Need advice for helping 14 year old with drug problems
February 7, 2018 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Family member has a son who is 14. He’s been in trouble at school for smoking, and selling pot. After getting in trouble for selling, his parents enrolled him in a treatment program. That did not work. They sent him to an inpatient rehab center for two months, and that did nothing. Looking for any advice or options to help.

His attitude is that he is going to continue to smoke pot, and also do any other drug he can obtain. He goes to school, and is picked up by parents and comes home, he is under supervision at all times. Whatever he is doing is somehow obtained at school. At this point, whoever is providing him with drugs has not been caught. His phone has been taken away, and his computer use is supervised. He receives consequences for his actions, but there’s nothing more to take away at this point. His homelife is solid, parents are great, younger sister is honor roll student, he has access to sports & other activities, but shows no interest in anything but drugs. He is seeing counselors & therapists, yet his attitude has not changed. His grades are so bad that the only other school he can get into is one that would let him be with even mire kids that do drugs. His parents are struggling to find solutions, can anyone here offer any advice?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (45 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
As a person who struggled with drugs beginning at about that age, I think I might have benefited from going to some NA meetings. Not necessarily to work the steps, but to see what can happen to a person's life if their drug use continues. I know the whole "scared straight" concept isn't universally accepted, but it might work for some kids.
posted by sacrifix at 10:01 AM on February 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Has this kid ever gotten, you know, actual proper individual therapy, instead of woo at rehab centers? Because I would not expect this attitude from a kid this young without some serious underlying trauma there, or a mental condition he's trying to self-medicate.
posted by praemunire at 10:06 AM on February 7, 2018 [72 favorites]

It's not really about the drugs. Or at least that's not the most important part of it. It's about adults who know less than he does about drugs and are hysterical about it trying to dominate his participation in the "cool" youth culture of which he is a part. Even the getting in trouble part gives him "street cred."

So the first thing to do is to stop opposing his drug use with the argument that you (adults) know better. The actual harm his drug use causes is probably a lot less than the harm of his home having turned into a police state.

I would actually think family therapy is a better idea than individual therapy. I'm sure "His homelife is solid, parents are great, younger sister is honor roll student" is not the way homelife appears to him, and if that is the "reality" he is being forced to accept, all you'll get out of it is a power struggle.

There's no one size fits all solution to this problem so someone needs to negotiate some way through this individual case.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:20 AM on February 7, 2018 [63 favorites]

Agreed that there's some trauma that happened and he's likely trying to self-medicate. My step-sister is going through some similar stuff with her daughter, who is the same age, and they keep punishing and taking away and sending away. They need family therapy and they need to find out who traumatized this kid (childhood bullying can cause some incredible trauma that can fuck you up for a lifetime, ask me how I know) and how and why. He's not going to share it on his own and he'll probably deny it at first, but something happened to this kid. Individual therapy is important as well. They've got to stop punishing though; it likely will just push him away even further, rather than bring him back like they want.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:32 AM on February 7, 2018 [9 favorites]

This is a mental health problem, not a drug problem, and the Drug Rehab Industrial Complex is a giant scam. Additionally, it takes extraordinary skills to perform any kind of meaningful therapy with a 14-year-old and it seems like it is very hard to actually reach people with those skills, so the chances he's actually ever sat down in front of one is slim. This child has likely had almost no appropriate treatment, and inpatient programs for children are...often very popular with people who predate on vulnerable kids, so that may have been not helpful.

Healthy kids with a great home life and stable inner life don't state their intention to Do All The Drugs. They just don't. Something has happened, or something has gone awry internally, and it is entirely possible that they are facing a lifetime of management, not a cure. You can't fix this stuff with consequences.

He needs testing by an actual psychiatrist (and physical exam by a medical doctor, with bloodwork, and possible referrals to neurologist and endocrinologist) unaffiliated with any form of "program" or "center" or "outreach". Real doctors. The weed is not the problem. The parents are going to have to educate themselves hard and fast because everybody wants in their pockets and not what's best for their kid. They need training, also from an actual psychiatrist who is not selling some kind of program.

He probably needs homeschool until actual treatment is underway, working with his psychiatrist on what to do in the longer term.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:33 AM on February 7, 2018 [53 favorites]

At about the age of 14 I decided that my parents could no longer control me. They could take away whatever they wanted and it wasn't going to change my behavior. They weren't really hitters and I could let all the angry and cajoling words just roll in one ear and out the other. I ended up in individual and family therapy, but my parents' initial attitude was that they were there to fix me. It took many months for them to get the message that you don't have a crazy, uncontrollable kid without some kind of a sick family system happening. By then it was too late--I ran away at 17 and didn't return until I was 26.
posted by xyzzy at 10:34 AM on February 7, 2018 [15 favorites]

Has this kid ever gotten, you know, actual proper individual therapy, instead of woo at rehab centers?

