'm sort of surprised in retrospect that they were OK with it, but I had historically been a decent traveler. Both myself and the friend had had serious bouts of depression near the time I made the trip, and that only barely came into play. I didn't die or lose my money, it was a formative experience, parts were great and parts were weird, glad I did it, and I got back in time for school. So, this doesn't always go badly.

That said, it was my own money from my own part-time job (which I understand isn't possible here) funding my cheap coach train ticket. I slept on the floor of my friend's place, I ate the cheapest food imaginable, the trip didn't cost that much and I wasn't asking my parents for any financial assistance. If you don't have the money for it, you just don't have the money for it, and that's a completely legitimate and real reason to say no. I certainly wouldn't consider loaning an entire years' allowance to him in advance - but a few months, if you can get the costs down, might be a different matter.
posted by eschatfische at 7:26 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not a parent, but I was, a decade ago, a depressed teenager with internet friends/boyfriends.

It is important that you support him. I'm really serious. If you tell him no, no way, you can't do this thing that is really important to you because it inconveniences us, it's going to make him resent you. Maybe for a long time. Ask me how I know!

Here is what you do. One of you drives him. It will take you a day to drive, and it'll be fine - it's not actually that far. He should contribute financially to the cost of gas/hotels. He stays with you at a hotel, and visits the girlfriend while you're down there. Take them both out to dinner, while you're at it. You also take this opportunity to bond with your kid, who needs it. 14 hours in a car will do that.

Don't send him by himself. If things go badly, he will need your support, whether he wants it or not. Either way, it's a learning experience.

He asked you instead of just going. He is trusting you to help him out.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:28 PM on March 17, 2014 [148 favorites]

Up front I just want to say I don't think it unreasonable to just say No, specially in light of his mental health issues.

You don't mention how open she is to her family, have you seen her over skype does her family know about him, have you spoken to her family at all? I think if you are even part way considering him going to see this girl then her family needs to be involved, if, like many 16 year olds she has kept her online relationship secret then they might not just want your son turning up on their door step, or let him in the house if he did. Then there is the fact they may be dealing with similar mental health issues with their daughter and they may not want him to "stir things up" in the same way you are worried about. Before anything is decided you should have a long talk or 2 with her parents.
posted by wwax at 7:31 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

As someone who remembers being 16 and grew up in a car-culture part of the US during an era of $1/gallon gas, this one seems pretty easy. Lend him your car (if you can), have him call you twice a day, and have him spend his savings or else loan him a modest amount of money.

A 7 hour drive is not a 3-4 day road trip. He can leave at 7 am and be there in time for a late lunch! Then, if her mom says it's okay, he can sleep on their couch and come home Sunday or Monday.

If you really feel his maturity level isn't up to this, then at least consider saying that you and/or your spouse have always wanted to check out [wherever], so why don't you drop him off on the way, meet her mom, enjoy the sights, and meet up with him later? That raises the cost, of course.

But this is his first love. This is a kind of "I would walk 500 miles" thing. Of course this is all going to fall through. But don't stand in his way. Let him find out what this is about.
posted by salvia at 7:32 PM on March 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

If you're worried about his safety and well-being, and you dont feel that he is currently able to make decisions that prioritize these, then you can and should say no.

If you're worried about budget, you could say no on these grounds, but then you should be willing to let him go if he somehow raised the money -- it would be very unfair to blame the budget and then still say no if that issur were fixed.

If you're worried his heart will be broken, of course it will, but part of being alive is learning what this feels like. He'll grow from it.

I would focus your thinking on his safety and well-being. Also, if this is a firm line for you right now, see if you can articulate what conditions would make you change your mind, even if it's just waiting till he's a few years older, so that this decision doesnt deel arbitrary to him.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:32 PM on March 17, 2014

On second thought, I throw my support behind goodbyewaffles' answer.
posted by salvia at 7:33 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like the idea of meeting halfway, but my instinct is to just say no.

A. No, you are not being unreasonable to just say no.

B. Empathize. Tell him you know and understand that he wants to visit but it's not feasible. Tell him you are sorry but after thinking about it, you have decided not to allow him to travel. End of discussion. At this age I would not even begin to think to ask my parents to drive me seven hours away, or to purchase a plane ticket to see a love interest. This doesn't mean I'm right and he's wrong but it's ok to say no if it's not practical or if you don't have the money or if you just don't want it. You're the parent.

C. No. You are not being too soft. He doesn't have to like you. Stand firm. He will get over it and if you think he's going to spiral down or "relapse" I would seriously consider therapy and diverting his attention from self-harming Tumblr to more local pursuits and activities. He's 16 and there are plenty of fish in the sea in his local area and if he thinks this is horrible and unfair, oh well. This is how he is going to grow. Mom and Dad can say no and he can feel some disappointment.

If you want to allow him to attend this once do it on the contingency that you will not front him the money in the future. He must save his money in advance and that you will not be sharing any of the expenses or giving him an advance on his allowance.

To point number 8: I have a close friend who has a 16-year-old son. The son's girlfriend frequently threatens to breakup if xyz isn't done. This causes the 16-year-old son much heartache, desperation, and anxiety. I understand the girl's mindset in your situation --she wants to meet her internet love or else move on, but if you feel she is manipulative and will continue to pressure him, I would stand firm and absolutely discourage trips in the future. No 16-year-old boy with a history of depression needs this kind of drama in his life.
posted by Fairchild at 7:36 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Please let him do this. My parents let me do this (visit my Internet boyfriend who lived 3,000 miles away) at 16 and it was one of the most foundational and important romantic experiences of my whole life. The relationship didn't last and yeah, my heart was broken, but it was such an important experience for teenage me, and I think all teenagers should be allowed at least one schmoopy romantic weekend with someone they think they love.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 7:38 PM on March 17, 2014 [21 favorites]

I'm also curious if he has video chatted with her... not just phone calls, but video chats where he can see her and it matches pictures that I can only assume he has seen of her. I am not suggesting this is the case (or that his primary motivator is her appearance), but "catfishing" is a thing, and I'd hate for you/him to go through all this time and trouble and money only to be turned away or to find out the internet girlfriend is not who he thought she was.

