My teenage son is urbexing and lying to me about it. Help.
February 10, 2017 5:54 AM   Subscribe

My 14-year-old has gotten into urbexing. I don't want to discourage him from pursuing his passions, but I'm completely freaked out by it. More inside.

My teenage son is a great kid: smart, funny, sensitive, a talented writer. He's always seemed a little too mature for his own good: he sees kids his age as immature and he's frustrated by school.

He's also never had much interest in anything beyond video games. So when he started telling me about urban exploring, I thought it sounded cool: he was exploring the city! Getting out of the house! Taking pictures! I had no idea it involved dangling off rooftops (or, I guess, making it look like you're dangling off rooftops) and breaking into buildings and abandoned warehouses. And subway tunnels. Etc.

When we found out what he was up to — well, first he was grounded for a while, then we imposed limits while encouraging him to pursue what he called his "passion." No rooftops, no abandoned buildings, but he could still explore the city. That lasted less than a day; he started an alternate Instagram account with pictures of him and his friends on rooftops. So, more grounding, and we had serious talks with him about the dangers and the consequences of his actions. He could be arrested, he could be injured, he could be killed. He could hurt someone else. He seemed to get it.

Cut to yesterday, which was a snow day in Brooklyn. He wanted to go out and take pictures with his friends. We had a long talk and set clear limits with him. He said he understood what he was allowed to do and not to do. Then he did it again: went up to rooftops. During a blinding snowstorm.

I'm at a loss. He's 14. The biggest problem we had before this was a missed homework assignment. I'm torn: on the one hand, he's not doing drugs or drinking (I don't think -- but I really don't think) and he's pursuing something creative, and he's good at it. On the other hand, this shit is dangerous, and he's way too young. His friends who do this are older than him (they're 16), and two of them are emancipated from their parents. He's found a small community of kids who don't have anyone stopping them from doing whatever, and he admits himself that his perspective is off because it's FINE for them and he can't see why it's not fine for him.

He says this is his one passion. It's the only thing that gets him up in the morning, he says. And I get that. I get that this is something he's actually into, for once, and I don't want to kill his love. I signed him for a photography class, which to be honest sounds like it's kind of a dud. He's doing it, but it certainly doesn't get him as excited as urbexing.

I'm worried about the dangers, I'm worried about this new circle of friends he's found, I'm worried about where all this could go. Some of the pictures he admires are truly terrifying to me. I made him read every news article I could find about kids dying doing this (and there are a bunch). He says he gets the dangers, but of course he doesn't, he's just a kid.

I know that you are not my family therapist, but I guess I'm looking for some perspective. Am I overreacting? Am I underreacting? Do I take away his (very nice) camera? Lock him up? Or let him do his thing? Is there a middle ground? Some way I can redirect his interests into something safer?
posted by brooklynlady to Human Relations (52 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Some of my most vivid teenage memories were exploring the tunnels underneath the university, or finding a way into an abandoned brewery. For us, the thrill was about not getting caught, and seeing amazing places. We weren't courting physically dangerous situations. I wish there was a way to get him to knock it off regarding the rooftops without condemning every activity that goes under the urbex umbrella.
posted by umbú at 6:14 AM on February 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

You are not overreacting. Your son is young, participating in an unsupervised activity that is both illegal and dangerous, led by a group of teens that have no parental or adult guidance at all themselves, and regularly lying to you about it. If anything, you are under-reacting.
posted by gritter at 6:16 AM on February 10, 2017 [35 favorites]

I made him read every news article I could find about kids dying doing this (and there are a bunch). He says he gets the dangers, but of course he doesn't, he's just a kid.
Is it really more dangerous than (say) driving? Could you persuade someone of this? If you want to establish yourself as his advisor and counsel about risk, temptation and reward "of course he doesn't, he's just a kid" isn't going to do it. But it sounds like your relationship still has that within reach. Can you say "I don't want to ban you from this, partly because I know you love it and partly because I know I can't actually do it. Can we work together to make me happier about knowing where you are and keeping safe?"
posted by hawthorne at 6:19 AM on February 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am not a parent or a therapist...but coming from someone who was a lot like your son as a teen (and someone who derives a thrill from exploring and taking photos of unsafe areas, albeit, not from extreme heights) he's going to do it even if you tell him not to, apparently, so locking him up/taking his camera away is going to make him resentful and spiteful, and possibly at risk for behavior that is actually destructive, possibly to himself or others (drugs, criminal behavior, hacking, etc.). He may also go back to escaping into video games for something to stimulate his mind and curiosity...which is something bright adolescents do when they feel dissatisfied with reality, school, and their peer groups.

Have you expressed your worries and feelings to him? Openly and honestly as an equal rather than an authority figure? Obviously the consequences of his actions don't really concern him compared to the joy this brings him if it's just about what will happen to HIM, but perhaps if you frame it as how it makes YOU feel, perhaps he'll tone it down due to empathy. Seems manipulative, I know, might work if he thinks his actions may hurt or cause people he cares about to worry. Then again, he may be just as defiant or more so.

Are there indoor rock climbing arenas or similar to sate his need to reach certain heights? How about hooking him up with a professional and experienced explorer/climber in the area to mentor him? Are there areas where he could hike? He may actually thrive by being friends with an older, responsible individual given how he seems to bond with older teens that seem "free" from the constraints of their age (much like he is mentally). How do you feel about abandoned malls? They're risky and potentially dangerous but at least he won't have the potential of falling to his death necessarily.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:25 AM on February 10, 2017 [12 favorites]

I think this is very serious, but I also think punishments will not work. You know how that can go: you escalate, he escalates. Wash, rinse, repeat--and it would take years to undo the damage to your relationship. (My qualifications here are too personal to share, but they did involve fire, knives, and it took me until I was in my late twenties to have a real conversation with my mother again.)

Instead, can you help him learn risk assessment and safety skills? Some of the activities he does are probably safer than others, some are more dangerous. Can he tell the difference? And when he gets into situations that are more dangerous than he thought, can he get out safely? There are ways to learn safety skills-- first responders, martial artists, soldiers, reporters, and other professionals who go into dangerous situations use them all the time. He can't help that his judgment abilities are immature (and will be until that prefrontal cortex develops more) but he could learn to fall without breaking anything, tell the difference between solid and shaky structures, learn first aid, etc, etc. And who knows, maybe the skills he's learning in this hobby will help him greatly in the future. Maybe he'll become a firefighter or a frontlines war reporter. Maybe we'll have a civil war and he'll join the resistance or he'll be a hero who digs people out from a hurricane.

