Troubled Teen, Perplexed Parent
February 10, 2008 1:39 PM   Subscribe

My soon-to-be 14 year old is freaking me out. He has setup elaborate fictional profiles online that seem to be begging for sympathy, attention, shock, and probably many other things. These profiles are graphic and tell fictional tales of an abused childhood and severe mental illness(es) including OCD, bipolar, depression, and ADD. I need a lot of advice on how to proceed!

Here's some more random history details.
- About a year ago, I found a myspace page where he profiled himself as a 21yo who lives in another state. That was minor and since he doesn't use myspace I looked past it.
- His dad is severely bipolar and therefore receives mental disability benefits. He cannot work. His dad is >30 but seems to be rather teenager-ish himself. They scheme together frequently.
- I'm a single parent and his father lives in another state.
- He respects 2 people in the near family the most and would feel ashamed if they knew.
- He has no diagnosed mental illness.
- He is highly gifted, but classic underachiever.
- He has 1 friend, had 1 girlfriend, and really is pretty shutdown to humans in general.
- He is homeschooling this year only, because I (not him) got so fedup with the public middle. He loves homeschooling, but since I work outside the home it is largely self-directed. We review nightly and study anything confusing on weekends.
- He recently told me he wanted to kill himself a couple years ago.
- He has not seen a psych, because I do not know how to go about finding an appropriate one. He needs a dr that can handle a kid who's smarter than many adults. The wrong doctor will be manipulated like putty in a small child's hands, so he needs someone that can handle his mentally and intellectually challenging behaviors. I do not believe those behaviors are anywhere close to the root of his problems, but he could definitely learn to temper them.
- Anything anti-society and he'll be all over it. His dad is the same way.
- In 4th grade, the school counselor was concerned because he wouldn't socialize with the other kids. He told me he simply hated them all and didn't want to socialize with them. They drive him crazy and stuff like that. So, the counselor formed a group of social misfits to meet in her office once a week. After the first session, the counselor pulled me into the office because she was happy with the results. She said he took over her role in the group. He led all the kids through various activities and discussion, literally taking over role of leader, teacher, and guidance counselor. She said he had the strongest empath ability she'd ever seen and that he can actually disable/enable it at-will. She was floored at how deeply he sensed emotions, actions, subtleties, and the overall emotional feel of a room. She said he chooses not to use it in everyday activities, preferring to further alienate himself from others. In the end, she decided after that first visit that he didn't fit into the group's purpose because he knew how to socialize.
- He's not violent. Not even a little bit. He's never committed a crime. He's big on safety.
- He wants to be a writer. He writes intense stuff now that people either love or hate, depending on whether they're easily offended.
- His dad has caught him stealing his writings and passing them off as his own.

He doesn't know that I've read and watched him online. I've joined chat rooms and watched him "socialize" with others. He certainly likes to stir up fights. The problem is, in the end, half the people thank him for bringing the issue forward. That's certainly encouraging him. He's banned from multiple forums and websites. He brags about it. He brags about ruining some websites that people paid to use. He's fitting the classic troll personality I suppose, in that their anger and their appreciation equally feed his demons.

His latest profile has graduated from college, switches races, and immigrated to the US (he's American, but not proud of it) after a childhood full of beatings, death, and illness. Apparently he's rich with lots of money to give away.

In real life, he's hinted to various things going down. He said it was easy to make people believe he's an adult on-line. I figured it was something harmless like the myspace profile. But, in the past few days, activity has stepped up and he's been wanting to check in with his father more often. He's just having a good ol' ball of fun. So yesterday, I started reviewing browser history, IM logs, and email. Tonight I started quietly stalking him online.

He believes he is doing the right thing. He pits users against the forum or site owners for the greater good. In his latest mission, half the forum wants him banned and the other half admire him. They all think he's an adult. One user contacted him through AIM. They've discussed their pot, sex, drinking, and mental troubles (all of which is fictional, btw). He told how his fiance was killed, his parents beat him up, and he's addicted to pot. Then 2 days later, he admits to the stranger (who he now calls a friend) that he's a young teen and nothing like his profile. And, worst of all, he told the guy his Real Name. And, the guy in response calls him a genius and compares him to V (for Vendetta). Ugh.