Nthing "see if she can visit" or finding some kind of cost-reducing measure if budget is your primary concern, but that I don't feel like "no" is unreasonable.
posted by jorlyfish at 7:38 PM on March 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

It's within your rights to say no, of course, but... I don't know, I don't think there's any real harm in saying yes. If he spends all of his allowance on a flight to go visit (or to bring her to visit him) then he's spent his allowance on something he wanted to do. He'll be broke afterwards, sure. But it'd be the same if he bought an Xbox or a Playstation. "Money only spends once" is a pretty good lesson to learn at that age.

You're not sure about sending him to stay with strangers. That seems pretty wise. So talk on the phone with the girl's parents until you're reassured that they're responsible people. Or if you'd feel better if the girl came and stayed in your home for a couple of days, reassure them that you're responsible people.

Of course they'll eventually break up. (Unless this is a one in a million relationship.) But... that's going to happen a lot as he grows up and it's not really something you can protect him from.

You mentioned that he's had a sheltered upbringing. Well, the way for him to grow beyond that is to not shelter him as much. A short plane ride and a weekend visitng a family you trust (and as I said before, this only makes sense if you do trust them) is a pretty tame way for a 16 year old to stretch his wings.

Maybe this doesn't seem like a big deal to me because my parents hosted one of my brother's girlfriends (that he'd met at boarding school or summer camp or something) for a short visit when they were around that age and nothing came of it except that he had a nice visit with the girl that he liked. Knowing my parents I'm 100% sure that they chaperoned most of the visit and that there wasn't any sleeping together allowed or anything like that. It was just like if he'd had a male friend come to stay, except there were probably walks around our neighborhood holding hands and some smooching on the swings at the park. Which is to say that if you decide to let them visit each other it doesn't mean you're saying "yes, we agree to let our son go off completely unsupervised for three days of whatever his hormones encourage him to get up to." You still get to set whatever boundaries you feel are appropriate, while at the same time forging a stronger connection with your son.
posted by MsMolly at 7:47 PM on March 17, 2014

Could you help him think of ways he could earn money (e.g., babysitting, lawn mowing... I'm living in 1950s suburbia... uh, tweeting on behalf of several local small business?).
posted by salvia at 7:53 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think that you should allow him to go. Seven hours is really not a very long way away. I did a 24-hour drive to see an Internet flame when I was that age. (One thing that hasn't been mentioned: since there's an international border, does he have a passport?)

I do think a few things need to happen before then. First, there needs to be a Skype session with girlfriend's mom where logistics are discussed in detail. Make every effort to do this over Skype, in no small part because it will be easier for you to get a read on girlfriend's mom when you're speaking as close to face-to-face as technology allows.

Second, there needs to be an absolutely-no-compromises check-in schedule worked out, with the understanding that if he misses a check-in and you are unable to reach him, girlfriend's mom and then the authorities will be called if necessary.

Third, make a real effort to impress upon him how much trust you are placing in him by allowing him to make this trip. Praise him for asking permission and just make him feel like an all-around-loved, great kid. When I was this age, knowing I actually had my parents' trust made me less likely to abuse it.

I understand your concerns about his mental health. However, I completely agree with SkylitDrawl's comment: this could be an important and memorable experience that shapes him as a young man. Finally, if you're really, really worried, I'd support the idea of making the drive with him and getting a hotel. But if you go that route, let him stay at his girlfriend's.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 7:54 PM on March 17, 2014

What are your actual real serious concerns about letting him do this?

1. Financial: Let him save up to go, if he wants. You mention him not being eligible to work where you are, but I have vague memories of money sometimes happening, as a teenager. Christmas, birthdays, gifts from grandparents. Hocking my CDs at the secondhand store. Only using half my lunch money. None of this is really smart, but you know, he's sixteen and if he wants to forgo all gifts and sell his things and only eat two meals a day so he can go on this trip, so be it. Re a second trip, it would be on the same terms as the first. "You can go if you can come up with the money on your own; we can't afford to send you."

2. This girl and her family: Could you skype with her and her family to get a sense of them and whether you'd feel comfortable with your son visiting? I know you say that your son is sheltered for his age, but I traveled long distances to stay with friends my parents didn't know, at their families' homes, pretty much as a matter of course when I was his age. I think the internet makes this a little more nebulous (I was visiting school and summer camp friends), but the technology exists for you to vet the situation.

3. Stuff that could go wrong: What exactly are you envisioning here? The reality is, most things that go wrong on a trip like this can be fixed. Sixteen is about when I started traveling on my own, having to do stuff like mind my own passport, pack my own bags, not miss buses, etc. As well as generally being responsible for myself away from my parents (don't drive drunk, don't get incapacitated on drugs, don't do crimes, etc.) In light of his mental health situation I would maybe want to be in closer contact with his girlfriend's parents and make sure that they know what's up, and that they'll supervise to an extent in terms of making sure he doesn't wander off or sleep through his flight home or do anything else dangerously impulsive.

4. They Won't Last: Who cares? He's not marrying her. He wants to go visit. I would send him with condoms and really impress upon him the trust that you are placing in him in terms of comporting himself well around his girlfriend and her family. Yeah, it's not forever. But forbidding him from meeting her isn't going to make things any easier. The bigger question you should ask him is what happens if he saves up and buys plane tickets and everything, and then they break up before the trip? How would he feel about working so hard for this trip, only to have that happen? I think this is something you should leave up to him, but it's a good thought experiment.

5. The girlfriend is a manipulative harpy: Not letting him go doesn't change this. Let him learn this lesson for himself. At a certain point, your son has to start living his own life and having the kinds of experiences that teach you how to be an adult. I know that his mental health makes you want to shelter him from all these hard truths, but seriously, you are going to be asking this same question when he's 22 if you don't let him pick up a few bruises.

