Help me with my teenage son
June 9, 2007 7:16 PM   Subscribe

Help me help my troubled son.

Here's the scenario. He's sixteen, and two weeks before the end of the school year, he dropped out of high school. This was his sophomore year, and through it and the preceding year he earned a total of 2.5 credits due to his failure to attend classes, turn in his work, or make any kind of effort. This is not an unintelligent boy - he frequently scores in the 99th percentile on intelligence tests and passed the state's high school exit exam on his first try during his freshman year.

Before he dropped out, and against my better judgment, my wife and I allowed him to get his drivers license, hoping that would be enough of an enticement that he would do better in school, the reward for which would be time behind the wheel. He did better for a few weeks, and then went right back to failing grades and skipping class, so I took his car privileges away. Less than a week later, we caught him sneaking back into the house after taking the car during the middle of the night. I was extremely angry and kicked him out of the house for what I saw as car theft, although my wife did not agree with me on this point. A few days later he came back, apologetic, and asked to stay. We agreed that he could, as long as he obeyed the rules of the house. That was about three weeks ago, and he was doing pretty well. His attitude had improved, and he was for the most part getting along with his siblings and us.

Then, this morning at 3:30, my wife discovered he was gone again, with the car, apparently using a spare key he had made in secret.

Needless to say, we are extremely disappointed and angry, and don't know what we can do with him. We can't trust him to obey the rules, and we can't allow him to be out at all hours doing whatever it is he's doing while we're supposed to be responsible for him.

He has expressed interest in the Job Corps program, but I am concerned that his lack of respect for authority and inability to follow rules will only get him into more trouble there, especially since the daily regimen is much more structured and restrictive than the rules we have in our household. On the other hand, if he successfully completes the program, I could see it as being a huge step towards being a responsible adult.

My questions are directed to those who either were like him, or had children like this, and have had experience with Job Corps or similar programs. Did you find that they were beneficial? Did you find later that there was something else you could have done that would have been more beneficial? Is there another course of action we should be considering?

If you wish, you can email me at

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (46 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I had a best friend just like your son. Smartest person I know. Dumbest when it came to staying out of trouble and being motivated.

He joined the marines. They squared him away real tight. He went to college, got an MBA and eventually went to OCS. He finally left the marines as a Captain and is now an investment banker for a large well known bank and living on the beach in LA.

There is hope. I do not know much about the Job Corps, but a structured program will do wonders. I assume the Job Corps is not required and they will kick him out rather than fight him. I recommend the military. Or, send him on some sort of Outward bound month long survival course.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:37 PM on June 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's a shame you can't respond because you haven't really given enough information. Your description reads as though you think of him as a subject or subordinate unit. If you exhibit towards him as little concern for the psychology prompting these self destructive behaviors as you do in your description then you will never help him. You are looking to fix what you perceive as a problem rather than addressing the underlying cause. The cause could be home life -- are your cold, demanding, judgmental, or over baring? Do you think in terms of discipline, responsibility, and obligation? -- it could be his life outside the home -- who are his friends? does he have places to explore his interests in the company of like minded peers? Do you live in the middle of no where with good schools but nothing to do? And so on. -- you have to talk to him rather than dictate to him. He is unhappy and acting on that unhappiness and rather than trying to teach him constructive ways to seek happiness you are punishing him.

I could be completely wrong but you've given no useful information. He disobeys, has 'borrowed' your car, and he resents your authority. He's a teenager. Far more troubling is the not uncommon to intelligent youths pattern of self destructive choices such as dropping out of school.

As a final note. It is a good thing that he doesn't respect authority. It will make his life far more difficult (I know) but he will retain his self respect. The second you bow your head to another for no reason other than social and/or economic custom you are diminished as an individual. A strong personality and a keen mind generally perceive too readily the truth of this and the absolute absurdity of a society that values obedience, conformance, and externally imposed restraint. Help him learn to restrain himself out of self interest rather than breaking him to external restraints imposed ostensibly in his own best interest but really in the interest of his parents/bosses/government. Help him see that if he reaches the decision to act in a manner that is beneficial to himself and that action happens to agree with what others are asking of him he gets to do what is best for him and trick those around him into thinking he is a good little drone. That false perception will aid him when his own best interests do put him in opposition to those around him. If you have a response my email is in my profile, use your account and I'll post it on your behalf.
posted by Grod at 7:40 PM on June 9, 2007 [17 favorites]

The mods can also post replies for you.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:48 PM on June 9, 2007

I am not sure where you live, but I suggest you look for an alternative high school for your son. Many of them allow students to earn high school credits through internships, which sounds like something your son could be enthusiastic about.
posted by milarepa at 8:05 PM on June 9, 2007

Is there another course of action we should be considering?

You don't mention drugs and/or alcohol as possible reasons for and/or influences on his current behavior. While a drug problem might not be the reason your son is having trouble, it is clearly a problem for many kids his age that display these sorts of behaviors. First step is to rule this problem in or out of the equation.

Assuming there is no problem of that sort ... Job Corps is not where you want to be. It's an underfunded federal program geared toward inner-city youth with zero effective family support.

You'll be much better off with a school-district, county- or state-oriented occupational program or alternative high school. Your school will be able to help you there.

And there's always the military, but they'll a) require a GED and b) won't take a 16-year-old (17-year-old, with your permission). But you can get the GED through your school district's alternative high school programs.

My personal suggestion ... Coast Guard. Tell him to go rescue people for a living.
posted by frogan at 8:11 PM on June 9, 2007

Some structure might be just what this kid needs.

Alternatively, is it possible he might have autism?
posted by Maia at 8:34 PM on June 9, 2007

If you kick him out of the house he's REALLY going to get into trouble. Very bad things happen to homeless kids, even boys.

Let him stay but make him get a full time job (preferably a physically demanding one) and pay rent, car insurance and his phone bill if he's not in school. Start treating him like an adult- more respect and autonomy but also more responsibilities and bill$. Maybe he could make dinner for the family two days a week and in exchange for the use of your car a couple nights, he is responsible for taking his younger siblings to and from their activities (a task which made me want to give my driver's license back as a teen). He'll probably be happy to go back to being a kid in no time at all ;) and if he never does return to school at least he'll have a trade he can support himself with and some cooking skills and won't be living under a brdige, eating dirt with a bunch of crackheads.
posted by fshgrl at 8:44 PM on June 9, 2007 [4 favorites]

Uh, there seems to be absolutely no evidence of any significant indicators of autism in the question.

I agree with the others (except for Grod). Sounds like he needs discipline badly. Have you considered a private school or something? The Marines could undoubtedly whip him into shape but he's too young and right now that's a good way to get shot overseas.
posted by Justinian at 8:45 PM on June 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Or, send him on some sort of Outward bound month long survival course.