So, now what? Is this part of some normal teen rite of passage that somehow eluded me? Am I raising some kind of sociopath? Am I overthinking all of this? I need lots of advice, both on the possible source for all this crap internally and externally as well as next steps. Right now, I'm pretty angry and just want to remove his computer and phoneline to his dad. He must have the computer for schooling, though. I want to humiliate him on the sites involved, to take all the wind out of his deceitful little sails. But, I worry these type of reactions will just alienate him further from me, up his secrecy, and not help the real problems.

I cannot easily block his site visits yet, but a new router with improved functionality will arrive on Monday. I know that I will be scheduling all online freetime, at the very least. That will be immediate. His computer is in my line of sight, so when I'm home I know what he's doing. I do believe his dad is a horrible influence right now, further inflaming some bizarre impulse to do these things. But, I can't justifiably cut that line of communication and I can't prove he's contributing. I know the behaviors I see on my end of the phone and I know how his dad can be in general, so I know it's a factor. Just not sure how much.

Sorry for the length. I've tried to give as much information to help as possible. But, just in case, I have setup email at
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (71 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not qualified to deal with the meat of this issue, but my gut feeling says that him being alone for long stretches is not helping him any. The loneliness would drive anyone crazy, and I can't imagine a classic underachiever works best in such an unstructured environment. Is there any way you can get him back into school, or group homeschooling, or lots and lots of community activities? I obviously don't know the circumstances that lead up to his homeschooling, but I imagine he will never be able to socialize normally if he never gets the chance. As far as blocking the sites, your best bet might be to physically take the hardware away with you.
posted by fermezporte at 1:59 PM on February 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Therapy. Regular school. Cancel Internet access at home. Get him involved in something he's interested in-- karate? Guitar classes? Basketball? Volunteering?
posted by bonheur at 2:01 PM on February 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

My advice comes with absoultely zero expertise on the subject matter, but I'd recommed two things.
1. Find a therapist. You worry that "He needs a dr that can handle a kid who's smarter than many adults." The majority of child psychiatrists are used to and adept at working with children like your son.
2. Get him back into school, pronto! His actvities sounds like that of a bored, lonely, and imaginative adolescent. No school is perfect, but most are better than sitting alone at home all day.
posted by emd3737 at 2:06 PM on February 10, 2008

Therapy (for both of you -- I'm sorry, but wanting to humiliate your own child is an extremely serious red flag, no matter how angry or confused or scared you may very well be), real school with peers, and perhaps a new medical evaluation of his mental health (if his father is bipolar, then he has an increased chance of being bipolar himself).
posted by scody at 2:08 PM on February 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

I want to humiliate him on the sites involved, to take all the wind out of his deceitful little sails. But, I worry these type of reactions will just alienate him further from me, up his secrecy, and not help the real problems.

He definitely needs therapy, and I think you do as well. And don't underestimate a shrink. They've seen it all and then some, I'm sure they won't be manipulated very easily. I remember going to see a shrink when I was a teenager and I actually enjoyed going. It was nice to have someone to listen to me that didn't judge me for all the problems I was going through. It would probably do him a world of good.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:10 PM on February 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Forgive me, but I fail to see what the big deal is. He doesn't seem to be breaking the law or causing any real trouble. He's misrepresenting himself online, but so do tons of adults.

I'm not sure why you think stalking him online is ok.

I want to humiliate him on the sites involved, to take all the wind out of his deceitful little sails.

Er, this sounds really sick, not to mention petty and immature. You're supposed to be the adult here.

I'm not sure why you haven't figured it out yet, but you cannot control your children. I'm sure if he wasn't messing around online he'd be doing something else you hate, possibly something worse like drugs or bullying. Is that what you want?
posted by Violet Hour at 2:14 PM on February 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Trolling and stirring up shit is one of the basic things the internet's for (other things the internet's for: Wikipedia, furries, pornography, MySpace, and the violation of copyright) To apply to this website: Ask Metafilter is an example of Wikipedia, while regular Metafilter and especially Metatalk are examples of stirring up shit with a little of everything else.