As I'm sure you can tell, I'm on the side of tentatively saying yes to the trip, if he pays his own way, if you like the cut of the girls' family's jib, if he otherwise stays on the up and up while he saves and plans, if they are still together in however many months, etc.
posted by Sara C. at 7:56 PM on March 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

My first instinct was no, that's ridiculous.

Then I remember that at 16 I had spent years and years in a horrible anxiety ridden depression. Then I went abroad as an exchange student and did all the crazy stupid stuff I'd never been able to do before and it transformed my entire life. I'm not kidding. I became a different person. My memories from that point on are substantially more vivid than before that. It's really weird, but it's true.

And you know I made a lot of mistakes and did a lot of stupid things, but I was actually living. And I sort of got to be an adult for the first time ever and I got to make my choices and live with the consequences rather than have my parents make them for me.

I mean it's a road trip right? He could do it over a three day weekend. Does he have a cell phone? Yeah he's probably going to get his heart broken. Sounds like that's probably going to happen either way, but this way he at least gets to meet her and it's real. It isn't some fantasy girl that was torn away from him. It's much easier to get over a real person than a fantasy. And it's much easier to get over a chance you took that didn't work out than never taking the chance and never knowing.
posted by whoaali at 7:58 PM on March 17, 2014 [18 favorites]

I also like goodbyewaffles' answer. Take him there, then hang out nearby, in easy contact. I feel like this will end up as a "you were right, mom and dad, but thanks for letting me find out myself" situation.

Or I'm wrong and it will go great, which is a perfect time to suggest that "next time," she'll come to him.
posted by ctmf at 8:00 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

The best way to kill an internet relationship is to meet in person (in my experience). A supervised meeting halfway might nip it in the bud, or if it turns out to be real, would work as good encouragement for a Job, To pay his way next time.
posted by TheAdamist at 8:23 PM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the different perspectives so far - we'll add stuff without trying to be argumentative or sway the consensus as best we can.

Because this is the most referenced answer by others: One of you drives him. It will take you a day to drive, and it'll be fine - it's not actually that far. .

Just to clarify (I don't think I made this clear enough in the question) neither of us can afford the time or the money to drive him there. He cannot drive himself, nor do we have a car we could lend him even if we could. Due to the day driving down (7 hours plus border crossing) plus 1-2 days visiting + day driving back, this is a 3-4 day trip, with 2-3 nights in hotels, which (along with the fuel and food) is not something that is a trivial amount of money to us right now.

He should contribute financially to the cost of gas/hotels.

His only income is his allowance - which is our money, which we don't have enough of to advance him. It doesn't really help anything right now, other than the 'things cost money' learning experience for him. He doesn't really have any savings. This is the crux of the 'it's too much money' argument. The only reason we're even considering spending money we don't have on a crazy trip that we don't really think is entirely safe or wise is precisely because of the 'life experience' aspect, which we both understand and empathise with. But, again, the mental health and complete unknown family is a scary factor.

Don't send him by himself. If things go badly, he will need your support, whether he wants it or not.

This is part of the problem, from our perspective - we can't really afford either option, but the cheapest (BY FAR) is to fly him there. But that is lots riskier, because (as you point out) he will be completely alone, somewhere strange and if it does go badly.... Well. That's not a great thought.

Also: Mom has been leaning more towards letting him go. She initially was thinking of going with him, but the finances and her work won’t let this happen. Step Dad is in the 'we can't afford it so the decision has made itself' camp for the most part. Mom went through similar things at 16 and ran away from home, and she remembers those months she was gone as a great adventure, though knows now it was nuts and anything could have happened. So she understands, but is reticent because of the mental health issues (and finances!). The very fact that he IS discussing it with us and not running away is hugely positive, and we don’t want to discourage that in future. Mom always thought she would be the sort of mom who would allow this - but he is her youngest, and the self harm has really torn her up…and she’s deep in worst case scenarios right now.

We have invited GF here, anytime, with mom or on her own but her mom said no, unequivocally, because of the different country aspect (we don't even think GF has a passport). Incidentally, Step dad thinks this is part of the reason for the extra pressure - if we don't let him go to her, they both know she can't come to us.

There are train trips Son has already looked into, but that's probably similar money and more risky than just flying him down.

Yes he has video chatted with her. We are not worried about a catfish scenario in this case. The Moms have spoken on the phone before and would speak extensively before any potential trip also.

The best way to kill an internet relationship is to meet in person (in my experience).

That's one of the persuading arguments for the trip, if we're honest.
posted by sockpuppettastic at 8:33 PM on March 17, 2014

Due to the day driving down (7 hours plus border crossing) plus 1-2 days visiting + day driving back, this is a 3-4 day trip, with 2-3 nights in hotels, which (along with the fuel and food) is not something that is a trivial amount of money to us right now.

Why can't this be an overnight trip? Leave Saturday morning, get there Saturday afternoon, stay over, leave Sunday after lunch, get home Sunday evening. One night, one hotel room. I do weekend trips to a city 7 hours away. It doesn't need to be more than 1 night.
posted by Jairus at 8:37 PM on March 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

I can't believe there are people telling you to entertain this. What do you know about this girl? Her family? Your son is already expressing some sort of escapist fantasy about seeing this girl and you think it will help to indulge it? I think nothing good can come of it. Perhaps he will resent if you don't let him go but he may like what he sees and leave anyway if you let this happen. Keep him busy, keep him in school, and remind him that once he graduates and is over 18 you can't stop him from pursuing his desires.
posted by brownrd at 8:44 PM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

What's his psychiatrist's take on it?

His mental health seems to be a major factor in your decision making, and GF's role in his recovery is also a consideration.

This seems like exactly the kind of scenario that (in my experience) head doctors offer "family sessions" to address.
posted by colin_l at 8:49 PM on March 17, 2014 [14 favorites]

(Also, at 16, and with an international border in play, I don't think there's any realistic vision of this trip in which *some* adult doesn't go with him.)
posted by colin_l at 8:51 PM on March 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

If it is literally an impossibility for lack of funds then that is the only bullet point you should need to explain this thoroughly to your son. Any background noise is going to make him think you're rationalizing and that he should be able to go.