My advice: don't take away his phone--sign him up for mandatory aikido and first aid/CPR.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:26 AM on February 10, 2017 [89 favorites]

I am not a parent, but: I think your son could be doing much more dangerous things than urbex -- in high school, I knew 14-year-olds who did meth and drove drunk (and I grew up in a very affluent suburb of a midwestern city -- there are sooooooo many more opportunities for doing truly dangerous things in NYC).

Putting this in perspective, being on a rooftop is not in itself super dangerous (as long as he is not literally dangling from rooftops). Also, if he gets arrested for breaking in somewhere, he is still a minor so the consequences won't be as bad as if he had gotten into this at a legal age, right?

I think that as long as he is relatively safe, keeps you updated regarding his whereabouts, and is honest, you should let him do his thing. Also per a previous poster, maybe have him take a rock climbing class or a parkour class so that if he does get in a dangerous situation, he will be more likely to be able to deal with it safely?
posted by aaanastasia at 6:27 AM on February 10, 2017 [10 favorites]

I think part of the solution is going to be working with him to figure out a hobby that involves some adrenaline. 14 is generally old enough for a junior firefighter or emt program, for example (though I'm sure it varies on location).

My first thought was actually Parkour classes. They sound right up his alley, and the deal could be that he gets the classes in exchange for following your safety rules. He'd at least be getting exposure to formal safety rules and philosophies for this sort of hobby, and presumably some better role models.
posted by veery at 6:28 AM on February 10, 2017 [18 favorites]

I know this might sound insane, but can you tell him you want to go with him one time? Maybe not with his group, but just the two of you perhaps?

My mum is to be fair, particularly cool, but when I first started going off to music festivals, she came with me to Glastonbury one year, camped in her own tent, just near where me and my friends were. She went off and did her own thing during the days and I was generally a terrible drunken crazy teenager, but she could see I wasn't dead in a ditch and stuff, so that must have been cool. She LOVES music and wanted to come for that, but I imagine once she saw I wasn't a total mess she could relax about it.

I mean, I was off drinking at 14 and going out walking by myself in the dark (albeit in the countryside) before that. Kids do risky stuff, you can either try and stop them from doing it (and that doesn't ever really work). Or you can get involved a bit and make it something you can talk about together.
posted by greenish at 6:32 AM on February 10, 2017 [45 favorites]

The first thing this makes me think of is the photography from National Geographic. Some of those photographers have to go in very dangerous situations to get The Shot. Maybe write a letter to one of those photographers or to the editor of NatGeo and ask them what their suggestions are?

Additionally, I wonder if maybe a Ninja Gym membership or rock climbing membership would be a good one to pursue. He needs to be strong and agile if he wants to be good at this and SAFE at this. He needs to learn how to fall and fall well so as to keep him safer. Strength, flexibility, agility are all skills he'll want to improve on in order to keep him safe. It sounds like he really loves this activity.

Is there a way to find the "Yes" that allows him to still pursue it but also help give you some peace of mind, too? Check-ins? Plans ahead of time? Go over scenarios for if someone gets stuck or hurt? Requiring cell phones on him at all times?
posted by jillithd at 6:36 AM on February 10, 2017 [6 favorites]

I don't know your situation, but my own circle of Brooklyn acquaintances includes people who grew up in the neighborhood, and did similar things (graffiti) when they were teenagers, and are plenty eager to share their stories. (They're also raising children of their own now). If you know someone like that, maybe if you talked to them, and/or have your son talk to them, it could help you to get some perspective?
posted by 1970s Antihero at 6:44 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

Can you still try tightrope waking at that place in Manhattan? I saw it on an old SaTC episode but Google is failing me .
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:46 AM on February 10, 2017

Parent and teacher of kids with thrill-seeking personalities here; I also grew up in NYC and yes, we did some fairly wild shit. I can see this from many different angles.

You're under-reacting, but you are also dealing with a kid with an underdeveloped frontal cortex. Your kid right now LIVES for the thrills and needs those thrills right now and literally cannot comprehend risk versus reward. His brain just wants the reward.

However, your kid could actually get killed doing this. I KNEW kids who have been killed doing this (and not to further alarm you but yes, generally some drinking and taking drugs is involved with this scene).

You really don't have a lot of cards to play here, unfortunately, kid's gonna do what kid's gonna do UNLESS you keep him grounded. That may not be the worst idea, especially because after having these conversations he's lying to you and violating your trust.

What you can do is introduce a middle ground: he's 100% absolutely welcome to do this when he's 18, but until then, this is completely off the table. It's just not allowed, period. He can rock climb or whatever legal and safer thrill seeking he can find. And HE should find it.

He needs some control here, and that control can be finding something else to do with himself. Listen, I get that he's found a THING he likes and you don't want to crush that. However, kids his age are KNOWN to find things they like but it's your job as a parent to put an end to things that are just.completely.stupid.and.dangerous.

Don't get bogged into not wanting to crush his spirit. He will get over this. Give him the option of basically being grounded until he finds alternate activities or being grounded forever.

What's he's doing is so unbelievably stupid and dangerous, that trying to appease his desire to continue because it makes him happy is pretty reckless parenting. He's got to stop doing this and he's got to find other things to do.

Yes, this may damage your relationship for a while and that's okay because you're not his friend; you're his parent.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 6:54 AM on February 10, 2017 [32 favorites]

[Your] teenage son is a great kid: smart, funny, sensitive, a talented writer. He's always seemed a little too mature for his own good: he sees kids his age as immature and he's frustrated by school.

As a teen, I was much like you son. Only into adulthood, and well into therapy, did I realize that I was missing adrenaline-pumping, thrill-seeking activities to satisfy my inner rebel. We all have one. What do you do to satisfy your inner rebel?

Your son is still a teen and is learning about safe and calculated risk vs. danger. When I read your question, I thought about the times I spent climbing water towers, grain elevators and schools... it wasn't Brooklyn so rural exploration had to do.