I don't know about outward bound, but kids do occasionally die at those "survival" camps.
posted by delmoi at 8:45 PM on June 9, 2007

I was one of those 99th percentile kids. I made it through high school, but that's because I graduated early. I didn't make it through college. 13 years later, I have a great job, a position of responsibility, a wonderful family, and even command a decent salary.

When I was in school, I chafed against poorly planned lessons, badly written multiple choice tests, and foolish administrative decisions on the part of the faculty. I enjoyed being with friends, but I got nothing out of being in the classes. I could get everything taught each semester by spending a few hours reading through the textbooks on my own -- and the textbooks weren't very good.

Now, that's a common refrain, right? It's the lament of every teen. The problem is, it's actually true. If teachers and administration continually provide sub-par education, it's pretty hard to respect authority. You may want your son to respect blindly, but honestly, do his teachers necessarily deserve respect? Is his school district actually providing a friendly and challenging environment? Some districts just run holding pens for kids.

Many smart kids get through college because they have a goal -- they want to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, things that ultimately require them to stay in school. They're willing to deal with lower education because they can see what they'll be doing 10 years down the road.

Kids who are just smart kids, who don't yet have a goal that the educational system provides for? They just want to get away and pursue their actual interests. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dropped out of college. Albert Einstein clashed with his teachers. Your son was shown as being mentally ready to graduate his freshman year, but he's stuck in school anyway -- where he obviously doesn't want to be. Smart kids are imprisoned by school. School often doesn't do them any good.

After I dropped out of college, I had a job within a week. I had a better job, at a company I stayed with for 10 years, within 2 months. I started at the bottom, but once folks saw what I could do, I quickly moved up. I was tangibly rewarded for what I did, in money, responsibility and even respect from my peers. I liked the people I worked with, who shared similar goals and who were generally smart folks.

I went from hating my life and generally disrespecting authority to enjoying my life, taking responsibility and having a generally healthy life in a few months, just by finding a job that I liked, working for people I actually could respect.

In short, dropping out of school may not be that bad a thing. Really.

So, let's talk about the car. What's he doing when he takes the car? When I took the car out in the middle of the night, I was hanging out with friends, talking. Having coffee at all night restaurants. Watching bizarre movies, recording music in a friend's home studio -- all at 2 in the morning. While a parent can be afraid when a kid is out that late, it may not be drugs, it may not be drinking, it may not be vandalism -- the kid may just need to get away from the strict confines of a life they didn't choose to live and do something that actually interests them.

Your son may only be misbehaving because he doesn't enjoy the life he's stuck in. He needs something to change, and he needs freedom. That's what happens when you're a teen. It's an old, old story.

If he's interested in getting a job, let him get one. If he's interested in getting a GED and then applying for a school that actually interests him, let him do it. If he wants to travel, either in the States or abroad, help him out a little. If the military's his bag, let him sign up. If he wants to go out in the middle of the night, as long as it's not drugs, vandalism or some kind of self-destructive behavior luring him away, let him go out and screw around with friends or explore the city.

Keep in mind that a college diploma isn't a guaranteed path to success, and that there are lots of other ways people can become a "valuable member of society." Please try to help your son find one of those, on his own terms.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 8:46 PM on June 9, 2007 [31 favorites]

Quasi-recent post-teenager here (I'm 24 now and I live with my 17-year-old brother and our mom). Maybe that means you'll ignore my answer for lack of parenting experience, or that I'll be derided by everyone else here, but there are some things I think you need to be clear on.

I think you haven't given us the whole story, which is fine, I guess, but don't be surprised if there are questions - for instance, what were you and your wife and the school doing during the previous two years when he was failing all his classes semester after semester? This doesn't sound like a discipline issue as much as it does some other psychological issue, like a learning disability that is only now rearing its head, or something else; I'm not a psychologist, but his school will probably have one.

And regardless of what it is - and it is something real, perhaps uncontrollable by your son, not just "attitude" or "lip" - it's been exacerbated by your anger issues.

I was extremely angry and kicked him out of the house for what I saw as car theft

Where, exactly, was your son supposed to go when you kicked him out of the house, at 16, against his mother's wishes? To Grandma's? To a friend's house, whose parents would be wondering what the hell was so bad as to prompt his departure? And was he supposed to take the car to get there?

Is it cereal theft when he takes the last of the Shredded Wheat, even if you'd asked him not to eat it? Did you actually believe that he was going to, say, strip the car for parts and sell them for drugs or something? And why did you need to couch your reaction to this pretty common teenage behavior (taking a car without a parent's OK) in such criminal language as "car theft"? You aren't a judge or a sheriff, you're a dad.

As the father of a teenage son, right now you might only exist to him as a wallet and as a target for insults, and while you might not like that, he's a person who's subject to his not-yet-adult mind's seemingly horrible reactions to the behavior of others just like any other teenage boy, not some marionette who follows predictable, orderly rules that you had when you grew up, in another time and place and culture.

He may be the same size as an adult and yell at you as loud as an adult and eat as much as three adults - but he's not an adult. He doesn't have the foresight, planning skills, or ability to lay out a pathway with teachers or you and your wife to help him get out of his academic problems. Maybe he sees going to school as torturous because he finds it either comically easy or incredibly difficult, or both of those things at the same time, and he has no idea how to tell you this because he's afraid that he won't know how you'll react since he's obviously not where he's "supposed" to be. You really need to be careful that you don't burn anymore bridges here.

So here's what I think you should do:

1) Seek counseling on your own. Talk to the high school psychologist about both his behavior AND your reactions to it - they might be able to refer you to a colleague who specializes in parent/kid dynamics, learning disabilities, or whatever else you might need.
2) Educate yourself about what alternatives exist in your area to the normal high-school curriculum.
3) Let him know you're trying to work on your anger issues. If he sees you as hostile and impossible to talk to and work with, he won't bother.

I'm sorry if this sounds harsh, but seriously, kicking your troubled son out of your house - effectively telling him that he's unwelcome even among the people who raised him - was a terrible decision. You need to do your best to support him and help him make the right choices, not reject him when he makes the wrong ones.

Good luck.
posted by mdonley at 8:54 PM on June 9, 2007 [20 favorites]

I sincerely sympathize with your challenging position.

I was just like him and had parents somewhat like you. I am now 28 and have a senior position with a big name technology consulting firm. Life is good today and I have great relationship with my parents.

My parents were the typical overly Christian rule-with-an-iron-fist middle-American type parents that loved their kids very much. They had the best intentions, but they made some really poor parenting decisions about how to deal with my "unique" behaviors.

Hmmmm...... if i could give you just a couple of points of advice, I would say

1. Never kick him out of the house.

2. Be a more of a friend father than a dictator father. Let your son be. You have raised him and now he is making some of his own decisions... as appalling as you may find them. Speaking from my experience, I was going to do what I was going to do. Period. My father had the choice to either be my friend or my nemesis; he choose to fight it at every turn.