But if there is some way that he can make this money...

A decade ago I was in a situation parallel to your son's, except that I was even younger and further from my Internet Boyfriend ... and my parents were on-board somehow (in retrospect, they were nuts but damn it I love them for it).

Our parents met. We met. We fell in love all over again. The resulting life experiences were like nothing I'd had before or have had since. If it hadn't worked out, it would have been worth it for the funny-weird situation and the travel anyway.

I wrote a big long thing about my experiences. I'm not going to post that. I can memail it to you if you like but the takeaway is that if you somehow have the money, and you're not concerned that she might not be who she says she is ... even one visit would absolutely be worth it.
posted by onehundredand80 at 9:02 PM on March 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

I think saying no is perfectly reasonable as a parent thing, etc, but... seven hours? Okay, there's a border, but... I've driven seven hours at a stretch to go see people before, myself, on a number of occasions, without any stops in between, hotels along the way, etc. Aside from the fact that I don't personally have my passport, this does seem firmly within what one would reasonably consider "road trip" kind of territory. Doubly, triply so when I was younger than my thirties.

But I think reasonable *and* nice, here, is: If you want to go, you earn the money to fly yourself and one of your parents there. If she really wants you to come, she can help. Two of you together, at 16, you really should be able to come up with ways to earn a couple hundred bucks each. It's achievable. And then you will have made it happen. If it's not important enough to you guys to make that much happen, then maybe it's not that important at all.

So, his only income right now is his allowance. That is not going to stay that way until he's 40. At some point, he is going to have to earn some money. Now is not a bad time to suggest he start figuring out how he wants to do that, especially when whatever he generates can go towards whatever he wants to spend it on, whether it's this or something else. If it takes awhile, it takes awhile.

And if he doesn't want to do that, he might sulk a bit, but "we don't actually have the money for this" sinks in faster, if he's anything like I was, than "we don't think it's really that important that you meet this girl". My parents were unusually good about my high school internet friends (and I was a Troubled teenager myself, and this was way less common in the mid 90s) in that they never implied they were less real friends than anybody else, we just had ordinary people constraints of not being able to hop on planes whenever we wanted.

But I wouldn't say you were awful parents or anything for just saying no, just suggesting that this might go over better and have more positive results re: actually helping a depressed kid get some agency in what happens in his life.
posted by Sequence at 9:02 PM on March 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I am not a parent but I was a depressed self-harming teenager. I would speak with his therapist about this. Two self-harming depressed teenagers can be a very bad thing, especially if things become really emotional.

Can you put this off by saying the money needs to be saved and he could possibly go this summer if he earns the money? (it will most likely be over by then)

Otherwise, even though I like oneswellswoops take on this, I would be very concerned about letting him go without one of you with him.
posted by cairnoflore at 9:15 PM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is there a trustworthy family friend who could go with him?
posted by amtho at 9:17 PM on March 17, 2014

If money is the key obstacle have you considered the bus? Student fairs, at least around here, purchased 2 weeks in advance are pretty cheap. Much cheaper than flying. The draw back is the trips take 2-3 times as long as driving. But you are on a bus the whole way where it's tough to get in trouble.
posted by Mitheral at 9:32 PM on March 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you can somehow find the money, I think you should let him do it.

At 16 I went on a student exchange to the other side of the world, to stay with a family of strangers for MONTHS. Admittedly they were vetted by the organisation, and I travelled with other students as far as the main hub. But travelling internationally at 16 doesn't seem like an impossible ask. In some ways, the experience could be really good for him even if (when) the relationship doesn't last.

But if you don't have the money, you don't have the money, and he needs to understand that.
posted by lollusc at 9:39 PM on March 17, 2014

I think you need to talk to her mom some more because it sounds like she doesn't really want your son visiting but doesn't want to outright bar him. If that's the case, then your son definitely shouldn't go alone and it may not be a good idea even if you go with him.

But if I'm wrong, maybe they have a spare room or couch you can stay on, to lower costs? And maybe you can go on a 3 day weekend, do you don't have to miss work?

This trip doesn't have to happen right away to be useful. Feel out the mom some more, figure out the next three day weekend, and try to make it happen then.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 9:43 PM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

In some ways I was this kid.

Long story short, there was a girl about the same distance away, across a border. My parents were apprehensive, but her mother was picking me up as they had relatives to visit near me. That allayed some fears.

It was pretty awful. I was stuck in a small town in another country with a girl I realized I really wasn't into and her best friend who I was really and mutually into.

To say that it became an ugly situation is an understatement. I had no way out, I was trapped. And at the time I was relatively mentally stable, having bounced back in a big way from a suicide attempt the previous year. I can't imagine what would have happened if I weren't.

So. IF you decide to go through with this, someone needs to be in town with him in case it goes sideways. Trust me on this. However, that is financially impossible for you, which is the only thing he needs to truly understand.

A better solution would be to invite mother and daughter to come visit you. Solves every single one of your problems, solves their objection to daughter being alone in another country. But if mother has rejected that option, you are out of options.

Two other points of consideration:

Have you discussed this with his psychiatrist in a group session? If not, do so.

Have you and the other parents talked about sex in a realistic fashion, if this happens? I guarantee in this situation unless they are kept under view at all times they will have sex, so are your families congruent on the reality, and the fact that condoms will need to be made available?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:04 PM on March 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

If your son makes the trip, I think there is a high likelihood that he is going to get his heart CRUSHED by this girl. She's already wanting to them to see other people; and even if that weren't the case, who knows if the two of them will actually click in person?

The poor fella has already been through the wringer with his mental health challenges. Does he have the resiliency to handle rejection, esp. in a locale that is far from home and his normal support system and routines?