Other parents and non-parents have offered heartfelt advice above. You've encouraged his interest in photography. Can you ask him if there is an activity he can think of that would get his heart rate up, get the adrenaline pumping and satisfy his need for risk in a way that urbexing and video games do?

Said activity may not be his passion, but can help to capture some of the feelings and sensations he values in urbexing.
posted by nathaole at 7:14 AM on February 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I was a dumb teenager and often found myself doing much more dangerous things than your son (ie: riding in cars with drunk drivers) and lying to my parents about pretty much everything that I did. My parents regularly grounded me for things that weren't a big deal, so I never felt like I could be remotely honest with them about anything serious. When I got in a really bad situation, I knew that if I called my parents I would get grounded or worse, so I never felt like that was an option.

On the other hand, a friend of mine and her mom had a "call anytime" rule. Several times her mom rescued her from scary dates, blackout drunks, and just general sketchy circumstances. The next morning, they would talk it over and come up with a strategy to avoid getting into a situation like that again.

So, let's say your son is on a rooftop and something goes down. He's not supposed to be up there. Will he call you? If not, I think that it is most important to either work on that level of trust or establish a call anytime relationship with another adult that he knows he can rely on.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 7:19 AM on February 10, 2017 [39 favorites]

Also, whatever you do, please don't fall into thinking along the lines of, "He could be doing FAR MORE dangerous things," as if that somehow lessens how completely boneheaded and deadly urbexing can be.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 7:20 AM on February 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

The urbexing is not as much of a concern as the lying and deceit. You tried to let him do his thing within limits that he chose not to respect. You made a totally sane offer and he breezed right by it.

Do not pass go, do not collect $200. He is not grounded for urbexing, he is grounded for lying. Lying is so much worse. Lying was literally the one thing that I knew my parents would lose. their. minds. about, and rightly so.

I had some "bad kid" friends when I was his age, but I also had stuff that I didn't want to lose (my car, for example) so when they got *real dumb* I backed off and did not participate. I knew my parents would pull those cards if they felt like they had to do that. They did not police my friends or tell me they were bad people - they helped me learn to evaluate risk and choices. I wish I could remember what they did but I don't. I'm sure some kind of child psychologist could provide some better guidance.

I would go for a bit of "It's not WHO YOU ARE, it's WHAT YOU DID" - I feel like a lot of conversations about this when I was a teenager centered on "if you do this you are/will become a bad person" which is FYI totally ineffective. He can make different choices. He has to make them within the confines of what you guys agree to. If he does not, then he loses something that is important to him -- whether that's being grounded or having his camera taken away or replacing his smart phone with a dumb phone or whatever.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:20 AM on February 10, 2017 [9 favorites]

I think it might help to stop thinking of your kid as being particularly mature for his age, because honestly, lying to his parents, hanging out with older kids who are sort of sketchy, and repeatedly engaging in risky behavior that he has been explicitly warned against doesn't sound particularly mature to me. It does, however, sound like fairly standard teenage boy behavior.

I say this because sometimes, I think, the labels we put on people keep us from seeing their behavior clearly. For instance, in this case, I think your idea that he is mature for his age is probably making you under-react to his behavior here. I also just wanted to say, as a kid who felt more mature than their peers, that--in retrospect-- that feeling of maturity can sometimes masks social anxiety and awkwardness. Or, in other words, sometimes the underlying problem is that a kid doesn't know how to talk to other kids, rather than an over-abundance of maturity.

I don't know what the solution here is, but it sounds like the urban exploring is maybe filling a couple of needs your kid has that have been going unfulfilled: a need to fit in with people, a need for some excitement and adrenaline, and a need for a creative outlet. While you're trying to figure out how to handle this, I would brainstorm some other ways to help your kid fill those 3 needs, because otherwise I think you're going to be fighting a uphill battle trying to get him to actually stop doing the risky parts of urban exploring.
posted by colfax at 7:23 AM on February 10, 2017 [30 favorites]

I'm a parent of young kids and a former 14 year old miscreant. My dangerous habit was going to underground punk shows in basements where fights and drugs were prevalent. My mom's answer was to let me go but have a strict curfew or pick me up early. This was before cell phones so she made it clear that she was trusting me. When I violated her trust (not if, I was an idiot so it was a given it was going to happen) she had clear, but not draconian, consequences.

I think your balanced, honest reaction is your best bet. Come down too hard and you'll push him away. Do the research he doesn't about potential dangers. Don't make him lie, and don't spy on him. Whether you allow it in small, safe doses, insist you be allowed to attend his excursions, or stop him outside of safe alternatives until he's 15 or 16, be consistent and open about your reasons for any decision and let him respond and give feedback about those reasons.

Sounds really hard but keep in mind in the grand scheme of things he's still a lot safer doing this than getting into drugs or drinking and driving or being in the alt-right or something. Plus, scary or not, this community is edifying and cool (way more artistic and skill-building than terrible 90s punk rock at least!)
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:43 AM on February 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

We had a long talk and set clear limits with him. He said he understood what he was allowed to do and not to do. Then he did it again: went up to rooftops.

This would be where my biggest question lies. Why? Was there a genuine misunderstanding about where you had drawn the line? Was he unable to resist peer pressure to cross the line? Did he forget about the discussion you had in the heat of the moment? Does he think your decision about where the line should be is incorrect, and if so, why?

We all do risky things, especially when we are teens. We drive cars, we eat poorly, we cross the street against the light. For some people, walking down the wrong street at the wrong time is risky. Your job as the parent of a teenager is not to prevent them from taking risks, it is to teach them to make good decisions about the kind of risk they take on.

I think you are making a mistake if you are saying that the risky activities in question are fine for his friends but not fine for him. I can understand why he does not understand that, because the risks are indeed the same for all of them. The only difference is that he has someone telling him the risk is not acceptable and they don't.