3. Some working program may be a really great thing for him. Let him take control and show some responsibility. If the current situation at school is not working and this is something that he wants, then I can't imagine your hesitations to this option. You said he is a smart guy. Give him your opinion and let him work his life out a bit. You justifiably do not understand his decision making process, but do you trust that his heart is in the right place?

Ok, so I should qualify my response by saying that I am not a parent. So many things are easier said than done. I imagine many will not agree with me.

I should also say that I feel very lucky to be alive with all of the extreme things i did as a teenager. But these are beautiful things that make us who we are today.

Best of luck to you both.
posted by Slenny at 8:55 PM on June 9, 2007

You kicked him OUT? To what end? To sleep in a ditch, to find friends to spend the night doing drugs and drinking with, to rob someone to get money for a motel room? Please, please, whatever happens, if he needs help DON'T kick him out - it is a virtual guarantee he'll get into way worse trouble on the street than in your home.
posted by tristeza at 9:00 PM on June 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was one of those smart kids who did poorly in High School.

If he's passed the high school exit exam, then why is he still in high school? Presumably he dropped out of school because he didn't feel like it was worth the time. And how was it? If he's that smart, have him get his GED and get him enrolled in community college. I'm not sure, but I think he could use that GPA to apply for real colleges when a normal student would.
posted by delmoi at 9:06 PM on June 9, 2007

I too was a 99th percentile teenager, and I too flamed out, and like TAPAS above me, I waited until college to do it (where I too went early due to skipping grades and such). In my case, it's coming on 35 years later, but the memory is as fresh as yesterday. I totally sympathize with your son, which may not be what you want to read, but I sympathize with you and your wife as well, because I know that my parents never did understand what was happening, and maybe you can avoid a similar fate.

You should be figuring out by now that discipline just isn't going to work. He'll probably take a POW attitude to any discipline you try to impose and get around it. I think it's time for the three of you to just talk. He's brilliant, but he may well not understand the consequences of his actions-- he only has 16 years of life experience. Do him the respect of listening to him. Ask him open-ended questions-- what do you like? why? what are your dreams? Make certain that you let him know you want the unfiltered answers to these questions-- he may not oblige you, but it's the best you can do at this point. The only advice you ought to be giving at this point is hard-nosed, practical advice, stuff about consequences of breaking laws, where and how people live if they have no money or other resources, that sort of thing. What you think he ought to do with his life is way beside the point at this juncture.

Then based on those answers, and whatever other information you can glean, see how you can help him go in the directions he wants to go. I agree again with TAPAS about the GED thing-- if he can get his high school diploma without sitting through any more high school classes, then that's probably a great way to go. I would have killed for such an option.

Get him physically active. His young body needs working and he probably needs to get out of his head. A construction job would be perfect if that were possible.

But if you insist on trying to enforce discipline on him and teaching him through punishments, you may lose him for good-- my parents pretty much lost me that way.
posted by missouri_lawyer at 9:18 PM on June 9, 2007

I just got an email from
Grod, thank you for your reply. I am not sure what additional information may be of help here, but I will try to answer your questions.

Cold, demanding, judgmental, and overbearing are about the furthest thing from a description of my wife and I that I can imagine. Until our youngest turned ten, one of us was home full-time so the kids would have someone to pick them up from school, serve as room mother or father for their classes, volunteer for school functions, cheer them at any sport they wished to participate in, et cetera. Our only house rule that is written in stone is: When you go out, we have to know who you're with, where you're going, and when you'll be home. We provide all the kids cell phones so they can call or text us if they need something (and vice versa). We buy them each cars when they turn 16 and pay the insurance as long as their grades are good. One of our older kids (20) just moved into his first apartment, and we bought all the household supplies we thought he might need and filled his refrigerator and cupboards with food.

We live in a major metropolitan area, in a middle-class suburb, and he has a part-time job, several friends to hang out with after work who like to come to our house, who call my wife "mom" and me "dad" since they're here so much, so there's no lack of time with his peers (all of whom are still in school, doing well, and a few who are carrying 4.0 GPA).

We've never had any issues like this with any of our other kids, and we're just completely at a loss as to what we can do to help this one become a trustworthy, responsible adult.

I disagree with you that he shouldn't respect authority. An unquestioning obedience to authority is not what we hope to engender, but since we live in an ostensibly civilized society with rules and laws, and consequences for flouting them, we would really prefer not to have one of our children in prison because he doesn't think the rules apply to him, and for whatever reason this is the path that this child has chosen. He already has a police record (breaking curfew, truancy, and a brief run-in with gang membership in 9th grade), and seems totally unable to think beyond the next five minutes in order to envision the consequences of his actions.

I hope this was helpful in illuminating some more of what we're dealing with. Thank you.
With that additional information I feel compelled to retract my initial response and admit that I don't have any constructive ideas other than, perhaps, therapy. Anonymous and Ms. Anonymous sound like warm, involved parents. He does sound like he may have impulse control issues that therapy might help with, though. His behavior seems even more anomalous in light of what anonymous says, although it does remind me of one of my sisters. I didn't learn until fairly recently that the reason she was so fucked up was that she was generally fucked up. Which is to say, he may have a drug problem.
posted by Grod at 9:43 PM on June 9, 2007

I had two very smart friends who left high school early, one after his sophomore year, another after his junior year. Both started taking college courses, which they found much more engaging. Also, it brought them into contact with something other than the high school crowd. In retrospect I should have followed suit. Most of my last two years of high school were wasted time.

If your kid is as bright and as bored as you suggest, I think a big part of your job is to help him get on a path that challenges him as soon as possible. In parallel, work on incentives towards respecting firm but reasonable house rules (requiring appropriate permission to take the car, keeping you reasonably apprised of where hes going when he does take the car, coming home by midnight on weeknights and 2 on weekends would all seem reasonable to me).

Whatever you do, DO NOT use high school as a punishment. Helping him find more appropriate challenges is something you should move on with all due haste.
posted by Good Brain at 10:04 PM on June 9, 2007

Does your school district offer any kind of alternative program/school? I'm 17 and I've never understood why some kids find school the boring, but I'm lucky enough to live in a district that offers challenging classes, as well as the IB program. This seems like a situation that requires some creative thinking/working with your district. They want your kid to graduate, most likely; perhaps you can work with them to find a solution he'll agree to. Alternatively, can he get his GED and take classes at your community college?

Leaving school behind, can you find anything that really interests him? If he just really isn't into school, maybe he could find another passion. My younger brother is, to an extent, like your son. He's still hanging on in school but barely. He's smart, he just doesn't care. What he really loves is music- he can play almost anything he puts his mind to. Does your son love computers? Music? Playing some sport? School issues aside, if he becomes directionless at this age he could get into some pretty bad things.

