How to help an angry 18 yr old.
January 11, 2015 11:32 PM   Subscribe

A few years back I asked this question. Unfortunately my cousin is still struggling and I am very afraid for his future and the rest of his immediate family. A few weeks ago I asked about rehoming a dog. I was finally able to get some help and an organization contacted me saying that they have someone willing to foster the dog. Great! Except that while I was working on it my aunt basically threw up her hands and turned over the dog to my cousin.

I later find out that my cousin is mistreating the dog on a daily basis. But he wants to keep the dog and his mother doesn't seem to want to upset him by taking the dog away. She doesn't want to upset him because when confronted he gets very defensive and makes threats that he will hurt himself. (She mentioned maybe taking the dog sneakily, without telling him.) This has all of my alarm bells going off. Last week he got into a physical fight with his younger sister. His older sister says that he needs anger management and has frequent outbursts.

I love my family and I want to help but this feels like scary territory for several different reasons. I am all for counseling, therapy, medication basically whatever it takes. My family on the other hand "doesn't believe" in that stuff even though I've shared my struggles with them and told them that it has really helped and made a major difference for me personally. So my cousin has never had any help for these issues. His father has had serious mental issues and was institutionalized. They do not have a relationship at this time and hasn’t for many years. He has basically dropped out of high school and is doing nothing. There was lots of drama last year and he stayed with me for a week or two. He wasn't into the rules I set and quickly ended up back home. My rules were basically get home at a certain time and communicate with me about your whereabouts.

The other issue is that I am a few years out of a 14 yr abusive relationship that ended with my partner committing suicide. I have been happy and feeling mentally healthy and am now happily married. But it was hell getting here and this situation is taking me back there to the abuse and codependency. I am slightly afraid that this will turn very confrontational and violent even though I have never witnessed my cousin behave this way. What I hear of his behavior reminds me of how my former partner was. I thought that his threats to hurt himself was his way of trying to manipulate me. It’s scary and part of me is saying RUN. I’m stressing and having anxiety attacks.

What can I do here? I want to get the dog out of there without starting a war. I would like to find some way to help my cousin. Find some counseling for him? I’ve given him some resources in the past and I took him to the Door (teen center) but he didn’t stick with it.

My plan is to go there tomorrow and just talk to him. Tell him that there is someone interested in taking the dog off his hands. Let him know that he can get help for his anger and other issues. Maybe take him to counseling once a week or something. I don’t know. I know that I can’t make anyone do anything. (Been there, done that. Really not trying to do it again.) But I feel like he is still a kid and needs help and doesn’t know how to get it. My aunt is obviously very stressed and I don’t think she knows what to do either. They are all having a really rough time. What can I do? Who can I call? Where can I take him?
posted by mokeydraws to Human Relations (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Okay so.. the dog is not my first concern. I mean yes, it's fair to be worried, but your cousin is the person who needs help and intervention yesterday.

Where in the world are you? That will help us find counselling resources for this kid.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:06 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

He got into a physical fight with his younger sister and the older one says he has anger issues? It is a shame about the dog but I agree you you misplaced priorities. Call CAS/CPS so they can do an assessment of the whole family and hook them up with local services.
posted by saucysault at 5:07 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Because of your own issues, you are the last person in the world that should try to help them. It would be very difficult for you to see the situation objectively and not color it with your own traumatic past. You could end up doing more harm than good. Let the dog go and stay out of it personally. You can call and report them to anyone you want but your best bet is to find someone who you all trust who can handle the situation. Is there another relative that can step in? Is there a pastor or teacher that is close to the family?

Sometimes you have to just walk away from something in order to save yourself. This is one of those times.
posted by myselfasme at 5:47 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's ok to be worried about the dog. I would separate that from your worry about your cousin if you decide to talk to him, however, unless he brings it up first. I think telling him that someone's willing to take the dog makes sense (though it sounds like he's likely to refuse), and then you should leave it at that.

On a separate occasion, it may make sense to talk to him about counseling -- and I wouldn't mention his anger, personally, but just that counseling might help with "stress" -- but don't tie it to the dog or he's likely to double-down on refusing any help for either issue.
posted by jaguar at 7:01 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Call CPS about the assault and animal abuse. Call the relevant agency in your jurisdiction about the animal abuse.

Alert all agencies that your cousin has a severe untreated mental illness.

Let me ask you a very serious question - do you value your marriage and continued good mental health? If you do, then you need to stay far far away from these people after you make the relevant phone calls.

I'm really really sorry but I don't think you can fix ANY of this. Even if you could, to protect your own wellbeing, you need to understand these are jobs for trained mental health professionals and not you.