I think the better strategy is to help him think about how he makes decisions about risk, and help him investigate his decision-making process so that you can try to get to a point where you and he are comfortable with how he makes decisions. You also have to accept the fact that he will, at times, make mistakes in that process. If you empower him to make decisions, you increase the chance that he will come to you when he needs help in making a decision, or when he needs help dealing with the consequences of a bad decision.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:46 AM on February 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

This phase showed up in college for me; exploring drain tunnels, pipe chases, abandoned buildings. It was eventually phased out by whitewater kayaking and rock climbing. These adrenaline-style sports still have their dangers, but the dangers are usually more apparent and less based upon blind chance than urban exploration (e.g. there's no real way of telling if that rusty staircase is going to collapse on you). So I agree with suggestions that it may be worth sitting down with your son and having a frank discussion about your worries, and offering to fund an alternative source of adrenaline fueled adventures, based on his interests.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:54 AM on February 10, 2017

I don't think you're under-reacting. Yes, it's dangerous, but it's not *just* dangerous. It also sounds awesome and amazing. I'm 51 and I did a lot of awesome and amazing stuff as a teenager and I'm lucky I'm alive, but I also feel lucky that I have gotten to live the life I have.

I would be focused on containment. In my opinion, a big part of a parents' job is to provide containment. I would be concerned about 1) who the kids are he's hanging around with, 2) the deceit, and 3) the physical risks.

Do you know the kids he's hanging out with? I would want to get to know them. I wouldn't let my fourteen year old hang out with kids I didn't know. I would talk about this with your son and tell him that you want to trust him and give him freedom, but part of it is knowing who he is with.

I agree with those above who say to punish the lying, but I would also talk about the lying and what's going on that he feels the need to lie and hide.

Finally, I would talk about what happens in the brain when you're taking extreme physical risks. I would talk about adrenaline and heightened reality and how it becomes hard for normal life to compete with these kinds of experiences. I would ask him how he thinks the physical risks can be reduced to a level you're comfortable with and that isn't skewing his reality so that he's needing more and more risk to get a thrill.

I agree with those above who would seek other ways to get an adrenaline rush. Trapeze school? Rock climbing walls?

At 14 I would be talking openly about these things, about how your job as a parent is to keep him safe, but you also understand that he wants to be adventurous and that he's found a real passion.
posted by orsonet at 7:54 AM on February 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

It sounds like your kid is not able to stand up to peer pressure like, at all. When he's with you he agrees with you and when he's with this group he does whatever they say. That's could be immaturity or a personality trait but either way you need to talk to him about it and work out strategies. Being agreeable and sneaking around is no way to go through life and you need to make that clear to him. You like him but that behavior is terrible. Also you want to meet these other kids and build a relationship with them too. Ideally one where you've laid out ground rules and they know there will be consequences if they take little Timmy up in a roof again. Emancipated teens can still have legal issues.

Then he needs two things: something that builds his confidence and sense of responsibility, where he can ideally eventually be in a leadership role towards younger kids (tutoring, sports, emt classes etc) and b) something like rock climbing or parkour that feeds his need for adrenalin but has adult supervision. All teens need some risk and danger to grow and test themselves.

It sounds like your kid is not social and has probably missed out on a lot of learning about groups and peer pressure so far. Which makes him the kind of teen who is not well respected by a group and not listened to. That's more dangerous than going in a tunnel long term.
posted by fshgrl at 8:07 AM on February 10, 2017 [23 favorites]

Teenagers, boys in particular, have probably been evolved specifically to take risks that other members of the species have learned to not take when they're older, wiser, slower, etc. In that respect, your son's behaviors are completely normal, and probably should be encouraged to some degree.

The problem is, given his activities of choice, there's no real way for him to learn from his screw-ups because screwing up means life changing consequences like arrest or death or being responsible, in part or in full, for someone else's death. With video games, the consequences are both simulated (you don't die for real) and easily brushed off (you re-spawn). Not so with real life analogues. Unfortunately, the video game risk model is with what your son is currently working.

I say this because I was plenty stupid and testosterone drunk as a kid: every teenage boy has had worst case scenarios dangled in front of him. Every one of them responds with "that's not going to be me." They need ample opportunities to learn the consequences of their stupidity. I don't think the right response here is to escalate your reactions and attempt to shut it all down and punish. I think you and he would be better served by talking about 1) why he likes this stuff (he's supposed to be pushing boundaries right now - that's his job as a teenager) 2) the real problems with it (little margin for error) and 3) what you're going to do about that, together (find modifications of alternates that allow him to find the limit without killing himself or someone else).

Race car drivers push a little bit further ever corner of every lap until they find out what's a step too far. The best ones take that step too far without damaging the car or themselves and use the knowledge they gained to get around faster than everyone else. You want him to get good at finding the limit. If it were me, I'd talk with him about the process of limit finding, then actually go out and do an activity together where we can get our asses handed to us (because ass handing is learning). I'd do that until I'm fairly confident he understands the process of finding the limit. Then I'd send him out into the world and pray, because really - what other options do you have?

Good luck. I say all this in theory as I'm 6 years away from where you are, heaven help us.

(Also, on lying: I'm not sure teaching "never lie" is even all that useful here. Sometimes he'll need to, and for reasons that might not be bad. How will he learn when it's ok/not ok if he never gets to practice? I think it'd probably be better to instill the process of finding limits/learning in him so he can do that for himself when you're not around)
posted by NoRelationToLea at 8:27 AM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think you should get to know the other kids. Invite them for pizza before an outing, admire their pictures, admit to finding the rooftop ones terrifying, let them play video games, etc. His friends may become your allies in enforcing your rules for him. An abstract "parent" is easy to ignore or rebel against, but "Joe's mom who's so nice and gets us pizza and takes an interest in our lives" is someone you feel a responsibility towards and don't want to disappoint.

Not a solution on its own obviously, but one small and easy step.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:28 AM on February 10, 2017 [27 favorites]

Parent of three chiming in--all boys, ages 16-21.

The youngest is a daredevil who got into skateboarding/scooter tricks when he was about 11. There was a concussion early on. It was a very bloody concussion, while he was 200 miles away from us at a scooter camp. The good news was that he was at a camp specifically for this dangerous sporting hobby of his, so he was under observation by professional instructors with first aid training and two EMTs on staff. He had a scary incident, but he saw how quickly the staff stabilized him, had him in an ambulance, and got him to the ER. That experience--and the advice of the staff at those places--helped him finally drop the it's-uncool pretense about wearing a helmet and padding. Had he not been wearing a helmet, he would have done serious damage to himself, cutting him off from his hobby.