In a similar vein, I think there can be a big difference between a therapist whose approach is "Let's talk about what's making you stressed and unhappy" and one whose approach is "Let's make you stop smoking weed" — even if both are equally qualified.

Drugs can be a coping strategy. They're in some ways a shitty one, but they still are one. And when someone feels like you're trying to take their coping strategy away, they're going to resist. So if that's what's going on here, step 1 is not "Convince Kid that drugs are bad," it's "Offer Kid some help with whatever non-drug stuff it is that they're struggling to cope with."
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:35 AM on February 7, 2018 [29 favorites]

Start by finding out what's really going on in the home, because something for damn sure isn't as "perfect" as you're stating.
posted by stormyteal at 10:37 AM on February 7, 2018 [28 favorites]

I’m sorry he’s going though this, and it’s good you are asking. This sentence really stood out to me: “younger sister is honor roll student,” as if this is some kind of reasoning why he shouldn’t be doing drugs that you and his parents have. I gently suggest that all of you may be really out of touch with reality in this situation.
posted by Vaike at 10:48 AM on February 7, 2018 [36 favorites]

I always, always recommend this book, Beyond Addiction, for the parents to get behind what's really driving this behavior. It could really be useful to change perspective.

Also really helpful is the Parents' 20 Minute Guide by the same authors.

(disclosure: I work for a addiction-related organization that works with the authors occasionally. Memail me if you need more help.)
posted by knownassociate at 10:57 AM on February 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

I agree with everyone who has said that the drugs are a symptom, not cause of the problems, and that good individual and family therapy is essential. I, too, am concerned that he is being labeled as the problem child when, in reality, he may be a mirror or window into deeper issues in the family. (No one is perfect and everyone -- and every parent -- can use extra support and fresh perspectives.) The sister is probably hurting, too -- she surely loves her brother but, in addition to worry, may resent him for the attention he is receiving as well as the pressure on her to be the "perfect" child in comparison.

What I see right now is a teen who has no agency or autonomy and may feel very abandoned and unloved. I'm not saying that this is what is family thinks at all but this is what he likely is experiencing. I did my senior year of high school (not related to drugs but a similar outcome in how my family treated me) and it did long-term emotional damage that I've only recently been able to repair. What would have helped me is having had my parents tell me they love me in the morning, afternoon, and night. I especially wish they had offered me hugs, which I might have pushed away but desperately wanted so much -- eventually I would have given in and it would have been a huge acknowledgement and step for all of us. The parents can be frustrated and firm but also loving and compassionate at the same time. I can imagine they are at wit's end and my heart goes out to them, too.

The son gets shuttled around, was separated from his family and forced into settings that may have added to his trauma, and now has so little left in terms of independence and choice. He's got hopes and dreams but right now feels so overwhelmed and sad that drugs feel like his only option -- and the only thing he can control. I think taking away the phone, etc. was the right choice for now but there are other ways to give options and empower him. Get the physical and psychological health looked at first and foremost, and then take it from there. Give him easy choices like "Son, we're going on a ten-minute walk after dinner. Would you like to take X street or Y street?" Ask him to help with little projects around the house that you can do together, like changing the batteries in the smoke detectors, and praise him gently for his hard work and contributions. He'll feel more like an adult and appreciate being seen as a family helper rather than hinderance. If he and his sister are on good terms and you feel comfortable, give them the chance to do small things together like pick up a few items at the supermarket or get coffee together while a parents waits in the car.

I'm sorry this is so difficult for everyone involved. I think there is a lot of potential for good and growth but it's as much as the parents changing their attitudes and behaviors as it is encouraging the son to do so himself. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 11:17 AM on February 7, 2018 [14 favorites]

He goes to school, and is picked up by parents and comes home, he is under supervision at all times

Everybody who I've ever known who's received this treatment has indeed gone on to Do All The Drugs, even those who were escorted to Provo Canyon School by a couple of BYU linebackers in the middle of the night.
posted by rhizome at 11:24 AM on February 7, 2018 [35 favorites]

One other thing I’ve noticed with ‘sports/honor roll/mainstream’ families is that there is not much room for being ‘different’. Kids that march to their own drum in these families can absolutely feel that they don’t fit in, but may not be able to put that into words, or even recognize it in themselve, therefore feel rejected just because of ‘inside the box’ expectations. Acting/art/freedom of self expression without judgement and with support/like minded creatives can help them feel less alone.
posted by Vaike at 11:40 AM on February 7, 2018 [14 favorites]

I don't agree that drugs are a priori a symptom of The Real Problem, fwiw. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't.
posted by thelonius at 11:42 AM on February 7, 2018 [9 favorites]

What stood out to me was the part where you said his home life is solid and his parents are great. My sister and I were emotionally abused/neglected as kids. From the outside though, we looked like a perfect happy family. No one, not even my parents closest family or friends, knew the truth. I mean to this day my parents seem amazing, to outsiders. As part of coping, I threw myself into school and became honor roll student, near the top of my class. My sister went the drugs/cutting herself route. We both were basically traumatized from our childhoods and we’re both still dealing with that today.