Good luck with your son; it must be frustrating to both you and your son that the traditional path most people follow isn't working out for him. I hope you can find something that does.
posted by MadamM at 10:13 PM on June 9, 2007

Simon's Rock might be just the place for him.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:18 PM on June 9, 2007

The timing on this is unclear to me. I'd like to know when you kicked your son out of the house: before or after he dropped out of high school.

I was your son. I didn't drop out of school, but I nearly did. I certainly flunked many, many classes. I skipped school for weeks at a time. I did steal the car in the middle of the night. That was after mine had been taken away. I lost my license for a year because I unsuccessfully attempted to outrun the police. I drank a lot but didn't do other drugs. My parents briefly considered sending me to military school. I was extremely bright.

Looking back at those years, I'm absolutely stunned by the fact that basically no one—not my parents, not a teacher, not the guidance counselor to whom I had to speak every semester when I got my failing notices—no one ever asked me why I was so unhappy in school. Without exaggeration: no one ever asked me why I was so unhappy in school. Much less did anyone actually make an effort to discover the answer to that question. And I include that last sentence because, frankly, as an unhappy teenager, I'm not sure that I would have been able to provide an easily understood answer to that question were I asked.

Your job is to find out what's wrong. Simply asking probably won't be enough, but it would be a start.

Trying to control your son isn't going to work. That's already been demonstrated by the car. You can put him on the street—but if you do, be prepared to either deal with much, much worse trouble in the near future...or to simply write him off and disown him. Throwing him out should be your absolute last resort, not your first, because it will cause a great deal of collateral damage in the life of your son and in yours and your wife's lives.

Anything like the status quo is bad, too. Living with an unhappy, uncontrollable teenager who is not in school will be a nightmare and bad for everyone involved.

The only thing that will make a difference is to get at the roots of this. Your son can only motivate himself, no one can do it for him—at least until he's old enough to join the military (and would he?). Your son has to want to do the things he needs to do to take his life in a positive direction.

Finally, half of the dynamic that was going on in my unhappy teenage life had to do with my relationship with my parents, particularly my father. But the other half, and the part most intimately involved with poor performance in school, was that I was very, very bright. My school had no program or classes whatsoever for bright students. School was a waste of my time in terms of education (it's obviously not a waste of time in terms of social expectations and such, but don't expect a teenager to take those considerations seriously). It was boring. It was worse than boring, it was insulting. The very occasional class I took that actually challenged me—which had a lot to do with whether I was interested—I usually did very well in. I can't speak for your son, but I can say with certainty that somehow altering my educational environment such that it was appropriate for my intelligence and interest would have dramatically improved my quality of life, obviously my performance in school, and a lot of other things would have fallen in line, as well.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:47 PM on June 9, 2007 [5 favorites]

I worked at a place that saw an awful lot of troubled kids and teens. After you rule out learning disabilities and random hardcore issues like schizophrenia, the formula almost always goes like this: troubled kid = parent with problems.

There's the occasional other problem, like drugs or maybe issues of gender and sexual identity, but most of the time ... look right at mom and dad. If mom and dad get therapy, apart from the kids, surprisingly, the kids seem to get better. A lot better than if mom or dad don't start working themselves.

Booting your kid out at sixteen may be legal, but it's a really rotten idea and smacks of impulse and anger management issues that you need to begin work on, fast. We see more stories about internet child predation than it actually happens, but in the real, physical world (especially in urban areas), it's an actual problem. Generations of predators have evolved to scent the fear of a homeless teen and take advantage of them.

Just imagine for a second you could suddenly no longer live at your apartment. And all of your stuff is there. Well, damn, but at least you have a job ... oh, wait, you don't. And you have no credit cards. You don't even have a car to sleep in. Let's hope your cell phone charge lasts (the charger is in your apartment) long enough for you to call some friends. You may have some money in your wallet. Is the terror kicking in yet? Maybe it won't be too cold so you can sleep in the bushes.

And, hey, if you're out late, trying to figure out with your old friends where you can sleep, they might know a guy. You might meet some new people. New friends, friends who will let you bunk down with them for the night. Friends that will gobble. kids. up. They have it down to a science, the same way that drill sargeants know how to break down eighteen year olds and turn them into soldiers. They don't give medals for the kinds of service these folks have in mind, though. There's a lot of adult-driven, adult-profiting teen addiction, prostitution, and general crime associated with homeless kids who are either runaways or have gotten the boot. Seen it. Watched the broken adults that come out of it.

Clamping down hasn't worked, in a classic "The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers" kind of way. Wilderness/bootcamp programs are more of the same, and do not work. Most of those Tough Love programs, well, spend some time reading about them. Nothing like horrific child abuse to break a kid's spirit. Especially in countries where you don't have to have any kind of license and can do whatever you like without much legal recourse.

The really bad news is that, if you're like most parents, it'll probably take months for you to even consider that you might need to change, then another month or two to get an actual counselor, plus additional months, if not a year, before your own behavior patterns have changed and have any meaningful effect, by which time the child is eighteen and probably long gone. Maybe you have another, younger child who will benefit from your efforts.

Sound harsh? It's meant as a wakeup call (you know, the one you tried to pull on your kid), only this time the phone rang and it's for you.
posted by adipocere at 11:00 PM on June 9, 2007 [14 favorites]

I was in the same position your son. 99th percentile, stopped attending school halfway through HS. I was in cadets for 5 years, but it was the only place I was disciplined.

Help him find something he WANTS to do. Encourage him in his interests. Any amount of pushing will just cause all hell to break loose. Trust me. To him, your pushing means he should push back. Why should he listen to you? He's 16, remember?!

All joking aside...

Please don't kick him out. It didn't teach ME anything, it's only put me in a poorer position to achieve any other goals.

One thing that helped me was WWOOFing. A few months after I 'left home' (read: got booted for leaving school), I went on a cross-country trip with a boyfriend. We left with 200$ and farmed for 5 months before coming home. I had a work ethic, some sweet muscles and a new outlook on life. Seeing the fruits of your labour is an important aspect of hard work. Without that, it's hard to realise it's value.
posted by sunshinesky at 11:32 PM on June 9, 2007

Disclaimer: this hit a nerve with me, so my response might seem a little emotionally-worded and possibly antagonistic. Rather than rewrite it, I'm going to leave it the way it is in hope that something good might come out of it. If nothing good comes out of it, I'm sorry for hijacking your thread.


FWIW I was that kid, 23 years ago, and it got a lot worse than what you describe before it got any better. Any attempt I made to be myself got squashed down by parents that wanted me to have the responsibility of an adult, but the authority of a child; the initiative of an adult, but the dependence of a child. I didn't know how to respond to this, so I went off the rails; they responded by kicking me out. One time when they kicked me out, I never went back.

Now it's 23 years later, and I still haven't gone back. I was homeless for a few years as a young teenager, spent a few years dealing drugs and living in crashpads; now I'm on the other side of college with a career and a family and you wouldn't recognize me from a description anyone who knew me when I was 15 gave you.