Have you looked into an equivalent, a sort of pro-urbexing camp or program? Subway and sewer tours? An "abandoned Brooklyn" walking tour? If he can engage in this with some trustworthy personnel, they might be able to instill confidence and safety-mindedness in him that he probably can't get from his immediate peer group. Or, have you gone out with him on any excursions? See if he'll take you to a favorite spot--just you and him. See how he manages in reality, not just in your imagination. It's possible that he might impress you. It's possible that he won't. But if he knows you've seen him in action, that might lesson the you-don't-understand of it all.

We've had to dole out teen-worthy punishments, too, over the years, with all three of them. With the middle one, we've taken his phone away (to keep him from having the reward of showing off his pursuits on instagram, which seems/seemed to drive him much more than any inherent interest in what he was documenting). We have a prepaid candy bar phone that we give him when he's in that kind of trouble, which itself is an unbearable embarrassment to a high school senior. When he pretended to lose that cheap phone a couple years ago, we said, ok, well, you don't have a phone then. After about three days he rediscovered the phone.

At the end of the day, though, there's part of this experience that's just the usual grating boundary between parental protectiveness and childhood urgency. We all play this game of trying to put reasonable controls on our kids, under the threat of pushing them further away if the recipe isn't quite right. Start small and slow, see what sticks.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:40 AM on February 10, 2017 [9 favorites]

The lying is a problem. He needs to plan the hike and hike the plan, so that you'll know where to look as soon as possible if he doesn't check in on time.

Seconding rock climbing/belaying lessons and first aid/CPR. I'd add a doctor visit for a tetanus shot (old buildings = rusty nails) and so that you can ask about any other boosters (meningoccocal maybe?) that might be relevant. If there's a wilderness first aid available, I'd do that too-- many of the skills are transferable.

My other suggestion is to take the Mental Health First Aid class at the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. If he's going to "abandoned" buildings, he's going to run across the people who live there. MHFA does cover interacting with people who are homeless, though of course they are not all mentally ill.

I wonder if you, the other kids, and the other kids' parents can all get together and talk about it? If you can't stop them, you can at least make this as safe as possible. Having been a risk-taking teen, I never asked my parents for help when I really needed it because I thought the consequences for doing so would be worse than dealing with whatever it was. If they're going to do this anyway, it's better to have the skills to get themselves out or stay alive until they get help, and to have someone they feel comfortable approaching for rescue. You might also be able to present a united front with the parents about the seriousness of the consequences.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:41 AM on February 10, 2017 [4 favorites]

I feel like this is something where you need to be realistic about the safety aspects and direct your attention specifically to them.

I don't know your kid, but for someone like me, the right approach would have been to say: I get that you love this but some aspects are well beyond the tolerable risk levels. You need to promise me: no doing this drunk or high, because you need your wits about you in these situations; no reckless heights situations, I don't care if you go on a roof but you damn well better not be running around near the edge; no [one or two other specific, realistic dangers that you have researched.] And I need to know where you are. If you can promise me these things then I won't interfere with your hobby.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:43 AM on February 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

We had a long talk and set clear limits with him. He said he understood what he was allowed to do and not to do. Then he did it again: went up to rooftops.

This is exactly what I learned to do as a teen: tell my parents whatever they wanted to hear, then go do whatever I wanted to anyway. And I had pretty laid back parents, I wouldn't call them overbearing or controlling in any way. I still kept them in the dark about most of what I was up to because, well, it was none of their business in my opinion as a teen. Less said, less bother. Of course it was stupid, but we're talking about a 14-year-old here.

But we're also talking about a 14-year-old, that age where what they switch from listening to parents because they are parents, and start listening to their own judgement as to what's safe, what's a good idea and bad. How comfortable are you with that?

How much experience does he have with outdoor activity? Does he know what a safe climb is? Does he know how to treat and assess injury? Is he a kid who freaks out when something goes wrong, or a kid who keeps his head?

Training is the way through: I agree with everyone above that suggests a climbing club. Wilderness first aid (if that's budgetarily feasible). Is there an outdoors/hiking club he could join? Let him learn for himself what danger is and what's safe in a controlled environment before he indulges his action movies fantasies again.

IOW, stop trusting your judgement for him and learn to trust his judgement for himself. Does he know how to stay safe? That, IMO, should be your end goal here. That's learning how to treat him like an adult rather than a kid.
posted by bonehead at 8:47 AM on February 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry, I don't think endorsing this behavior is good. If the kid was drag racing you wouldn't tell him ok, but make sure your tires are good! This is dangerous and he's only 14. Two years ago he was 12. And by his parents admission he's not a worldly or athletic kid. Saying it's ok for him to do a dangerous activity with older kids that requires a lot of athleticism and decision making and also has a culture of drinking and taking drugs is irresponsible, imho.

I was a huge risk taker as a teenager. I had a strong need to do do dangerous stuff and I was strong willed and smart. I was also very worldly, physically fit and athletic and had a strong sense of leadership and responsibility and ethics about putting others in danger. All instilled through years of supervision doing sports and outdoors stuff. And I was older than 14 before I was making these kinds of decisions.

If he continues to do this you can lock him in his room or move out of the city, your choice. It's better to redirect his energy elsewhere. This might be a really good time to look into summer programs like outdoor bound or being free labor on grandpa's farm too. The kid needs to grow up a bit.
posted by fshgrl at 9:15 AM on February 10, 2017 [8 favorites]

A huge part of the thrill here is (probably) that this activity is illicit. So discouraging it is counterproductive.

My suggestion is to find ways to legitimize those activity. Yes, as Eyebrows suggests, have the kids over, feednthem well, listen to them with interest and respect. And maybe make some connections to folks who are involved in urban archaeology in your area. If there isn't someone who is doing urban archaeology in your area you could probably still find some papers or other materials that talk about the kinds of places he's finding.

Questions to get their brains going: What were these places used for? Who was allowed (or forced) to occupy these spaces? When were they abandoned? Was there a use transition before that?

Also read up on Mary Douglas and her work with how bad humans are at assessing risk even in the face of objective facts. We are very very bad at it. Things hat we decide (as a group) are safe turn out now to be, and vice versa. Teenagers are known to be especially bad at assessing risk, with a terrifying dash of Dunning Kruger theory thrown in.

So the take away points: remind him you're interested. Don't shame him or tell him he's stupid for doing this, -and don't tell him yourselfnthat teenagers are bad at assessing risk. One of the things teenagers seek is mastery of a task or an environment. This is developmentally appropriate.