Call in the professionals and get out of the way. Come up with a plan for the 14 year old (she needs to contact her school and other authorities about being assaulted. (CPS should help her, make sure you are explicit with them about the assault)

Basically, you need to be faaaaar away from this.

Gently, kindly.... You ask about a dog while detailing a family in the grips of extreme dysfunction and mental health crisis. You're not thinking too clearly. Get yourself support ASAP and take good care of yourself. Get back to stable ground. Distance from these situations is important for you. You're not better yet because your thoughts about what is priority are still confused. Been there.

Step away. Step away.
posted by jbenben at 7:10 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

I realize that it sounds like I am prioritizing the dog. That isn't the case. It is just how I became involved and realized the severity of his issues.

They are in Brooklyn and I'm in Queens.
posted by mokeydraws at 7:32 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

What? I would go get the dog and I would make sure I had a big strong friend with me while having 'the talk' with this nephew, who is 18 and an adult. I would never leave a dog with someone known to be mistreating it and I'm not even an animal lover.

You've cared and tried and cared with this boy young man. It's enough, he's an adult now. They're all adults (except the younger sister) and they have all actively chosen to refuse help and stay in violent crisis mode. THERE IS NOTHING MORE YOU CAN DO AND YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THESE PEOPLE. Get your dog and get out and protect yourself from repercussions, including emotional repercussions.
posted by glasseyes at 8:00 AM on January 12, 2015 [12 favorites]

Seconding glasseyes. Take the dog, make the calls and stay as far away from them as possible until they get the professional help they need.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 8:05 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

You can't fix other people. You can only offer help. In my experiences with a very angry teenage male, what worked best was a response from someone with testosterone who made it clear that angry abusive behavior is unacceptable. This could be a cop, counselor, coach, family friend. Offer the kid help, but also be very clear that the anger, threats, and physical behavior are totally not okay.

Military service provides an environment where angry young men can get structure and discipline. It has been a helpful experience for many people who needed that training. However, it comes with the risk of deployment and danger, including death. There are also lots of other issues, and the military won't take recruits who disclose mental health issues.

The dog can't defend itself. Rescue the dog.
posted by theora55 at 8:42 AM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

I can't believe all the people saying the dog is not the first concern! The dog is ABSOLUTELY the first concern as it can not speak up if it is being mistreated and is suffering. Also abusers most often start with the weakest and most vulnerable beings in their family making the dog a perfect target. Do not confront your cousin, just call the animal abuse hot line in your area and report the abuse. You do not need to tell anyone it was you who did this. Hopefully your local sherif or animal shelter will have a cruelty prevention unit who can come out and investigate and remove the dog. In any case getting the innocent animal away from the situation is absolutely the number one priority.

I'm sorry that you are in this situation and I want to thank you for being concerned and wanting to do the right thing. Be careful for your own safety, try not to get too directly involved, and good luck.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 10:29 AM on January 12, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yea, i'm with glasseyes, and kinda annoyed at some of the other responses.

What you're saying here, is you're seeing a problem you can actually solve. It's a small enough piece of the puzzle that you can deal with it, and keep it from spiraling out of control further(or potentially at all).

Everyone is in the kitchen trying to make dinner, and screwing it up. What you've said is that you can't stand for very long, so you can't help with much, but you can sit at the table and make the pasta dough. Everyone else is replying that there's wayyy bigger problems and omg you need to deal with the elephant in the room!

Just because you can't deal with your cousin, which will be very hard because he's an adult, doesn't mean you can't make this situation less shitty and shitty in less ways. Preventing this dog from being abused is still taking shittiness out of the situation.

Some people seem to frame this in a "if you're not helping him you're not dealing with the real problem!" sort of way, but as far as the if-you're-not-helping-you're-hurting meter goes, you're objectively making this less shitty by getting the dog out of there.

You have my permission to just get the dog out of there and wash your hands of this situation, if that's all you can handle for your own wellbeing(or even want to handle).

I'll also add that if you don't want to start a war, and fear that is realistically an outcome, it's fine to just call the relevant agencies several times and leave this be. I know how dealing with this kind of stuff can be like punching a beehive. Evaluate whether your safety is really a concern here before you get involved. Just know that you aren't obligated to deal with his issues before you deal with the dog because "zomg he's a person!" or something.

On preview, are there any family members whose help you could enlist who you're absolutely sure wouldn't just stir shit? Mutual friends of that part of your family? That could be very valuable here.
posted by emptythought at 2:11 PM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

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