Given his and her shared history with self-harm, I would be so worried about this young guy flying there solo, finding himself in a horrible claustrophobic rejection scenario, and as a result, ending up seriously hurting himself. Protect him, please.
posted by nacho fries at 10:24 PM on March 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would not allow this. It’s shocking to me (as a mother) that other people’s parents just paid for/allowed them to go off and visit internet people. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up with the internet.

I had a pen pal all through middle school and high school (her in CA and me in the Midwest) and we often talked about how awesome it would be to meet, but it was always like “Yeah, once we’re 18 and have jobs and money we are going to meet each other!” We saw it as a function of adulthood- the ability to leave home, buy plane tickets, etc. It never even occurred to either of us to ask our parents to fly one of us across the country.
posted by aviatrix at 10:47 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

My take, if you want it: have a serious talk with him about what constitutes a full dating relationship versus what constitutes a pen pals + emotional intimacy relationship. Make sure he understands that what they have is perfectly okay, but is the latter, not the former. During this conversation, make it clear that you support him meeting this girl who has been so supportive and helpful and kind, but only if he understands that the relationship isn't sustainable as a full dating relationship over that distance...and if he is willing to have that conversation with the girl before he goes, because being honest and forthright is a critical part of all relationships, dating or not.

If he can't or won't have this rational conversation with you, perhaps he isn't ready to go.
posted by davejay at 10:51 PM on March 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hell, no. You're still close to a serious self-harm incident and he would be going alone into a very stressful situation. The risk is just way too high.

Invite her to come up and offer to pay for a hotel etc. It's the same cost and much much safer. Offer to go down with him and stay nearby if you absolutely must but -

You do not want the phone call from the hospital in another country. You will be able to forgive yourself for him hating you for saying no, but not if you said yes when it is so clearly high risk.

If as likely she says no, have a back-up plan to do something high-value for him - tickets to his favourite concert, a family trip where you take leave and go for 4-5 days somewhere great, signing him up for photography classes with a new camera - whatever would be a great experience and happy for him. Not just a gift, but something that took you genuine effort and involvement. Don't expect him to act happy about it, but say that you know this is a super-rough time for him because of heartbreak, and that you hope this will help him get through it.

Is his passport locked up? I would totally put his passport in a security box or whatever to make sure he doesn't run off.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:00 PM on March 17, 2014

For the folks who are saying seven hours isn't a long car trip, etc, it could be that this family is in a country other than the US/Canada with no major highway access between the two cities and where gas is the equivalent of $7 or more dollars per gallon. (I once drove from Southport, England, to Inverness, Scotland, which on paper looked to be about a four hour drive, but there were no major motorways between the two points, and some of the roads were one lane and riddled with herds of sheep. It ultimately took us a strenuous nine hours on macadam and unmarked/unlit roads.)

Also, with the son's fragile mental state, this visit could go completely the opposite way and make him even more depressed. Spending 24 hours a day at age 16 with someone you've never met in person is different than texting and emailing. Even in a non-romantic sense, spending that much time with, say, your best girlfriend whom you've known since third grade and see at school every day could be a stressful disappointment. You're with them from the minute you get up in the morning to the minute you retire at night, you don't necessarily know what the other members of her family are like...there's a lot of potential for spending the entire second day just counting the minutes until it's time for you to return home. It sounds like the son could be in for a world of hurt if the GF isn't quite as interested in him when he arrives in person, or no longer desires a "serious, this is it forever!"-type relationship.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:44 AM on March 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

People keep saying that seven hours is not that far away.

When you're sixteen and you have no money, job, car or license, and it's in another might as well be 27 hours away, frankly.

Maybe I suck and would be a horrible parent, but I wouldn't even entertain this idea. If he can't afford to go, and his parents can't afford to pay for him to go, then there really is no other answer.

And really, this just sounds like an expensive way for him to get his heart broken. He'll get his heart broken anyway, many times, and he'll get to have that learning experience. You don't need to facilitate it when he's sixteen.

I can see why you're wavering, but I really don't think you'd be doing him any favours. He'd be way better off getting off the internet and focusing on meeting girls in real life. This girl is only going to ditch him anyway. You know it, he doesn't know it yet because he's sixteen and not very socially developed or mentally stable. That's why you have to be the parent and make some hard decisions for him.
posted by Salamander at 12:49 AM on March 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

[we are] 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.

I just read back over this, and here's the thing: you're not 'stopping' him seeing her. Give him your blessing to go and see her, in fact...IF he pays for it. What is stopping him from seeing her is the fact that he is sixteen, and along with that goes the usual factors (money + transport) that stop you from visiting a friend who lives 7 hours away in another country.

I had casual jobs from the age of 14 onwards, and there's no way my parents would have stumped up the cash for a big-ticket trip like this, so I wouldn't have even asked.

I think you will be doing him a favour by not making this happen for him.
posted by Salamander at 1:03 AM on March 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

To answer your three closing questions:
1. No.
2. Probably not. He's an emotional teenager. It's a tough time in life to be told what to do. You will probably be an "asshole" if you say no, no matter how nicely you do it.
3. Yes. Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes. It's important to be thoughtful and considerate when dealing with teenagers. But that's a time in life when children need boundaries and assertive parents more than ever. Being considerate of your son's feelings and struggles does not mean you have to indulge fantasies and immature thinking.