I'm not saying the kid hasn't got any problems but stirring up shit on the internet is pretty low on the list. I'd worry if he seemed to be deluding himself, but otherwise, yeah, stirring up shit is what the internet's for. Way better than being a typical furry for sure.

He is Doing It Wrong, though. The best trolling tends to involve the truth.

I want to humiliate him on the sites involved, to take all the wind out of his deceitful little sails.

You realize if you do this you are trolling him as he trolls others. Perfectly appropriate, but your motives seem to be off: you should be doing it to beat him at the internet, and he deserves to lose at the internet with these silly fake profiles.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:15 PM on February 10, 2008

You might install a good internet monitoring package. This one, Spectorsoft, is excellent. Under these circumstances, it would seem that he could get mixed up with some seriously dangerous people online, and the monitoring software will allow you to (a) block any sites you deem objectionable, and (b) it discreetly records everything he does online (including transcripts of chats, copies of all e-mails sent and received, and moment-by-moment screen shots of all web activity.)
posted by jayder at 2:16 PM on February 10, 2008

He probably shouldn't be home alone all day. Stay home with him, find a tutor or put him in regular school. Also, encourage him to sign up for activities that will get him out of the house.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms at 2:17 PM on February 10, 2008

I want to humiliate him on the sites involved, to take all the wind out of his deceitful little sails.

What the fuck? No. Buy him a guitar and the discographies of The Ramones, Fugazi, Minor Threat, Anti-Flag, and Bad Religion. Channel that destructive energy into something awesome.

And you need therapy as much as or more than he does.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:17 PM on February 10, 2008 [14 favorites]

If school is so boring and annoying to him, see if you can't get him into Advanced Placement or maybe double up on his credits so he can graduate early. It's a terrible idea to have him sitting home alone on the internet all day and night. I don't know what you expect him to be doing totally on his own all day and night. But this whole setup is totally bizarre and it's not something that needs to be fixed with routers and software.
posted by amethysts at 2:22 PM on February 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

My bet is he knows you're stalking him online and all of this is to get your attention which has worked, up to a point. So he's being home-schooled because YOU were fed up with the middle school...WTF? This is a classic case of teen-age angst multiplied a million times by boredom and a need for attention from you.
posted by tamitang at 2:23 PM on February 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I second the recommendation for a good therapist. Call ahead or ask your GP for recommendations, meet with the doctor yourself and get a feel for them and how they plan to evaluate your son.

I strongly suggest you look for a school like Free Schools or a school that specializes in something your son is interested in (you mention writing several times). This would have a good chance of getting him contact with people who operate more on his level but aren't just like him. He'll have contact with kids his own age that will challenge and even confuse him.

At 14 I was in a similar situation to your son and finding people to challenge me and call me out on my sh!t was great for me, it really had to be done by a peer, if my mom or a teacher had tried it would have driven me deeper into negative behaviors. Being isolated from society is not likely to do anything good for him.

Also, as Simon! says things could be worse, you have an intelligent, creative, engaged son who needs better outlets for his energy.
posted by Kristan at 2:28 PM on February 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

This sounds a little like me at that age, although he's taken it farther than I ever did.

What helped me out of it was contact with adults OTHER THAN MY PARENTS who were willing to take me seriously, respect my ideas and deal with me as an equal. Some of those adults were teachers who I had contact with outside class — a music teacher I took private lessons with, an English teacher who organized a poetry slam team. The rest were people I met online. The internet was a life-saver for me. Nobody Knows You're A Dog, etc., so I could flex my brain muscles, learn things and trade ideas without anyone caring I was 15. But it was also a source of enormous frustration, since many of the adults I met there had problems of their own or were just plain flaky and unreliable and the well-adjusted ones were generally playing by mature social rules that I only had a tenuous grip on myself.