My point is, I think it’s wise to question your assumptions here. In my experience, adults don’t often ask kids and teens what they want, how they feel, etc., they just try to assert control which makes things worse. If my parents had just tried to get to know me more, were more affectionate and compassionate, things may have turned out different for me and my sister.

I wish you luck- this is such a tough situation.
posted by FireFountain at 12:02 PM on February 7, 2018 [54 favorites]

My sister was exactly like this growing up. FWIW, family therapy did not help; we're all a pretty strong-willed bunch, :) and all we did was scream at each other in the therapist's office and accomplished nothing.

Yes, find out exactly why he wants to self-medicate. In my family, there was no blatantly obvious bullying or physical abuse; it turned out that she has sort-of bipolar and hypoglycemia, and is just generally an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person; I have this too). Once she started eating what/when she needed to eat, without my mother forcing certain foods and food times on her, and once she started doing yoga and other forms of self-care (she's majorly into NVC), she didn't need to try the drugs anymore. She's 50 now, and still has issues (she needs to see my mother very little and can get stressed at the drop of a pin), but is much happier and knows what she needs to do for herself to stay calm.

If the mental illness is more serious, of course, things get trickier. Many people with schizophrenia or other illnesses use drugs to self-medicate, and also can be in denial about their illness and resist treatment.

If he finds what is causing his pain and recognizes it, it can be managed. Perhaps not removed, but managed.
posted by sockerpup at 12:05 PM on February 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

Rehab is unfortunately the wrong route: place person with drug issues into a group of people who all have drug issues, few of which want to be there or quit. It's easier to gain access drugs in rehab centres than anywhere else actually. I would suggest not sending him there again at least, he'll just make more unwanted connections if anything.
posted by OnefortheLast at 12:28 PM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

The more strict, rigid, cutting him off from anything that isn't school or them they become, the more creative he will become about drug use (and the less concerned he will be with safety - this is how my brother escalated to huffing paint and taking "homemade" lsd). The whole family has to change their thinking on this. Kids don't self medicate with drugs to this degree because they're bored or defiant. Something is wrong, there's a giant fire somewhere and his parents are just spraying febreeze on the smoke.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 12:36 PM on February 7, 2018 [26 favorites]

His parents are not "great" because their son is struggling severely with a mental health issue and their only solution is to send him away from his family and then punish him. (If I was never allowed to leave my house, use my computer without supervision or have a phone I would be extremely bored, isolated, resentful and miserable, which kind of makes me want to do all the drugs too.) "Consequences" are absolutely not an effective treatment for substance abuse issues and that's amply demonstrated by scientific evidence.

I have a close relative who demonstrated extremely similar behaviors at that age. His parents also said they were great and his home life was fine (indeed, he even had a sibling who got straight As) but they absolutely weren't and it very much wasn't. The thing is that abusers lie. And that's not even getting into the fact that trauma and abuse can originate outside the home, from the many authority figures that kids encounter in their lives.

Any solution to this issue needs to start with honesty about what's really going on, with this kid and with his family. You can't solve the problem without being honest about the underlying issues.
posted by the turtle's teeth at 12:42 PM on February 7, 2018 [27 favorites]

Our family therapist once told me that the main goal for teenagers is to get them those years alive. Everything else is not as urgent as it seems to parents ... it’s hard but it makes sense.
Some education for him about harm reduction might be good, and long term family therapy - not because his family is “bad” but because addiction is a family issue that affects all relationships.
posted by SyraCarol at 1:12 PM on February 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