Your gut says this is a bad idea. Listen to your gut. Here are a few reasons why I would not do this.
  • I had issues with self harm. One of the most important things I did was to distance myself from friends who had similar issues. We fed off each other. Despite "supporting" each other, it made it easier to stay in that toxic mindset and lifestyle. If I were a parent to a son like this, I would want him to disconnect from places that are minefields for triggers- forums or social media sites where he is talking about these topics, or online relationships with people who participate in these activities. Sending him to visit her would be the exact opposite of what I would want.
  • I would not consider sending a minor son with mental health issues to stay somewhere hours away with people I have never met. That's not a fair burden to put on those parents, either. What if he gets there, things go wrong, and he has a breakdown?
  • If you are considering letting him drive there, I would not do this. A seven hour drive is a long one for me, and I'm pretty experienced- for several years, about 10-15 times a year I make weekend trips to see family and friends, and it's a 6-7 hour drive each way. I take precautions to stay alert, be rested, and remove all distractions. Even then, it's a challenging drive for me, despite the fact that I know my route like the back of my hand. I would be incredibly frightened to send a 16 year old on a drive like that.
  • If this were my son, I would be working to get him off the internet, away from screens, and into opportunities where he can meet people in real life and join groups. Indulging him on something like this would just keep the internet cycle going. As a depressed person, the internet and social media were destructive forces in my life. Not so for everyone, obviously, but might be the case for your son. A big way to help many people suffering from depression is to offer them genuine ways to connect with the world around them in a positive way. You just can't do that as well when you're glued to a screen in a dark room.
Best wishes in figuring this out. Someday soon I may well be in your same boat, and I empathize with you. Bottom line, if I were you, I would not do this. I would treat him like a young adult and have a conversation with him about why it's a bad idea, but I would still of my foot down in the end.

It's ok to say "No. This is a bad idea. Here are the five main reasons why. That's our final decision, and we're making it because we love you, and we know what's best for you."
posted by Old Man McKay at 1:46 AM on March 18, 2014 [11 favorites]

I'm sorry you're in a tough position. For what it's worth, as a teenager, I was depressed and self-injured. I was also very independent and started working at a job when I was 15. At one point, when my parents said no to stuff, I started saying, don't care, paying my own way. I think it's reasonable to say no. I was a very dramatic romantically inclined young person and I think I would have recognized this as a big ask.

A lot of those above have mentioned similar adventures as big formative experiences. Saying no to this is not denying this kid any and all future big formative experiences. He's 16. He has plenty of time to enjoy big formative experiences.
posted by kat518 at 5:54 AM on March 18, 2014

Under no circumstances should either of these kids be allowed to see each other unchaperoned. Given both of their histories of self-harm I can't see that this is very healthy.

I would propose that you meet her parents on-line, and that you meet the girl on-line. A Skype call would be good for this. No parent in his or her right mind would allow a young man or a young lady to go visit a family, in another country alone. This is a non-starter.

Between the parents, you can discuss some options for a meeting, perhaps you meet in the middle for the day (go up on a train, or Megabus or some other conveyance.)

The main thing is to treat this relationship as real (it is, whether you approve or not) and to work with your son to do this in a healthy way.

Have an expectation that he will contribute financially to this endeavor. Make him get a job and earn his part of the trip money. Keep Skyping with the other family, get to know them.

Here's what I think will happen.

1. Other family will be horrified that their daughter is in a "relationship" with some rando off the internet.

2. Other family will be horrified that their daughter has been encouraging her 16-year-old internet-boyfriend to come visit them.

3. Other family will set your son straight on their daughter's real age (either much older or much younger.)

4. This will fall apart WAY before things ever get to the point where the visit will come to pass.

5. Worst case, this is a catfish situation. Which will be devastating for your son.

You are 100% correct that your son, going to another country to meet some internet girl alone is a terrible, terrible idea.

Give your son the lesson that a bit of skepticism and a bit of hard work is necessary to get through life.

So, here are the steps:

1. Insist on meeting the girl and her family via Skype.

2. Insist on making a two-family day trip to visit each other.

3. Insist that your son get a job and contribute to the cost of this adventure.

Don't say no outright, say yes, with conditions.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:01 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, I just wanted to add that it's really cool that, as a parent, you're considering this and that, as a kid, he asked you. I think you just tell him that you've thought about it a dozen different ways, don't see any way that it can work and you're sorry. One of the responsibilities of a parent of a 16 year-old is being the check on crazy ideas. It's not fun but it's on par with making a kid eat vegetables. Good luck.
posted by kat518 at 6:10 AM on March 18, 2014

Speaking based on the experience of a person with very reasonable parents who let her visit a boyfriend across state lines by herself at 16:

Telling him that he has to save up the money for the part of the trip you can't afford to subsidize will be SO much better for you than telling him "You can't go because I know what's best for you."

We all know that you know what's best for him, and he'll know that too someday, but I suspect he would be resentful and angry towards you for a long time if you took that attitude. He might still be resentful and angry that you couldn't pull money out of thin air to make it happen, but it sounds like you really need to keep up a close relationship and good communication with him because of his mental health issues, and really DON'T need to drive a wedge into your relationship with him by pulling parental rank on him about the thing he cares most about in the world right now.

And yes, that means you have to let him go if he does save up the money somehow (with parent as chaperone built in to the cost/plan).

p.s. I don't think that unknown families are scary. Unknown single adults maybe, unknown families no. But then again I have a general trust and optimism about my fellow humans (despite not being a teenager) and am the type of person who uses to visit places I can't afford a hotel in.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:15 AM on March 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

Help him work out the budget for the trip and tell him he has to raise/save the money himself. He could sell some of his stuff or do odd jobs for cash (like shoveling snow etc.).
posted by Jacqueline at 6:34 AM on March 18, 2014

I might have a skewed perspective on this because I was living in the college dorms at 16, BUT:

Help him work out the budget for the trip and tell him he has to raise/save the money himself.

This, this, this is the right answer here. Even if he can't officially "work" he could, for example, start a business making something and selling it. He could, I bet, shovel snow/cut grass/do chores for people in the neighborhood without setting off the Visa Police. He could even start buying things at Goodwill, etc. and reselling them. Having him be responsible for bearing the cost will say a lot about how motivated he is to go. Set a reasonable budget for him to work toward, and then have him do the work. If she wants him to come perhaps she can also save toward part of the cost.

But, also, yeah, talk with his therapist/mental health person about this. Make sure they don't think it's an issue.

After reading everything you've written, I wonder if what you're not saying is that you're fearful that they want to get together to pursue some Romeo and Juliet type self-harm scenario .... if that's the case, then you need to stop making that subtext and make it actual text, both with him and with his health care people.