I think there is way too little information in your post, and that what is there is one-sided. You talk about him like you've completely written him off. Do you think he doesn't hear that in your voice when you talk to him? Your talk of Job Corps is just distancing yourself from the problem instead of dealing with it... and what is "it"? "It" is that, unless you are representative of some incomprehensibly small group of families that have well-adjusted parents with lots of coping skills yet somehow still have a kid that inherited none of those skills from you, the problem that needs to be solved isn't the one you describe in your post ("broken son"), it's a problem that you yourself are a part of ("broken communications", "bi-directionally broken chain of trust").

Your son doesn't know how to express his frustrations, so he does things that are going to get to you. You react with exactly the same sort of response that convinced him he couldn't speak to you in the first place. This eventually comes to a boil and you throw him out; you've learned that you can't trust him to follow your rules, and now he's learned that he can't trust you to be there for him period. Now everyone is standing around pointing fingers, and you both need to decide: is it more important to figure out who is at fault, or more important to fix the problem?

There might be some usefulness in examining the space between

"... we can't allow him to be out at all hours doing whatever it is he's doing while we're supposed to be responsible for him..."


"... I was extremely angry and kicked him out of the house... A few days later he came back".

You do the math.

Your post is titled "Help me with my teenage son"... I wish, for your sake, it had just said "Help me" or even "Help my family". It looks like you've already decided where the blame lies and are just trying to figure out how to proceed, without taking into account your own need for help.

The rest of what I wanted to say, I see on preview that mdonley, missouri_lawyer, Ethereal Bligh, and adipocere have already said, in clearer and more sensible terms than I seem capable of right now.

Good luck, to you and your son.
posted by foobario at 12:02 AM on June 10, 2007 [3 favorites]

You kicked him out of the house?

okay. don't do that again. That is totally the worst move possible. Lock him in the basement before you kick him out. SO MUCH BETTER in your house, where you can make an attempt (however vain, misguided, or futile) to help him, as opposed to somewhere where you have no idea what he's doing. There's a pretty solid chance what he's doing is NOT constructive.

moreover. You are butting heads with a 16 year old. It's a) of no use and b) totally not what you need to be doing. He will do nothing but fight back. Try a different approach.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 1:22 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

There are 2 major issue here

1. Teenagers are teenagers, if they really want to do something they'll do it with or without your permission, so the question becomes, do you want to know where he is and what he's doing or not?
Teenagers break rules, its just the way they're made but most intellegent teens arent breaking rules just for the sake of it. They break the rules that they dont understand or dont agree with. I broke 'rules' all the time as a kid, when I was younger I would ask my mum 'why' and if she couldnt come up with an answer or the answer was 'because I said so' then the rule didnt exist as far as I was concerned. When I got older I made the decision for myself as to which rules didnt apply and didnt make sense. Unless you give him a really good reason why he cant go out at night then he's going to do it.

2. Your kid is really really smart. Unless his school has a program for gifted kids then its probably killing him inside to have to go there and sit through classes. His behavior is very typical of exceptionally bright pupils in mainstream education.
He needs mental stimulation, he needs to be challenged. As someone else said if he already passed the exit exam what was he still doing in high school? Is it any wonder he dropped out - after that it will seem totally pointless to him.
FInd out what he wants to do and encourage him, let him give JobCorps a try if he wants but if he wants to stop let him.
If he has a superior attitude, thats because he is intellectually superior - to 99% of people he comes into contact with and that likely includes you and mum.

I dont think anyone needs therapy here, you and your wife just need to understand his special needs.
It seems to me like the timeline goes like:

Bored intellectual teenager drops out of school
You deny him his car privileges
He takes car anyway
You kick him out

You should have been more understanding of his needs before he dropped out - but thats in the past you cant change that
You punish him but its not a punishement he has to stick to - he can get around it by sneaking out in the middle of the night - few teens are going to just 'accept their punishment', particularly if as far as they're concerned they havent done anything wrong and dont deserve to be punished.
What are you hoping to achieve by this punishment? Anything? Do you want him to go back to school? Is that even possible? Or is it just to punish him. Punishment for punishments sake is rarely effective in teenagers - he's not a bad dog, he's a very intelligent human being.

Rather than punish him or kick him out, be understanding, he's going through a very difficult time, being a teenager is hard enough without his extra problems.
posted by missmagenta at 2:13 AM on June 10, 2007

Personally, I'm a 16-year-old sophomore about to finish the school year in two weeks, and I've had a very difficult year at home and at school. I went from living in Canada with both my parents, being in the gifted program at one of the best high schools in the city, to living in Israel with just my mom, in a foreign school with foreign people speaking a language that I knew to speak but not to write in. School was a lot less interesting, my marks dropped, and because of my trouble at home, I was skipping school (and let me tell you, I used to be the biggest nerd ever). And I realized that the more I skipped, the harder it was for me to come back to school. It was difficult to face my peers with all their questions, it was difficult to face my teachers, and it was hard to get back into the stream of things after I was suddenly absent for a few days. Sometimes I'd skip a day or two and then the day after that I wouldn't go just for that reason, that it was hard to come back.
So you have to encourage your son to go back to school. What he needs the most is support from you. He may really want to go back to school, you never know, but he simply finds it too difficult to face the music now that he's butchered his sophomore year. Keep lines of communication open between you and your son, make him feel like he can come to you with his issues rather than making him feel like he has to hide things from you.
My mother discovered cigarettes in my bag around January and was inquisitive. The best thing I think she did, was she approached me about it without yelling or being hysterical. We talked about it rationally and I explained that it was a social thing, and now I know I can trust her without having to hide anything I do.

Finally, slightly off-topic, but I find this very relevant:

I read an article recently about highly intelligent children and the way they are raised. Naturally, everyone around them showers them with praise and admiration, always telling them how smart and great they are.
In a nutshell, this article describes how such children are trained to do the things they're good at, but things that take more time and effort to master, they give up on very easily.
Maybe this is the case with your son? How about, whatever plan you choose to use, whatever you plan to do for the next few weeks, try rewarding him for just trying hard. A reward can be a compliment, not just something physical.
The most important thing to remember with these comments is that they have to be very specific, and relate directly to what your son is doing. If he cooks dinner, don't say "That was a great meal, you are an excellent chef" but rather, "I really appreciate that you took the time to cook for us, it really made a difference and the meal is great." Or if he goes back to school, show him you understand how difficult it is for him to take that step and how much you appreciate his effort.
posted by alon at 3:38 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow, your situation sounds an awful lot like the situation of a kid I know.

In his case, his parents don't discipline him. Oh, they discipline him--he's on the verge of being signed over as a ward of the state--but up to those major punishments he found very little structure at home and was basically given everything he wanted. Now they're trying to threaten him all at once and it's not working.