Sorry. I'm on my phone, I can't make this any more coherent. Feel free to me-mail me if you have questions or want help finding resources for some of the academic stuff.
posted by bilabial at 9:16 AM on February 10, 2017 [3 favorites]

Wow this is tough. I have been an urban explorer and I also have a 14 year old kid. Honestly, I don't know the answer. But I do agree with some advice above:

Become the house that all the urbex kids want to hang out at. Buy extra snacks, and make your kid's friends feel welcome. Maybe buy some cool urbex adjacent DVDs - you and kid can pick out together? and encourage kid to invite friends over to watch. If your kid is going to be doing dangerous shit and breaking the law (you may not be able to stop him), you want to keep as strong a connection to him as possible. Do some reading about how to listen to teenagers and try to keep communication flowing. Consider asking the kid to come up with some safety rules, something like: "I see you're going to do this whether I like it or not. Tell me what you like about it? Tell me what the risks are? What are the safety limits you think you should have?" As much as possible, Kid needs to buy in to the limits - so it's best if he names them himself. Just the act of thinking of limits and saying them out loud gets a little more buy in than if you impose the limits from above.

Good luck - you're in a tough position.
posted by latkes at 10:02 AM on February 10, 2017 [11 favorites]

Oh yeah, offer to pay for rock climbing/bouldering classes. They will hammer safety advice into your kid.
posted by latkes at 10:03 AM on February 10, 2017 [5 favorites]

Would he be interested in driving out to the country to check out abandoned mills and ghost towns and so on? Would you be interested in doing that with him? Maybe with his friends tagging along? You'd at least get a better idea of whether they're give-no-shits reckless or actually taking appropriate precautions.

I would try to school him on all safety aspects (climbing courses, 1st aid ditto, proper outfitting) and work on a set of rules, let him go if he can keep to the rules.
posted by kmennie at 10:20 AM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hi I'm the person teenagers call when they accidentally burn down an old chemical plant urbexing or drink windex because dares are fun and they can't call their parents because they've had to lie about what they're doing for so long.

I would definitely approach this as "if you're doing risky hobbies, do them right to minimize the chances you die/get seriously injured or permanently disabled/go to jail/see your friends die."

nthing all the advice about getting him into climbing culture - I lived with a bunch of sport climbers who did rope access work* a few months a year to pay for their hobby and they were so fucking obsessed with safety. I swear they spent more time planning safe routes and inspecting ropes and caring for gear and doing post mortems of other people's accidents and near accidents than they spent actually climbing.

Learning first aid and what to do in accidents is also really good advice.

I'd also get him to understand the legal risks around what he's doing. Maybe get him to talk to a lawyer? He needs to understand how to act if he does get caught and what could happen. Interactions with cops can really go sideways and he should know his rights and responsibilities as a minor. I wouldn't approach this as a scare tactic, but as a "if you're going to do this, we need to be prepared for you to get arrested," just like "if you're going to do this, we need to be prepared for someone to get seriously injured."

* Once you get some of the more advanced certifications, rope access work is really well compensated.
posted by congen at 10:39 AM on February 10, 2017 [18 favorites]

Have you asked him what it is he likes most about urbexing?

Is it the thrill of not getting caught by police, the thrill of risking injury? Or is it taking photos of abandoned places? Or sharing those photos on Instagram and receiving the acknowledgement / respect / collectives oohs and aahs of his urbex peers? Or is it researching abandoned places? Or wandering until he finds one?

Talk to him and get to the heart of that. Then, with him, brainstorm ways that he can still satisfy the specificity of his passion without taking quite so much risk.

If it's the thrill of not getting caught, that is going to be a bit tough. But if it's, for example, research - maybe encourage him to research abandoned places in the area and provide you with a list. Review the list and see if there are any you could visit with him- ones that you think might be safer or less risky. Maybe encourage him to become an expert on the most well known and intriguing urbex locations around the world.

If it's photography, maybe encourage photographing the outside of these places- which can be just as interesting as the interiors, often times. I recognize there may still be an element of trespassing here so tread lightly. Ask him what he likes to capture in his photos and see if there are other things (dilapidated billboards and signs, junked cars, etc) he could more safely document.

Your son sounds a lot like me (a male version of me, anyway) when I was his age. I felt lonely because I was more mature than most other kids in my age group, and I got very passionate about certain activities and subject matter. So passionate I could be intransigent and would occasionally defy my parents' orders. A teenage brain combined with loneliness and passion will do that to you.

If he likes the photography aspect the most, you may want to also encourage him taking classes to improve his ability to photograph these places well, given their natural and often unpredictable or nonexistent lighting. Maybe redirect the focus, for a little while, to improving his photography skills.

And yes, a parkour class could be fun, too, if he just likes to jump and climb things.

I keep thinking about the dad whose son was interested in graffiti, and the dad's legal solution to helping his son explore that was to paint stones and leave them in public places for others to find. I am not sure what a comparable solution would be here, but taking that approach may help.
posted by nightrecordings at 10:45 AM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

My sense is that your son is too intimidated to say no to his friends when they invite him to do the more risky stuff. That's how he ends up on the roof time and time again.

I think you need to work with him on strategies for resisting peer pressure. And if those strategies simply don't work with this friend group, then maybe he can find a more mature, safety-conscious group to do this with.

I think that funneling his enthusiasm into something safer overall is probably the best idea.
posted by delight at 12:29 PM on February 10, 2017 [7 favorites]

Also, look into MovNat workshops. It trains you to climb trees and throw boulders and army-crawl through underbrush and stuff. Could be a good alternative.
posted by delight at 12:33 PM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry, I don't think endorsing this behavior is good. If the kid was drag racing you wouldn't tell him ok, but make sure your tires are good!

I get the urgency behind comments like this, but I distrust the extremity of the comparison. Risk, perceived or otherwise is relative.

I grew up on a very rural farm in the 80s. By 14 I'd been driving a combine (on my own) for almost two years. I'd been running a hay baler (and reaching my skinny teen arms into the machinery to untangle baling line from the blades) for probably four years. I'd been ambling around with animals fifteen times my bodymass my entire life. But I would have been scared shitless just walking a few blocks in Brooklyn--so many cars, and people, and the noise!