Pop/modern culture has unfortunately greatly idealized drug culture. Just think how many series on netflix even glorify the lifestyle. I agree with several of the above posters, this is perhaps a time to get real with the kid: do you have any relatives or family friends that have had struggles with drugs who he respects that can speak frankly and openly with him about what that lifestyle is really like? (I have similarly aged childred who despite attending an inner city school, having extenuating life struggles and mental health issues, and friends who use, had chosen sobriety simply for having had so many real life addicts in our lives to make their own conclusions upon. Not saying this method is infailable or without it's flaws, but it's working for us.)
And i know this opinion may be highly controversial, but we live in a heavy drug culture area, and we(myself and co-parent) apply a no judgement/no lies policy; if anyone in the family uses drugs/alcohol, we tell each other and speak openly about it. There are no punishments but there are always unavoidable life consequences . The boy here needs to be taught the difference.
Another poster recognized NA meetings. I think that's a great idea, one of the parents could attend with him and they could go for a coffee/drive/dinner after to talk about it. He could also benefit from the sponsor/mentor relationship available through that far more than an indifferent/inexperienced counselor.
Also realize that for some kids it's not at all about mental health/self medicating etc. it's often a rebellion/independence thing possibly against feeling poweless in life agaist (excessive even?)authority figures, and not feeling or being accepted amongst family for whatever reason, being an outcast/black sheep/scapegoat etc., and finding "family"/community/acceptance/inclusion and a feeling of importance or empowerment though the drug community.
I even know of some families who've had success (again a controversial stance to take) with having a policy that if a minor is to use, they at least have to do it at home where the parents know they are safe.
Failing all of that, I do personally know of some adults who've at least avoided worse additions resulting from heavy teenaged use/culture by their parents helping them obtain legal prescriptions to the drug in which they were legitimately selfmedicating with, so have those mental health assessments done just sure that's not the catalyst.
One last thing, find out where you can obtain a Naloxone kit locally, many comnunties provide them free of charge. Have them take their son to pick it up, discuss what it's for, and the importance of keeping it accessable to himself and his friends. This isn't a "scare straight" tactic, it's real life drug culture, and he needs to know and see all of that, not just what he sees on netflix/movies, so *he* can make a fully informed choice about *his* drug use.
posted by OnefortheLast at 1:13 PM on February 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

They sent their kid to rehab for pot? That was never going to do anything but escalate his drug use. (What I learned at rehab: how to beat a drug test. I mean, I learned other things that were more beneficial to my recovery but that is clearly not this kid.)

What drugs are we talking about here? Because tightening up everything isn't working; I'd be terrified, but I'd be looking at the actual pitfalls of loosening up.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:17 PM on February 7, 2018 [29 favorites]

He is seeing counselors & therapists, yet his attitude has not changed.

Not all therapists are the same and sometimes it takes awhile to find the best match. Individual therapy would be helpful, but only if he trusts that the therapist isn't just an expensive snitch that will go right back to the parents with new ammunition to be used against him.

The send to repeated rehab plan along with the lock-down that has him supervised and isolated all the time isn't the best approach. If this is a plan put in place by a family therapist who is working with the parents, I'd also get a new family therapist who isn't putting into motion a plan that is making everything worse.
posted by quince at 1:18 PM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

Punishment is not a very effective way to change people's behavior. If these parents want to get their son to change, they need to stop focusing on punishing him for bad behavior and start learning new parenting techniques.

Parent Management Training is an evidenced based approach that parents can use to improve the behavior of their children. The goal may be to remove undesirable behavior, but the process does not involve punishing occurrences of the bad behavior. Instead, it focuses on reinforcing (rewarding) alternative behaviors that are incompatible with the undesirable behavior.

There are many family therapists around the US who can provide support and training for families in this technique.

It can be very hard for parents to get out of the habit of punishing their children. It feels right at a primal level. It feels like it should work. But unfortunately, punishment doesn't work. I'd encourage this boys parents to get some help with parent management training so they can begin helping their son.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 1:19 PM on February 7, 2018 [9 favorites]

They sent their kid to rehab for pot? That was never going to do anything but escalate his drug use.

Oh wait what, did i miss that? Is this about marijuana? Because guaranteed he was made fun of and subject to much peer humiliation for being in rehab over pot, amd possibly even pushed into harder stuff as a result.
If this is only about pot, the parents maybe need to be the ones getting informed/educated here. Ask a Canadian: it is NOT a "gateway drug." 1/3 of us use. And we acquire it legally from our doctor. And we're not so sure what our southern neighbors (who used to have a booming hemp industry) "war on drugs" is all about considering it's relative ineffectiveness.
posted by OnefortheLast at 1:22 PM on February 7, 2018 [18 favorites]

Sorry for posting so many times, but you mentioned also that he was selling. Does he have access to his own money/allowance or is this the only way he has to acquire spending cash for himself and way to decide upon how it is spent. The parents seem overly controlling by your description so I thought I'd bring that up.
posted by OnefortheLast at 1:36 PM on February 7, 2018 [8 favorites]

He needs individual therapy. If someone goes to rehab for's just a joke...and that's how it's treated. A one on one alcohol and drug counselor might really be his best bet.
posted by Amalie-Suzette at 1:43 PM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

The problem isn't going to rehab for pot, which can 100% be a drug of abuse/dependance, it's forcing him to go to rehab when he doesn't want to be sober/drug-free, which almost never works (except for draining bank accounts).
posted by thelonius at 1:47 PM on February 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

His attitude is that he is going to continue to smoke pot, and also do any other drug he can obtain.