Is it possible it's like that with your son? Buying your kids cars when they're 16, completely providing for them when they move out, you don't give us more information that that but given that you don't mention what kind of punishments he had for failing school for two years, maybe you've had the "Soft, soft, soft--WHAM" approach to parenting, where now you're trying to make up for the lack of discipline.

I disagree with other posters that your son needs to be let to run wild and "be a teenager" and keep his superior attitude. The superior attitude especially is going to burn his ass later down the road.

Let him try Job Corps. I think it's a great idea. It'll get him out into the real world and dealing with adults that aren't his parents or his teachers.
posted by Anonymous at 4:54 AM on June 10, 2007

Your son sounds like my little brother. He left the house at 16 and quickly got a job delivering pizzas, in the car. My father called him probably 2 or 3 times a day and mostly let my brother talk. This engendered a relationship in which my brother would call for help. Often late at night. And because he did this and my father would help, my little brother never would up in jail.

Now my brother's been a student journalist covering Tibet and he's going to go to Columbia on the basis of his writing. There were years of risk and worry and roachy apartments in New York between then and now.

The best way to prevent your son from sneaking out at 3 am is to get a house alarm system with a buzzer in your room. Even if he knows the code (and he should) it will wake you up. It goes on all windows and doors and can have a downstairs motion alarm - these are even pet safe.

Another thing you can do is to have one of you quit working or begin working from home. You might think you can't, but you can. Take a second mortgage out. It's only for 5 years or less. It seems you're a high-energy couple with very narrow tolerances for deviation because you're so busy. A one-job family will increase social flexibility.

Another thing you can do is express your anger differently. You aren't a human being, remember! You're a parent, first - a machine, a *slave*, even, in service to the well being of your family. You don't get to run around acting like a bull ape or punishing for revenge. You should work as hard as you can (no, harder than that) to find the real solution.

And, solution is probably not what you envision it to be. It might mean him not at home eventually; or not in school; or him hanging out with a crowd you don't like, or even drinking and doing a bit of drugs (but hiding it from you, and not driving, and being reasonably safe). But it will mean him obeying the most important rules for his safety, and not being in prison or in jail.

For my little brother, solution means he can call my dad and tell hi about his problems, and does, and dad tries to help. It works, although dad doesn't get a sense of righteous victory or the like.
posted by By The Grace of God at 5:08 AM on June 10, 2007

i did not have time to read all the responses, so apologies if this is irrelevant or redundant.

but, what does your son like to do? how can you support and encourage him in that?

i ask because i feel that a lot of people - including a good number of friends of mine - who are not good at being straight-laced, succeeding in traditional terms, sitting still in class, or keeping 'normal' schedules - frequently have exceptional abilities elsewhere. art and music and other passions.

you mention that your son is incredibly intelligent. communicate with him - reach out to that intelligence. what is he doing? what does he want to be doing? and how can you help him get there?

you and he can probably agree that you don't want to be where you're both at - him sneaking out, you punishing him, ad nauseum. what are some strategies you can both do to avoid that, to move forward from that?
posted by entropone at 7:18 AM on June 10, 2007 [2 favorites]

Smart kids are imprisoned by school. School often doesn't do them any good.

Oh God yes. And everything Etheral Bligh said as well.

Give up trying to control your son and give up trying to get high school to work for him. Those are both dead ends. And for God's sake don't kick him out of the house, you will end up regretting that forever.

So the trick is to find something that sparks your son's interest and motivates him. Maybe a combination of an alternative school and some kind of internship or work experience? What are his interests? Could he take the GED and be done with it?

You are obviously very angry at your son and are seeing him as a bad kid. You have to cut that out, he will absorb it back from you. He isn't your other kids, he is himself and has to find his own path. And you need to help him do that.

Good luck.
posted by LarryC at 7:46 AM on June 10, 2007

I don't know if this has been mentioned but I would apologize that you kicked him out in the first place. I know he stole the car again and has proved untrustworthy at this time. But please apologize for this and promise that you'll never do it again. Kicking a child out of the home is terribly upsetting and hurtful, and can leave lasting scars. I was kicked out for a short time as a teenager and I still feel resentful to this day.
posted by LoriFLA at 9:28 AM on June 10, 2007

When I was 16, I snuck out in the middle of the night too. Unlike our lofty coffee drinking, watching indie movie brethren here, my goal was to get extremely drunk and screw around (literally) as much as possible while I was on my 'own time'.

On a side note - I thought my parents never knew, but my mom told me twenty years later that she knew every time and stayed awake until she heard me come home (sometimes at 5 or 6 in the morning).

Anyway, the military taught me how to respect myself and authority at the same time, and that there's an aquired skill in doing so.

I know he's too young for the military - but that's not the point. Also, I'm not a fan of the whole "he's so smart and the school system is so bad" mentality - that's just a broken record. There's so much more to his life than just school, so it's not the root of all evil that some make it out to be. Sure, it's no palace, but a sub-par educational opportunity is no excuse for lacking in personal responsibility. Your son sounds like he wants to be treated like an adult, and he's in a hurry to grow up. God knows I was.

Sounds like you may have to go ahead and start treating him like one?
posted by matty at 9:31 AM on June 10, 2007

and that there's an aquired skill in doing so

There's also an ACQUIRED version....
posted by matty at 9:40 AM on June 10, 2007

I was one of those 99th percentile teenagers and to this day def. have a high degree of disgust with rules and authority, because.. they're often stupid. How many of us complain about ridiculous workplace policies that treat employees like children - policies that were only set in the first place because that one person out of thousands messed something up? Or remember school rules that were put in place for the same reason? On top of that I had an overprotective parent who would continually intervene when possible to avert any real consequences..

So it took a long, long time for me to really strike out on my own.. and fail at something massively. I think it did me a huge favor, although it was rough to learn that.. generally, even if the rules are stupid, the rules don't care, and they will apply to you if you push things far enough. So what I'm saying is maybe you should let your son be an adult, and screw up, and deal with the consequences, and resist the urge to step in and fix it for him.

PS - It seems to me that kicking him out of the house in anger.. well, it's a rupture in what seems to be a very sane, stable approach to raising your kids. He got you to do something unexpected and he successfully messed with the system. (The anarchist in me applauds this..) And thus your son might be tempted to push the boundaries again, because he doesn't know what will happen, unless of course you think in advance about what you'll do and make it clear to him what will happen. Or, if he does something crazy out of line again, at least pause until you figure out a rational, suitable consequence/punishment and don't react in anger.
posted by citron at 10:26 AM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

“Also, I'm not a fan of the whole ‘he's so smart and the school system is so bad’ mentality - that's just a broken record. There's so much more to his life than just school, so it's not the root of all evil that some make it out to be. Sure, it's no palace, but a sub-par educational opportunity is no excuse for lacking in personal responsibility.”

No, but growing understanding of personal responsibility is at the very heart of what it means to be an adolescent. A teenager is someone who is learning to cope with personal responsibility and in that sense doesn't need an excuse for lacking it.