I understand there are financial obstacles (oh, how I do), particularly if you're spending a lot on his baseline mental health care. But if he wants this to happen, and he's motivated to make it happen NOT by borrowing from you but by finding creative ways to earn the money himself, then don't stand in his way. This should be about the cost, period.
posted by anastasiav at 6:52 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm in the camp of go there with him or have the gf visit you, but you've said this is hard for you financially.

I just want to throw something out there about the mental health bit- depression can often result from circumstances, not just some sort of medical thing that just happens (although that can also some times be a factor). I went through a lot of severe depression at his age, and what helped immeasurably was getting out of my environment and exploring new ones, having adventures that stretched my boundaries and understanding of the world, and simply exercising my own will more often.

If you can find a way to help him do it safely without killing your finances, I'd suggest it. Maybe he has a couple of items that he could sell to help? A bike or whatever?
posted by cacao at 6:54 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

My instinct is no freaking way, unless you drive him and stay in a hotel with him. A 16 year old with suicide issues in the not distant past should not be sent on this adventure by himself.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:55 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

If it's a money issue, why not tell him he can go after he saves up some money from a job? Can he apply to work somewhere part-time and then save up for a late-summer trip?

Plus: If he is able to hold down a job for that time, it will probably boost his confidence in himself and your confidence in him.

I started working a little before 16 as a teenager and it did wonders for helping me feel independent and capable.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:57 AM on March 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

No, because if something goes really wrong while he's 7 hours away in another country, your family cannot afford the considerable cost of dropping everything to fly out and fix it. Not to mention it sounds like the "relationship" is almost dead and the young lady isn't a very nice person.
posted by Scram at 8:31 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was just coming back to say add to what I said before, about your son earning the money to pay for the trip, I did not mean for you to give him jobs to do to earn the money, I meant for him to head down to the local McDonalds, or to go around neighbours raking leaves, have a garage sale or washing cars and earn the money. If he can't be bothered to work for it, he doesn't really want to go, it will also teach him about planning, goal setting, give him a sense of accomplishment and maybe just make him some RL friends that don't need international trips to go and visit.
posted by wwax at 8:40 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing treat this relationship as real but also try to help him look at whether he would be sacrificing other avenues if he goes down this one. (E.g., note what other things he could do with the $400 for the trip, and also talk through what happens if the trip goes well or bad.) Mostly encourage him to think more long-term. Lay out your concerns about how she is treating him.

By college, which is not too far away, it will be very helpful if he's gotten more comfortable making in-person friendships. It's soo hard to get everything out of the 'college window' to make friends if you haven't confronted the issues you need to until later in life. Also is there a prom or another event she will be (or he will be) missing out if they stay dating?

I'd also consider there's a 50% chance the girl is sincere, non-manipulative. And a 50% chance she's going to make things worse or there's some facts that are different from what she's saying.
posted by typecloud at 8:56 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I flew from my small town in England to California when I was seventeen, on my own, to meet with my then boyfriend. We were already going out (he was half-American and lived local to me) so the circumstances were different, but nothing bad happened.

When I was sixteen, I had the opportunity to go to a festival with the same boyfriend - we would have camped together. My parents said no way, then said I could go if I wanted but only if I came home at the end of the night. I ended up having a midnight to 2am train journey across the country to get home, which was pointless, potentially more dangerous, and aggravating as life would have been much easier had my parents trusted me to be safe.
posted by mippy at 9:01 AM on March 18, 2014

I'd also consider there's a 50% chance the girl is sincere, non-manipulative.

She's threatened to cut off their relationship if he doesn't visit her in another country. That's extremely manipulative.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:02 AM on March 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

I flew across country at 17 to meet an Internet friend (we were not dating) and she was much older than me. The drive would have been about 24 hours. I was there for longer and had a job (through the person). My mental health was poor at best. It was totally worth it. My parents did no vetting and weren't all that concerned (read: neglect and other abuse issues). I did that myself and just went. The experience helped me in numerous ways. The other person had mental health issues as well. It was nice to be with somebody who understood and could express care about what was going on. It didn't fix any of that. I maintained a relationship with this person for years until she passed unexpectedly.
I wouldn't be worried about him going suicidal or self injury increasing dramatically in 3 days. Most people can hold on for a situation that short. I would concider letting him go. But if money is the issue money is the issue.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:23 AM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a weird question for someone of my generation. (Maybe... I'm only 6 years older than Son. But as far as this question goes, it would appear that parents know a lot more of their kids' online activities and are a lot more involved in their kids' romantic interests.)

I don't think you have any right to "deny" your son the right to visit her. Yes, if he's missing school on a weekday to go up and see her, then you are free to do something about that. But if he's just taking a trip over the weekend, it's not for you to not let him. What you tell him is that he's free to go, but that there will be consequences if he decides to go. It'll then be up to him to decide if the risk is worth it (which I suspect any 16 year old will find worthwhile). But that's not the issue asked here.

Apparently because Son does not have a car, or a job, the parents have an obligation to get him to his internet GF? Fat chance. If Son wants this, he can get a job, and save up for a clunker.

Now, normally my advice would be to step back. You have no obligation to help your son meet his online GF. If they want to meet, let hem figure out how like young adults. But you're going to be be constrained here by what a mental health professional is going to say. Personally though, I don't see the downside. Even if he goes up there and she crushes his heart... that sounds like the way the relationship was going to end up anyways with her giving ultimatums. So, I don't see any additional harm in them meeting.

And for what it's worth, I identify with this situation. I was around 12/13 when I met and crushed hard for a girl I met online. We both had some issues, she with self-harm. (On that note however: You don't say that the online GF has ever attempted suicide. There's a huge difference between person's who are contemplating suicide and those who self-harm. If the GF is just into self-harm/depression, then I don't see any evidence for concern that they might have some mutual suicide pact if they meet as was voiced above.)
posted by SollosQ at 9:31 AM on March 18, 2014

I think you should let him go. But more importantly, I think you should change the way you're framing his desire to. "Sanity check on teenagers and their whims"? Really? Wanting to meet someone he's in love with* is a whim? If you're concerned about his mental health making the trip unsafe if she breaks his heart, that's one thing. But if I were in his position, I can't imagine continuing to trust you or come to you with anything important again if you treated my mere belief that I'm in love as evidence that I'm unhinged.