If he's actually said this, I'd be entertaining the distinct possibility that he is saying words that mean "I am incredibly pissed off at my parents" and not necessarily "I am actually intending to do literally any other drug I can obtain". I've had friends with serious drug problems. I've had a friend who died of a drug problem. Even they generally weren't out to just put substances indiscriminately into their bodies. I'm sure there are kids who do that, but there are more kids who say inflammatory stuff to their parents and therapists because they're unhappy and angry than there are who genuinely intend to jump from pot to doing meth and heroin as quickly as humanly possible.

People seem to often take teenagers ridiculously literally considering teenagers themselves talk with their hearts as much (often more than) their brains. It's not a matter of not listening, just--reading between the lines is necessary. He might wind up doing other drugs, but geez, can you remember being a teenager? At least a little bit? Were you a baby Spock, at the time? Because I was a bundle of raw nerves at the best of times. This is not to say that he's not doing some incredibly stupid things, here, but that doesn't make it make sense that he just got here from nowhere and is doing this for no reason and that he genuinely is suddenly interested in zero other things in the universe besides drugs. If you start from those assumptions, you're going to get to a bunch of wrong ideas about how to proceed, and it's not like I don't think he has real problems, but I'm having a hard time blaming him for being livid at this stage, if this is how well people are listening.
posted by Sequence at 3:07 PM on February 7, 2018 [12 favorites]

Motivation is also a problem with therapy, especially with tweens/teens who maybe aren't especially introspective even internally, much less out loud to an adult, probably ten times worse if they've been raised in toxic masculinity culture. Even a kid self-aware enough to know they're miserable and would like some assistance is still going to blank-stare an adult asking them to talk about how they feel.

Meaningful therapy with kids is more like training or coaching, with some interviewing and sometimes even performative exercises. And kids keep their secrets hard. Where an adult might actually feel some kind of internal pressure to eventually tell the hard or terrible thing, kids don't know that that helps sometimes and they will hang on to the terrible thing - whether it's a generalized case of not feeling like they're good at stuff or almost unimaginable trauma - even without being threatened or instructed to hide it. They just don't let it out, because then Everyone Will Know, and That Will Be Bad. It's even worse, obviously, if there's explicit threats, but just as a kid knowing that if you tell the thing, someone's likely going to get in trouble - be it a shitty teacher or sub-optimal parent or an actual crime that has been committed - and it's going to be all your fault, that's a terrible burden.

Which is why a huge aspect of this is training the parents to parent them through this stuff. The parents need help, and there's nothing wrong with needing help and getting it, because there's no manual and some of this stuff is too hard to guess your way through. They're going to need to take more action than waiting for someone else to fix this for them.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:59 PM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

The family message "everything is fine" is incredibly damaging for any individual within that system that didn't drink that koolaid.

It is also possible that their reaction to his normal adolescent desire for increased Independence and autonomy has made this so much worse than necessary. This is a power struggle and the sooner he is heard as a unique individual with a valid position within the family system and given some sense of respect, the sooner they can at least relax the power struggle aspect of this problem.

I wouldn't say that wanting to smoke pot, falling in with the wrong crowd and rebelling against limits necessarily means that there's some major deeper problem beyond the problem of adolescence, but hearing a family message that everything is great throws up a flag football me because that's also the environment that creates cutters, anorexics, and kids that fail out of school on purpose.
posted by crunchy potato at 4:11 PM on February 7, 2018 [7 favorites]

Er, throws up a flag to me, unrelated to football.
posted by crunchy potato at 4:18 PM on February 7, 2018

He needs an adult he can trust. That might be a therapist, a doctor, a teacher, a relative - doesn't matter; he needs someone who he believes is on his side. A therapist who takes the approach, "hey, what's got you so upset?" might be that person; a therapist who starts with "tell me why you're taking drugs so I can convince you to stop" will not be.

He knows that some of his decisions are stupid. He needs access to someone who believes he should be allowed to make some stupid decisions. He needs to be able to negotiate which decisions are too stupid (or rather: too stupid to be allowed right now, because in four years, nobody else gets to make those decisions for him).