As for the "being bright and unhappy with school" thing, this may or may not be a factor in his problems. Obviously, being bored and unhappy in school isn't a problem for all bright children. For some, not being challenged in school is an opportunity to channel energies elsewhere—whether it be at extracurricular activities, like sports, or just at socializing. For others, it may be disappointing and boring, but it doesn't represent a serious emotional challenge. And for others, it does represent a serious emotional challenge that some can meet and some cannot.

In my case, it wasn't just that I was exceptionally bright, it was also that I've always felt the greatest joy, fulfillment, and exhilaration in intellectual work—it's what I love to do. And I was an idealist. So, for me, school was a cruel joke. It claimed to be what I wanted, it's what other people thought I wanted. I'd always hope that next year, next class would be different, and it almost never was. I didn't have any sense of any other possibilities for using my gifts as I desperately wanted—I didn't have any sense that it could be better elsewhere, or later, or that university would be anything other than more of the same. And no one at all seemed to have any idea whatsoever at how deeply this frustrated me. This left me bitter, angry, and cynical.

If I hadn't been so idealistic at my core about thinking and learning and how these things relate to education, if I hadn't truly loved thinking and learning and known that this was what I was meant to do—well, if it weren't for those things, then being bright in an unchallenging school wouldn't have been such a problem for me.

Other bright kids having problems in school will have a different mix of reasons why this situation presents so much difficulty to them.

And, again, being bright but bored in school may not be an important factor in your son's problems. But you won't know what the factors are until you start looking for them.

One last thing about my own experience: I was lucky. I believe that two things kept me in school and kept my head just above total despair and self-destruction: the first was that there was one class/school activity that I enjoyed a great deal, and that was band. The second was that at the beginning of my sophomore year I made new friends. These friends, particularly my best friend, were good people and good influences. They cared about me, they liked me, they helped me have self-respect. They stuck by me. I'm friends with them to this day, almost thirty years later. Without those two things, I think my hanging-on-by-a-thread teenage years would have instead been complete self-destruction.

I don't know if telling you this about myself is helpful. But it might be helpful as an example of how much of a difference circumstances can make. Things could change dramatically for your son in just a couple of months simply because he made a new friend or discovered a new idea or activity that gives him a completely different perspective on who he is and what he's doing. Don't give up on your son because change is always possible, it might come from hard work by everyone involved, or it might come out of left-field. Stick by your son, love him, believe in him, try to help him, listen to him...and there's a good chance everything will work out for the best.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:34 AM on June 10, 2007

A few anecdotes:
I hated public school because I was bored, even though I was in all advanced classes in the toughest district in my state. I went to an alternative/elite private school, and it solved most of my issues.
One of my friends was an exceptional artist. He quit public school on his 16th birthday (his understanding mother drove him to sign the paperwork), passed the GED without studying, and went to a fantastic art school.
Another friend was failing classes and smoking a ton of weed. He was sent to an Outward Bound program, where he met his long-term gf who goes to an Ivy League. He finished high school (barely) and went to a great music program at a well-known college. (he still smokes weed though).
I worked with homeless youth a lot as a peer counselor. Most of them were kicked out of their houses, and a few of them were exceptionally bright but misunderstood. They turned to drugs and promiscuity, usually.

I would say you have several options:
1. Get your son tested for learning disabilities. Who knows? Perhaps he has ADD, which can often co-exist with authority-challenging behaviors.
2. As many have mentioned, see where your son's interests lie, and support him.
3. Military school and Job Corp are only two options, and are not necessarily the best option for your son.
4. Talk to his siblings to assess their feelings about the situation. Sometimes your other children can give the best insights. Also, make sure you talk about your actions with the younger ones. They might fear what you will do to them someday if it seems like your older children got harsh punishments (I know this happened to me: I was afraid of being grounded for extended periods of time when my gpa was below what they demanded, not taking into account the fact that I was in a tougher school than they attended).
5. Keep the door open for conversation. Always allow discussion, even if it seems irrational. Try to keep it conversational and civil if you can. Also, one random factiod: I'm taking psych nursing right now, and we have been instructed that it is bad to ask "why" questions, because they immediately put the person on defense. Instead of "why are you doing x" you can modify it to "what are your reasons for doing x" and you might get a better response.

Don't give up on him, no matter what. You sound like good parents to me, and everyone does it differently with different children. Good luck.
posted by nursegracer at 11:30 AM on June 10, 2007

My brother, who is now 26, dropped out of high school when he was 16. He used to sneak out of the house and do stupid illegal things (nothing too bad -- stuff like entering parks after hours and tipping over the benches).

It threw my whole family into chaos for a couple of years, because he wasn't following a script we understood and none of us knew what to do. He agreed to go to an alternative high school for a while, but then he dropped out of that. He did some home school coursework for a while, and then he dropped out of that.

A lot of people suggested we send him off to boot camp, which I think would have been the worst possible thing for my brother. My parents resisted this suggestion, though sometimes they weren't sure of this decision.

There was no easy cure to his problem. Basically, he needed to grow up.

Some of his problems with school and with authority, we learned years later, were linked to depression and extreme social anxiety. Even though he seemed popular enough and had friends at school, he was also ostracized by other kids and didn't have the skills to deal with it. He didn't have the skills for coping, and he was really capable of being un-miserable by avoiding school and socializing outside of that harsh and artificial scene.

With nobody giving him money, my brother got a job at 17 to afford doing stuff. He was not in school, but he got a "home school waiver" to avoid truancy court, with my parents' help. When he was 18, he got his GED and moved in with friends who had gone to college. He went on road trips. He traveled. He grew up.

Now he's 26, he's in a long-term relationship, he has a good-paying full time job, he's a contributing member of society, he's gradually working towards a college degree. He's not in jail, he's not on welfare, he's not a fuck up.

And he has a good relationship with our parents, which might not have been the case if they had kicked him out or sent him to military school or treated him like a failure for being unable to follow the conformist script expected of him.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:31 PM on June 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can I make a suggestion?

You've discovered that you can't make your son do what you want him to do, and that he doesn't seem to have a good grasp on what he wants to do. This is a situation where you can assist him.

Look into some options. Look at what you can offer him. Even if you don't like some of the options, this isn't about you, so think outside of the box. Simon's Rock, circus school, alternative high school, job over at Uncle Pete's box factory, job on a ranch, a summer abroad program, a year abroad, whatever you can do.

Line up some options, lay them out on paper, and give him a week to look into them and think about it. Also let him come back with some of his own suggestions.

What you're doing clearly isn't working, so... stop doing it. Time for something else now.

And get a family therapist. Which should have been an obvious pit stop on the way to chucking your 16 year old out of the house. You're the adult, remember?
posted by DarlingBri at 1:50 PM on June 10, 2007

You might show him this thread to see if any of these responses resonate with him.