A Brooklyn-raised 14 year old has an environment that predisposes a familiarity and access to urban infrastructure. With good training, and honesty, that familiarity could develop in any number of ways that will be beneficial to him as an adult.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:53 PM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

My teenage son is a great kid: smart, funny, sensitive, a talented writer. He's always seemed a little too mature for his own good: he sees kids his age as immature and he's frustrated by school.

I strongly suggest you check out Hoagie's Gifted Page, join a gifted parenting list or three and start educating yourself. Bored gifted kids whose intellectual and social needs are not being adequately met are routinely a serious headache for everyone who has to deal with them. It does not get better unless and until this gets remedied.

I would be considering enrolling him in college part time -- in whatever classes interested him.
posted by Michele in California at 1:19 PM on February 10, 2017

As a parent, and having been this teen lo these many years ago, I have some advice that can be easily summarized with the phrase "harm reduction."

You obviously can not control his actions, right? You, as a parent, cannot endorse your child standing on rooftops, esp. the kind of standing that your kid is Instagramming. But short of 24/7 lockdown / GPS tracking implant / etc., you are not going to keep him off of rooftops. How can you reduce the amount of risk he's exposed to? Whole lotta good suggestions upthread from here, most of them involving you as a parent paying for stuff that will make urbex more fun. Climbing classes and climbing gear are the obvious choices here. This is a message to your child that says "I respect your choices, please respect my concerns."

I told my parents the truth about what I was doing, and my parents were very constructive in their criticisms. For example: we teenagers were exploring the abandoned boat yard. When I told my dad about it, he was pissed. I was surprised, because mostly my tales of teenage urbex elicited envy from him, more than anything else. But this time, he was angry because I was exploring a very toxic site with no protection. Did he ground me?

No, he gave me goggles and a filtration mask. He was angry not because I was trespassing, but because I was ignorant of the risk. Made me think, you know? He said something along the lines of "How the hell can you get a five on the AP chemistry exam, and then go kicking up the dust in a place where they used to sandblast antifouling paint? Didn't even tie a bandana over your face like a proper bandit, did you?" Never have I felt the sharp points on the words "You ought to know better" so well, as when driven home by a hammer made from clean-room safety gear.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 1:20 PM on February 10, 2017 [20 favorites]

I will second what BrunoLatourFanclub said. My oldest is hell on wheels and was born that way. Telling him "no" just gets a reaction of "You can't make me!" Making him feel stupid and making sure he understands real world consequences is vastly more effective in reigning in his daredevil bullshit.
posted by Michele in California at 1:28 PM on February 10, 2017

I get the urgency behind comments like this, but I distrust the extremity of the comparison. Risk, perceived or otherwise is relative.

That's the thing through - risk is not only relative, both it and risk tolerance change as people become more adept and more knowledgeable. Universally proclaiming things as dangerous completely fails to account for the teenager's ability to learn or grow and reduces them to little kids listen to me or else, as opposed to stewarding them towards adulthood. Growth mindset vs. fixed. Growth requires failure - the trick in this case is to find a failure mode that isn't death.

So, the real question is: at the end of the day, what would serve teenagers better? Getting locked up or shipped out means yes, you got the result you wanted - but the only thing they learned is not to tell you anything any more (Hi, you're doing a great impersonation of my mom, who gets no real information from me to this day). On the other hand, actively helping them learn how to asses and minimize risks doesn't necessarily control their behavior, but they'll wind up far, far better equipped to handle both the immediate thing, and future things, as well.

On Preview: what BrunoLatourFanclub said.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 1:36 PM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are there urbex Meetup groups? Or photography groups that explore? If he was exploring with adults who had more experience - as well as less of a drive to take risks - he would probably be safer and there would be less peer pressure to deal with.
posted by bendy at 2:34 PM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

have you talked about enrolling him on a photography course? perhaps guide him towards a wider range of photography (like get him a book with a bunch of work from magnum photographers, reuters..) drag him to moma! maybe he could use a mentor? (plus give him a headsup/edumacation on asbestos and all the crap that you can catch from rat shit. not kidding.) could he be interested in bouldering? not sure grounding a kid for life is the way to go, that might just lead to a lot of truancy? maybe more like getting the communication channels repaired? i do think the call anytime - rule someone up ahead pointed out seemed like a hella good idea. and tell him to pls not stand on ledges. my buddys best friend fell.
posted by speakeasy at 2:40 PM on February 10, 2017

How connected is he to nature? This seems a high adrenaline attempt to connect to a weak reproduction of that. Could you take him and his friends to a place that is even more powerful? To live in a city is great for some people, but for others, it's a lack of something hugely primal.

Might be worth checking out.
posted by Vaike at 7:50 PM on February 10, 2017

I'm surprised nobody has recommended a child/family psychologist, or maybe I missed that. You have a very young teen, alienated at school, hanging around emancipated older kids (so basically adults), possibly with drugs around,
doing very risky things, and lying to you. There are a lot of warning signs there. A professional can help you sort out what to do. In the meantime a tighter leash seems appropriate: no seeing those friends, and a requirement that he start doing a different activity you can monitor after school.
posted by yarly at 8:53 PM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

None of us know your son, as evidenced by the wide range of tactics suggested here. What is his decision making process? How much experience does he have making his own decisions?

If he already has a lot of experience making decisions, he might be lying to you because he disagrees with your assessment of the risks and perceives you as unwilling to reason. Is it possible that he is in fact very mature for his age, and is very carefully assessing risk vs reward as well as a teenager can?

A few people have chimed in to say that all teenagers are idiots and need limits. Obviously it's a fact that their brains are simply not all the way developed yet. But there are still some teenagers who drive drunk, and others who refuse to. That's a wide spectrum of risk assessment and mitigation.

How dangerous is it really? You found articles about kids dying doing this, but there are plenty of other risky activities that are normalized for teenagers – driving with other teens, swimming in open water, tackle football, etc. A brief glance at some of the news articles you likely found shows plenty that resulted from mixing urban exploration with drugs and alcohol. His behavior will really influence the probability of something bad happening.

Can you learn more about how he thinks about it? If he's oblivious or totally ill-equipped, yeah, perhaps forceful limits are required. Or maybe he's thought hard about the situation and deliberately reduced the risks he's exposing himself to, and just needs your input and perspective to help hone his skills.
posted by reeddavid at 9:12 PM on February 10, 2017

At that age, I thought "the whole world is always warning you about dangers that almost never happen, and if you listen, you never get to live." Y'know, "get back home before dark" -- c.mon, how many people get kidnapped at 5:51 pm? Whereas jogging in the misty dusk is sublime. That's the age when you want to stop being overcautious. I'd I never did any of the things that people get killed fling, my life would've been so much less rich.