Odds are, he tried pot because it was "cool," and decided that he liked it, and also, he failed to instantly turn into a shambling, mumbling, pathetic dropout, so some of what he'd been told about it was wrong. (Whether or not his parents told him that, it's definitely the message pushed in a lot of media.) He's trying to figure out how many other lies he's been told--and having his already limited rights curtailed for testing his limits isn't going to persuade him that he's on the wrong track.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:27 PM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think this kid needs therapy but not at all for any reason suggested. Let me tell you why, though I heavily suspect the parent won't "hear" it since they're adamantly approaching this from a place of attempting to control him in every way possible:

This family has a clear dysfunctional "golden child vs. rotten child" dynamic going on. That, and they are entirely obvious to the workings of drug/gang culture.

This poor kid has been slapped with the "bad" label in every which way possible. He's bad at school, badly behaved, and has a bad attitude.  He receives affirmation of.this in the form of contstant punishment and revokement of rights and privileges. Does he get any attention that is not negative? Or is that reserved for his sister only. 

You have a near-adult teeneger who is actually very smart and capable but in ways that his FOO(family of origin) does not recognize or approve of. He, as an individual, has desires for himself and his life and future. These include climbing a social hierarchy, a position of power and influence, essentially "running and managing a small business", and approval from peers or social/family unit, and perhaps even a lot of money/financial freedom. He's not afraid of anything, punishment/consequences/law/rejection from family/conventional social structures and consistently acts against being controlled. He wants to direct his own life and make his own choices.

But his foo want him to be different. Different like his sister? But not not himself.

Now you have a kid who's been supplied with drugs to sell at school.  He's displayed his <em>loyalty</em> to that person above all others in his life by not ratting them out. He took the fall for that and will recieve recognition and reward from that. He will be granted additional privileges and rights within that family or hierarchy for this. Ie. He just earned some heavy street cred for this.

This family has done everything possible to push his away from a connection with his real family and right into this new "family", that acknowledges his personal strengths, accepts him, and rewards him. It is possible even that his bad grades are a deliberate tactic to ensure he attends a school with these people.

The only thing this family can "do" is embrace radical acceptance for their child who has, in their eyes, clearly failed their very rigid expectations of him, who he should be and how he lives his life. They can work hard through family therapy to reestablish a real relationship with their son, ditch the idea of policing him or molding him to their image, and acknowledge his very apparent strengths and life skills.  They can listen to what  *he wants* and help him develop a (legal) plan to obtain his goals, and support and encourage him in this.....

 or they can watch from the sidelines as they "lose" their son to people who do want a and accept him, and are looking for kids just like him to take on these positions, and they can feel sorry for themselves for "trying everything" and "failing" to raise 2 golden children and have the perfect all-american dream family.

But...they will likely reject any or all of this perspective as a definition of "enabling."

So, take with a grain of salt. But I've lived on both sides of the track and so I've been able to adapt to a wider perspective that includes helping all people thrive within their potential, however that may look, without much judgement.
I don't think this kid is bad at all, I think bad parenting has made him feel that he is bad and so he finds acceptance/approval with the "bad kids" and that's probably the only place he gets to feel good about himself for not being just like his "good" sister.
posted by OnefortheLast at 5:12 PM on February 7, 2018 [12 favorites]

Residential treatment centers are another longer term option for minors, versus rehab.
posted by Juliet Banana at 5:49 PM on February 7, 2018

His homelife is solid,

ha, he said this, did he? because if he didn't tell you this, you have no grounds for saying it, and if he did tell you himself, well, addicts lie.

for one thing I predict his sister will hate him in time if she doesn't yet. that's part of his home life. the supposition above that she must of course love him, whatever her other feelings, is 100 percent projection and imagination, just like my own previous sentence. both imagined scenarios are possible, but they're not equally likely. and if good grades reflect intelligence -- they don't always, but they can -- she might be doing plenty of drugs or other crimes in her own free time, but have the smarts and the desire to be private about it. good girl/bad boy is a classic, classic sibling dynamic and it is nearly always a mental construct manufactured by parents to have an excuse to ignore the girl and punish the boy. idealistic children, especially good girls, try to resist this effort to set siblings against each other, but it is hard to hold out as an ally when your sibling collaborates in the family effort to make him and his problems the central fact of family life.

for another thing, his garbage grades are more important to his life and future than the amount of marijuana he infuses into his body. Was he incapable of good grades his whole life, or just recently? presumably parents involved enough to think of rehab would have had him evaluated for learning disabilities if the former, but if not --? and did he start taking drugs a long time ago, or just recently? do they know? 14 is young to be this heavily into it, but not scary young. unless he started when he was 11 or 12, and it took getting caught by school authorities for his parents to notice.