*A lot of people on this board are dismissing it as not "real" love, mostly based on his age. (Also the fact that they haven't spent time in person yet, the appearance that the girlfriend is manipulative, and the unlikelihood that the relationship would work out even best-case considering logistics.) I started to type out an argument that his feelings of love are real anyway, but honestly, I think that debate's largely irrelevant. Your son thinks he's in love, and teenagers without mental health issues have intense first romances like this all the time. Whether you call it "love", "infatuation", or anything else, you're not about to cure him of it. Cause him to feel intensely misunderstood? Sure. Make him resent you for years? Totally. I agree with other posters who say this is unlikely to work out. But I think your son will gain far more if he actually learns that from his girlfriend, rather than having the breakup forced by parents who claim seven hours is just too long a drive.
posted by randomname25 at 9:35 AM on March 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

If he can't afford to go, and his parents can't afford to pay for him to go, then there really is no other answer.

Exactly THIS!!!
posted by JenThePro at 11:31 AM on March 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

In addition to all the excellent points above, I would like to share a bit of advice based on how my parents refusal to a similar situation affected me:

If you say "no" to his request this time, there is a chance that you won't get the option to say "no" a second time. Worse, you may not be privy to any of his relationships, online or otherwise, for a very long time.

The problem with denying him this, is that you're now setting the precedent that you're more than willing to stand between him and True Love. There will be NO motivation for him to share his plans or relationships with you in the future after you've "ruined" the first one. Basically, you may win the battle, but could lose the war, and the next three girlfriends may very well be worse than this one. Only next time, you won’t even know that they exist.

Be very careful that you don't teach him that he needs to hide his relationships from you.
posted by Shouraku at 1:35 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with the approach of saying he has to pay his own way, but I would be trying to sympathetically support him in doing so, not making it harder (e.g., insisting on going and that he pay for your hotel room). Keep in mind that you moved him somewhere (for good reason, I'm sure) where he can't get an official job, so it's not trivial for him to earn money.
posted by salvia at 2:41 PM on March 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

For the record, as we are talking about a 16yo, my first instinct is also No.

But. Only you know your kid. Do you trust him? This would be a huuuugggeee trust-building experience, for both your own relationship with your kid, and for him in himself.

Instead of saying "No, you can't go, end of story", perhaps just say no to instant gratification.

Discuss all of your points of concern with him. Try framing the discussion as though you are peers, as though he is an adult, as though you were talking to your best friend about an unaffordable fantasy trip he or she was talking about. Let's say you and your son come to a mutual understanding on all of those points, and in the end it comes down to money.

Okay, so let him earn the money. As an adult, there are a lot of things I would like to have. That doesn't mean I automatically get them instantly today. I have to work for it. If he wants international travel, he can work for it. He can brainstorm with his gf about how to get it accomplished. Let them make it a mutual project.

The other thing I wanted to say is, I hate hate hate the idea of him being there alone, but that doesn't mean that mom or stepdad have to go. Can he hitch a ride with a family friend, or the college-aged kid of a family friend (the best option in my opinion; someone just slightly older who can relate a little better to his predicament, and also provide a sounding-board for relationship questions). Can he stay with a member of a sister-church in the city he's going to (maybe you don't go to church, but have a friend who does)? Can he head up to the area as a YMCA summer camp counselor and detour from camp for a couple of days to see her? There are lots of ways to make this happen reasonably inexpensively. College kids do it all the time.

By easing up on some of the control from your side, it might ease some of the tension in your household overall, and after working on it as a project and seeing the reality of the situation he might even change his mind anyway.

Best of luck (check back in and let us know how it goes).
posted by vignettist at 3:41 PM on March 18, 2014

You've gotten a lot of good input here. The only thing I might add is that if you decide he can go, you (or one of his parents) must go with him, because you absolutely can not afford the time and expense that are quite likely to be incurred if things go horribly wrong for him on such a trip without you (e.g. he tries to stay and you have to then take weeks off to try to get him back? something weird happens and you have to fly on a last minute ticket to rescue him? etc.) The "we can't afford the time or expense to accompany him" reason has to be ignored--try to think of any input that the adults put into this situation in time and $ as an investment in ensuring his safety and health.

Also remind yourself that there is no perfect solution to this problem. No matter what you decide, things will not suddenly turn up all roses and ponies for your family based on how you handle this, so just make sure you feel good about each decision you make here so that you don't have to look back with any regrets.

What a difficult time this must be for all of you--don't forget to take care of yourselves, and please keep us posted.
posted by gubenuj at 6:51 AM on March 19, 2014

Yeah, I agree with a lot of the input here. It sounds like a good thing that your son came to you and opened up about his internet-gf situation. It sounds like he hasn't been very willing to tell you guys all the other things about his mental state and his thoughts, so this is a vote of confidence. Even if it was just to ask for trip funding, etc., it shows a level of trust. Don't abuse it.

I would definitely reach out to the parents of the girl, but let him go, and make him earn the funds for the trip himself too. Girls can be a great motivator to develop self-sufficiency, confidence, etc., if he gets the job just to go see her. A catalyst towards adult life, if you will. He can also play it off to his online gf, "See what I'm doing for you? I got a job. This is how much I care." He develops work skills and confidence, she sees how much he cares, you get to see your son develop in that direction towards adult life. It might not go exactly like this at all, but it's an opportunity for a win-win situation.
posted by tenlives at 6:02 PM on March 19, 2014

« Older Recommendations for inexpensive dual-sim...   |   Best (cheapest) place to buy PAR30 and PAR20 LED... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.