It's also when you want space away from the rest of the world. You don't fit in with a society designed for adults and younger kids. It all feels phony. You have to buy a coffee to use the tables. But in abandoned spaces, roofs above it all -- those can be "their" place where they're free of all that, free to just be.

Given all that, I don't think photo class or ... scuba class or whatever will even work. A membership to a rock climbing gym might, because you can hang out there for hours with your friends, and you can always find a climb harder than what you can do -- it has that mental puzzle aspect. Plus, it's a good place to meet potential romantic interests.

Anyway, my thinking is that you guys should do a lot more talking.
posted by salvia at 9:34 PM on February 10, 2017 [2 favorites]

Relatively young person with some urbex experience / familiarity with the danglinglegsofinstagram scene:

First, this is a fascinating and creative passion your kid has found and I echo others who have noted that safety can be a byproduct of nurturing it in the right way -- offering to connect him with photography classes or First Aid certification or ACLU Know Your Rights-esque seminars. If you haven't already, I highly recommend getting him Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City by Bradley Garrett. He's the uncommon accessible academic, a brilliant writer, and unquestionably cool enough and enough of an eminence grise in the scene that I'm sure your son's attention will be hooked. The book also sneaks in both good politics and good codes of conduct for aspiring place hackers. Honestly, it might be a great read for you as well to get deeper sense of this activity. Garrett has a number of other books too, if this piques either your or his interest (and if he keeps getting grounded, you could do worse than channel that time into reading).

Second, trying to add to some of the great advice above -- communication is going to be the key here. Control will only lead him to more rebellion: he's shown a willingness to lie when he judges the consequences to be worth the experience, and I doubt that will change. However, he's not the only person you can communicate with here. My suggestions would be to ask if you can talk to the crew he is going out with (reasonable) and in a sincere way get to know them (even if it is just one sit down). Although you think of your son as mature for his age, they all definitely think of him as a younger friend, someone most social narratives will push them to want to protect. If you ask them to look out for him, and maybe get the leader to promise you -- as a mother -- to keep him safe and get him to take it slow, building up his skills steadily instead of trying to prove anything, I think that is likely to be the strongest check-and-balance you have available. Check in with them, build rapport, have hot chocolate ready or make your house a place they can hang and plan safe outings. Cape for them once or twice to outsiders, perhaps a police officer or a school administrator, in a situation where your authority as an adult can really do some good for them. Especially if there are two emancipated minors in the group, channeling your anxiety into care will go a long way. Teenage boys deliver a lot of bang for the emotional labor buck. In general, creating bonds with the tribes he runs with will make your concern seem more real when they're weighing decisions. Instead of being an abstracted parental figure, position yourself someone they care for, and someone they know cares about them. That'll change the variable of any more serious risk or rebellion.

Adding further to the asymmetrical communication approach (obviously not a replacement for talking with your son, but insurance in case like-with-almost-all-teens-that-isn't-enough), perhaps reach out to Dr. Garrett or an older explorer in the NYC scene. Go to a Meetup and ask around for someone who is willing to sit down with you and your son and go over best practices. Getting him out of just running with other teens and into situations where he can see older, more experienced people as a mentor or role model will expose him to dynamics where he is incentivized to give respect rather than mostly trying to earn respect among his peers. Any of these people (offer to pay for their coffee, or honestly to pay for their time if you think that'll help) will also know friends who were seriously injured or died. That will make an impact. Not in a scared straight way, but in a young aspiring explorer seeing the genuine emotion in someone's eyes or hearing the crack in their voice. I know as a teen that these moments of sincerity brought the most clarity. A warning from Mom will always be just a warning from Mom; a firm guidance from an experienced hand ends up being the voice in your head that keeps you from subway surfing or breaking into certain buildings or trying certain activities until your old enough. Bonus: anyone older and respected in the community will definitely highlight to your son the importance of staying sober and not having anything on you or any members of your group while place-hacking. If he's serious about this, he'll take that to heart and you'll be able to sleep knowing that while he might be trespassing, he's probably not dabbling in the other vices every teen i've ever met from Brooklyn was getting into by 16.

I hope that was helpful / not too long. He's more lucky than he realizes to have a Mom that cares enough to ask a question like this :)
posted by Chipmazing at 4:34 AM on February 11, 2017 [8 favorites]

I really think you need to talk this through with a professional and/or experienced parents of teenagers. Metafilter skews to a particular demographic that may not correspond to the kind of advice you need as a parent.
posted by yarly at 6:25 PM on February 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I think congen's very good answer might point the way here. One of the few things that I think can really counterbalance being reckless as a teenager is having responsibility. If there was any related thing (parkour or rockclimbing) where he could go to classes/lessons, but build towards being a junior instructor, summer camp counselor, that can kill two birds with one stone, giving him a community, responsible role models, safety training, structure, and (eventually) spending money.
posted by mercredi at 1:18 PM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Thank you, everyone, for your advice! I just wanted you to know where we ended up.

First of all, I really appreciate everyone's thoughtful ideas. After careful consideration, the voices telling me to get a professional opinion rang out louder, and I did indeed consult with a therapist who specializes in adolescence. His advice, essentially, was Zero Tolerance. No camera, no Instagram, no anything, do not tolerate any form of this activity, it's dangerous and kids die. Which echoed what many of you said.

So that's just what we did. We swung the hammer down, took it all away, and we're working with our son to fill the void with different activities. Leaning toward a job/volunteering/some combination, in addition to something where he learns a skill. "Keep him very, very busy," the therapist suggested. Many of your suggestions on this front were excellent.

Also: back to therapy. One thing that came from our discussions is that my son is feeling depressed and this was the "one thing" he enjoyed in his life, so we want to examine that. (And as someone who's suffered from depression/anxiety my whole life, I'm not surprised he's in that place as well. Saddened, of course, but not surprised.)

I remain so impressed and heartened with the thoughtful, kind responses from this community. I deeply appreciate all of you.
posted by brooklynlady at 7:00 AM on February 15, 2017 [3 favorites]

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