is this a logical situation for him to be in when you/they think about what his personality was like as a little boy and as a pre-adolescent? fourteen is a lot of years to be absolutely without hobbies or interests in life, most kids have one or two. was there any fast personality change in him other than puberty? parents who would send a kid to rehab for pot are not likely to have noticed a traumatic event that didn't happen right in front of them, so the answer to this may not be obvious. but they ought to think about it.

even if he doesn't have non-drug interests, does he have any empathy or enthusiasm for anybody? not his family, I mean, he's 14. but anybody -- pets, friends, distant relations. has he got friends at all? no phone and "under supervision at all times" out of school makes it sound like he is not permitted to have friends, as a parental policy. if he doesn't have any now, did he ever?

this is not a solid home life. maybe his parents are nice people who mean well and his sister keeps her rage to herself. that's not the same thing.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:44 PM on February 7, 2018 [13 favorites]

His homelife is solid, parents are great, younger sister is honor roll student, he has access to sports & other activities, but shows no interest in anything but drugs. He is seeing counselors & therapists, yet his attitude has not changed[...]

I don't know how much of this the parents have told you word for word, and how much you have just gathered. But the fact that they are projecting this narrative outside the immediate family, to me says everything about why this kid is acting out like it's his job. Because it is his job; he's the designated black sheep/lightning rod/whatever of the family now. The story they are creating about him is so incredibly negative. It's sadly very common, and it's not a situation where people can simply recognize what's going on and put a stop to it.

In addition to what has already been said about looking to what else is going on in the family, I would ask if there is any way you can be a support to him. Is there some way you get talk to him and give him a sense of being seen?

Also, has anyone suggested Alanon or Nar-anon? I'd be kind of surprised if no one has, but maybe you could all go together. Blaming the parents for this stuff is not going to help now; it will just make them defensive. But seeing how common this problem is might help.
posted by BibiRose at 9:01 PM on February 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

rehab for pot is also, in addition to being deeply silly to anyone not the involuntarily incarcerated pothead, really beside the point. getting high is not necessarily a step down the road to ruin: being a dealer could be. another serious problem is being so uninterested in success even as a drug dealer that you don't have the basic impulse control or self-awareness to realize that lying to your parents about your intentions is a good idea and kind of a prerequisite for everything, if you want to keep on drugging it up.

this kid seems, maybe just because he's 14 and high all the time, pretty dense. what I mean is if all he wanted out of life was to do as many drugs as possible, he wouldn't say so! Knowing what false front to put on so your parents leave you alone is a skill a real addict would be busily studying up on right now. as you tell it, he hasn't even tried.

this suggests that drug abuse is not his primary problem or motivation, even/especially if he says it is. a desire to be in trouble, a hatred of being seen to obey, maybe a desire to be martyred, maybe just the total inability to delay gratification even if it means going without drugs in the long run. but his desire to say Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me is stronger than his desire to get high. putting on a show of reform is easy, the first five times at least. that he won't or can't do this says something. I don't know what, but that's what they should be working on understanding. they need to figure it out before he grows up enough to figure out that skipping school is a thing. again, it's pretty remarkable that he hasn't already.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:22 PM on February 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

First off as many others have stated you don't know his home life.

Secondly, his sisters success could also be an indicator that things are wrong, many families have the dynamic of the child perfectionist with the sibling rebel and both are forms of coping with crippling anxiety, self loathing and doubt.

My family had this dynamic (I being the perfectionist) and my brother the polysubstance user. He started about that age as well and many people would have written that our family was fine.

We weren't talking. When In started talking as an adult, and my brother started taking as an adult it became very very clear how truely fucked up everything was.

14 is fairly young for drug treatment admission as well which is a red flag.

Many people here have started great advice.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:33 PM on February 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

I used to work with kids like this. The problem was ALWAYS the "solid" family. The child was a symptom, because some kids are terrible at pretending everything is alright. They need family therapy, and child might need to stay with friend/relative to help reduce his own stress.
posted by Toddles at 9:56 PM on February 7, 2018 [6 favorites]

This question reminded me of that episode of Black Mirror where the mum installs an observation chip in the daughter, and all the reasons it was a bad idea.

I feel like this perfectly unremarkable, (even run of the mill and expected) teen smoking pot stuff has been blown out of all proportion by overly strict, dramatic parents (sending you to rehab for that!! omfg how ridiculous and what an embarrassment) who are driving 90% of this behaviour. He must be able to make his own choices, some of which are not the most optimal. But the sky cannot be falling down because he smoked a few joints or had sex or made any of the other totally normal choices millions of teenagers make every day. All the reactions are so outlandishly out of proportion, no wonder he's pushing back. He is not allowed friends because of this? He can't watch Youtube or text people now? He's had to change schools because his parents freaked out over pot? He has an adult escort to and from school because of this? Do you see how his parent's behaviour looks totally bonkers from the outside?