He may lack the ability to articulate exactly what he's going through, or he may prefer to keep his feelings private. He may feel like his situation is unique. Being in the 99th percentile in a suburban town, his situation may actually be pretty unique within the current environment. It may help to hear the accounts of people who have been there, who can sympathize. He may have never heard stories about people like him who turned out just fine. He may be worried about his future too, even if he's not taking traditional steps to ensure success.

It may help him to realize how much you really want to help him.

Slipping a printout of this thread under his door may be a good way to start a conversation. Clearly, the current situation isn't working for either of you. Bringing him into the problem-solving fold and listening to his ideas will show him you're willing to change your thinking and your authoritarian tactics. It will force both of you to think in terms of compromise rather than my side vs. your side.
posted by nadise at 3:23 PM on June 10, 2007

My younger brother had some seriously misguided understandings about life. Going on an Outward Bound -type program (they're not all bad, even if there are some terrible ones) really helped him understand more about what life is about, and also exposed him to some kids that had actual terrible problems, and didn't have the parents that love him.
Then he finished high school at this boarding school Hyde that asks a lot of all the kids and the parents but really helped him turn it all around.
My only point is that I've seen first-hand how misguided a teenage boy can be--saw him buying beer from homeless dudes at 11 am on a monday. And since you seem financially well-off, I suggest throwing some money at this problem (as well as lots more personal involvement on your part). Sadly, money can make all the difference in saving a kid.
posted by alkupe at 3:52 PM on June 10, 2007

If your kid is really 99th percentile and has already tested out of the high school exit exam, he's not going to be well-served by the public school system. Can you afford to send him to a private school where the teachers will be able to make a valid effort to challenge his intelligence and hold his interest?

The idea is that you would turn around this cycle of underchallenge -> apathy -> poor performance, get the kid motivated and working, and then maybe he can take his 99th percentile brain to college with a set of work habits and life interests that will allow him to prosper in an area of study that he chooses.

You're late to the punch, though. The time to do this would have been freshman year, before he learned how to become an antisocial, anti-authority dropout. Your kid's setting his bridges on fire right and left now; it may be too late to fix it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 5:36 PM on June 10, 2007

Congrataulations, you got the trifecta! Your son is male, smart, and a teenager. LOL! What did you expect, a walk in the park? Even an ordinary male teenager is difficult. The smart ones will turn you gray and feeble, if you don't smarten up yourself.

Kicked out of the house? Now, that's a way to teach your son responsiblity! By gosh, when the going gets rough, you just walk away from it. Lesson learned! Can I have the keys, please?

Your son may know exactly what is wrong, and even exactly what to do about it. But siometimes, the parents have to learn the answer for themselves, or it won't work! Or that's how it seems to a teenager. Maybe both.

You sound like you have an otherwise perfect family. OMG, what a burden to carry at age 16, being the fly in the ointment, the black sheep of the family. The difficult one. No good. Unwanted. A burden. Seriously, being unhappy when everyone else is so together is a horrible burden, and one teenagers do not cope with. Especially so when the problem isn't of their choosing or their making.

Do you want to know what's going on with your son, or do you just go through the motions? You want the truth? Can you take the truth? Can you accept the truth with dignity, or will you just flip out and kick him out of the house again?

This kicking out thing is dangerous, man. Your kid could discover the absolute THRILL of total freedom and adventure. Of being free to go where ever he will, whenever he wishes. That shit is a potent and addicting drug. I'm dead serious, as someone who was there. (I wasn't kicked out, I left, and my main motivation was the adventure. My parents maybe 25% of the motivation of leaving). If you think you might like to discuss it with me, email.
posted by Goofyy at 2:17 AM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I was your son too, to an extent. I also lived in a happy caring family. I dropped out of school and went to do volunteer work for a year. I think that at that time, with my parents, that was the best thing for our family. My relationship with my parents and brothers/sisters improved immensely. But I did develop a severe depression afterwards that in hindsight already started in high school. It is hard to put that into words because "severe depression" sounds so clinical. I am afraid that it does not convey how absolutely miserable I was for years.

I totally second what Ethereal Bligh said:

Looking back at those years, I'm absolutely stunned by the fact that basically no one—not my parents, not a teacher, not the guidance counselor to whom I had to speak every semester when I got my failing notices—no one ever asked me why I was so unhappy in school. Without exaggeration: no one ever asked me why I was so unhappy in school. Much less did anyone actually make an effort to discover the answer to that question.

IMHO, What you absolutely need to do now is to focus on the connection with your son. I know that that sounds like "giving in" or something, and that you feel that he needs more discipline, maybe punishment, but I strongly think that that will not work. Read "Hold on to your Kids" if you are interested in scientific backup. The book can seem a bit judgemental, but the author also describes how he, himself, got disconnected from his daughter. That it's not something that only happens elsewhere.

I turned out fine, BTW. I am happily married with a child of my own. The relationship with my parents is also good now. That's not just because I changed though. They had to change as well. It can be tempting to think that there is something wrong with your child, because your other children respond well to your parenting style (it was the same with my parents. The pressure! I had such great brothers and sisters to live up to. I had such lovely parents that even made my lunch every morning. I felt terrible for being unhappy). It much more useful to see these problems as relationship problems. I know it is extra hard to look at it this way because you are doing everything right and you seem to care so much more about your child than "those other parents", but still, I think it is worth it to give it a chance. Again: read Hold on to your Kids for more details, but do do it now. This seems like a turning point in your son's life. I agree with the others: don't give up on him.
posted by davar at 4:05 AM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

the military's always hiring
posted by matteo at 8:51 AM on June 11, 2007

You need to set boundaries; he needs to push them. He's in the process of adapting to testosterone, and for some young men, it gets pretty wild. You do need to enforce rules: No drunk/stoned driving, no drug dealing, no violent or abusive behavior.

Getting a key made to the car is devious. I'd be pissed, too. Make sure he has a bike. Let him deal with the consequences of his choices, but give him a safety net.

Give him rewards for the behavior you want to encourage. Like car use, or any other privilege. Spend time with him; go to the movies, give him rides, anything that gives you a chance to talk to him, and, more important, listen to him. Keep telling him you love him, worry about him and want the best for him; he's actually listening more of the time than it seems. Listen to him talk about the music he loves, or his ideas, or whatever. He badly wants your approval and he badly needs to separate from you and his Mom.

Job Corps sounds great. Yes, he might screw it up. But at his age, trying new things, and sometimes making big mistakes, is part of learning. He's likely to become a responsible adult because you, his primary role model, are a very responsible adult. The HS diploma is important; give him whatever support he needs to get it. Good luck.
posted by Mom at 7:57 PM on June 11, 2007

And see if there's a mentor or counselor for him. Ideally, familes could swap their teenagers for a year or 2, since so many of them need a break from their families.
posted by Mom at 8:01 PM on June 11, 2007

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