14-18 you do not really 'control' kids as such. Not like this, or anything like this degree. As you can see, it is not really possible, and the extra control and punishments drive his need to break out of their suffocating grasp in ways that more effectively relieve the unbearable level of constriction. Frankly under these conditions I'd be going stir crazy and I'm sure would be acting out way worse.

This is not a good family dynamic. His sister is the golden child and he's the black sheep they all hate and punish? This is not a 'solid family', eek.

If these parents really want to help their son (but I think he fulfills the role of whipping boy they seem to need, so I'm not hopeful), they will seek the alternative parenting skills mentioned above. If not, he has to wait 4 long years to leave and I am not optimistic about his wellbeing, or his relationship with his parents long term.
posted by everydayanewday at 10:01 PM on February 7, 2018 [4 favorites]

smoked a few joints

he was (allegedly) dealing, not just smoking, and that is in fact a bad thing and a thing a reasonable parent might punish. rehab is both silly and stupid and completely irrelevant to any of the real problems (dealing and failing school) and probably harmful. taking away all his entertainment sources and expecting him not to entertain himself with drugs, the only fun thing left, is stupid.

but treating a problem as a problem isn't scapegoating this boy. Grounding a 14-year-old isn't bonkers. 14 is also still well young enough to be a kid, not a virtual adult; it's very far from 18. he's acting like a kid, not like someone approaching autonomy. he hasn't got the first clue about how to get away with petty fun crimes; he is not functioning well as a delinquent, never mind as a good and proper trophy son.

most of the stuff all through the comments about the sister being the "golden child" to whom he must be constantly compared, is imagined and was not in the question. it's all fanciful embroidery on the single stated fact that she does her homework. this is why I said I bet she hates him, or will soon. because this is not only the kind of story some parents tell about their kids, it's the kind of story a self-centered teen tells himself and everybody else about why he's always in trouble (JUST BECAUSE I sold some drugs and failed all my classes, man!) and my sister never is (JUST BECAUSE she didn't do that stuff). just as plausible to imagine she's completely ignored and treated as a nonentity because the only way to be the center of attention is to be in terrible trouble. with all of the chauffeuring and constant monitoring of her brother the parents are doing, how much capacity is left over to take her places, or think about her at all? everything the parents are doing to their son is also impacting their daughter.

the basic principle I go by is that getting high all the time in high school is no big deal if -- IF -- the kid has the basic caution, self-preservation instincts, and ability to plan that will keep them from getting caught. the inability to be covert about it is a sign, the sign, that you can't handle it. (see: his supplier, who in fact has not gotten caught.) this kid doesn't have that. he may or may not even want to get away with it. he has got objective problems other than bad family life, even if bad family life triggered all the rest of them.

anyway the parents need to have some kind of clear and specific plan for how he can earn back his phone and computer, and it has to be something realistic that he will do. if they can't come up with anything, they should just give them back with an apology. if he seriously did announce out loud that all he cares about is drugs, his life is just going to be drugs drugs drugs, perhaps this is the kind of family where nobody can back down and admit they did a dumb thing they shouldn't have. perfect opportunity for the parents to model gracefully rethinking and reforming. monitor his communications if they must, but depriving him of mental stimulation is obviously going to drive him towards drugs, not away from them.

edit: totally missed that the fact his supplier wasn't identified must be because this kid wouldn't turn them in. this is the one positive virtue reported about him and his loyalty ought to be noted, even if it is a hassle for the grown-ups. he has got something going for him after all.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:42 AM on February 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Getting caught may have simply been a deliberate step. Generally speaking a lower-level can/will go though several phases of being tested before being trusted with larger quantities, harder drugs, or a more proflic "job", including their addiction potential/personal usage, loyalty, ratting, how they hold up in court, rehab, juvie etc.
The worst thing the parents can do in this case is team up with the school and try to identify the supplier. This puts the kid in obvious danger and potentially sets him up for a lifetime of dealing for the cops as an informant.
I'm not saying this is going on for certain, it's most likely a case of just a kid purchasing a larger quantity for himself and reselling to gain cool points or friends at school, but it is a possibility to be aware of.
Totally on board with the points about entertainment though, get this kid something to DO other than drugs asap!!
posted by OnefortheLast at 12:24 PM on February 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Was he really caught "selling," or did he get caught handing some pot to someone else, or was someone busted by their parents and the kid said your family member sold it to them?
posted by rhizome at 12:27 PM on February 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Selling" is so often one person picks up for the friend group and collects the money. Yes sometimes it's going through a strict gang system, but most of the time it's just logistics.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 12:45 PM on February 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

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