He needs an outlet for this stuff. He needs friends OTHER THAN YOU who respect him, who are fired up about the same stuff as him, who get excited about his ideas and vice versa. Maybe a guitar would help with that. Maybe getting into debate or theater or robotics or politics or who knows what. Right now, he's trolling because trolling is the best way he's found to get a little respect and a bit of an audience.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:29 PM on February 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Whoa, I missed that it was you who was fed up with public school. He needs to be in some kind of school. Try private school. Catholic schools don't care what religion you are these days.
posted by amethysts at 2:30 PM on February 10, 2008

I'm a little surprised at responses shrugging off his activities. Sure, teenagers are going to use the internet to tell lies of the "my girlfriend who lives in Canada" variety, but this (taking the account on face value) would be on a different scale. He could graduate to using these profiles to scam money, make himself the next Kaycee Nicole (or worse, reymon14) . . . I'm glad you've found out.

Although I would recommend that you get therapy to help with your parenting such a brilliant, difficult child, I'm not going to scold you for saying that you want to "humiliate" him on his sites. What he needs on those forums is a big dose of "His name is Bernie Weinstein and he's in the eighth grade!" I wouldn't actually sit down and do it yourself, though; that's playing his game, and it's not the adult thing. But there's nothing wrong with having felt that way.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:31 PM on February 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think that most teen boys, at some point, engage in impersonation to rile people up or get away with something. Think of Bart Simpson calling Moe's Tavern as a comic example of the first, or McLovin in Superbad as a comic example of the second. Pretty much all teen boys will brag about things that they haven't done in an effort to seem like a badass. The thing here that is important to consider is that it doesn't sound like he's committed a crime, or even exploited someone's trust for material gain.

Trolling in chat boards and on forums isn't a crime. Folks troll and raise shit every day here on Metafilter, and we flag it and move on, or gripe about it in MetaTalk, and sometimes mathowie and company come down with the ban-stick. Your son's being one of those people. It's annoying, but it's just part of having an open forum. Everyone who runs a open forum has to deal with people who are, well, impolite, or who aren't who they seem.

It's human nature, as crappy as that sounds. People do stupid, annoying things. I know I've made stupid, annoying posts and raised shit with people. I've regretted some of them, and others I laugh at somewhat nostalgically when I re-read them today.

The boy may be scheming, but there's a certain amount of scheming that comes with being a young man and using the Internet. If he's just doing these things to explore his own feelings or is seeing what gets a rise out of people, and he's not causing any substantial personal harm to anyone or getting in trouble with the law, chances are that he'll snap out of it in a few years.

Consider this: if he were reading this, he'd think your stalking is just as creepy as you think his online activities are. What you're doing isn't illegal, and it's not even an activity that could be considered uncommon among parents, but it would certainly make any teen boy as uncomfortable as his online discussions are making you.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 2:32 PM on February 10, 2008

I don't think that it's a far leap to expect that
-an almost 14yo child (because that's what he is);
-who is left to his own devices for most of the day;
-with a history of severe mental illness in his immediate family;
-and shows signs of high intelligence

is going to get himself into trouble.

You say that you had a problem with the public middle school, but you don't elaborate on what the issues are/were. Were they really bad enough that you feel leaving your son home by himself while you're out of the house at work? If he's 14, would he now not be old enough to be out of the middle school and into the high school? Have you even considered sitting down and meeting with the Principal/Counselors/Child Study Team there and discussing your family situation? I strongly suspect they would have many more resources to deal with your son than you do at this point.

You don't say how many hours a day you're gone, but if you're gone long enough that he's able to create these elaborate personae, it's got to be quite a while - especially since you say that you can fully monitor how often he's on the computer when you are home. And while on the topic of the computer, does he really need access to it all day for his schoolwork? I mean, he's in 8th/9th grade, not his fourth year of his undergrad year. Take his online access away when you're not there to supervise. It's a privilege, not a right. Your his Mother, not his buddy.

With regard to your snooping/stalking, well, are you just trying to establish what's going on so that you can gather you druthers or are you like a deer in the headlights? You've said that there are two people in the family that he respects and would be devastated if they were to find out about his behaviour. Why are you waiting to inform them? This obviously has been going on for quite a while if your son has been banned from all these sites, and you have all this information about his web history.

I think your first step in finding a psych is asking to speak to a social working at your local school district or hospital. I realise that you probably don't want to deal with 'the authorities'. But, I think you're be dealing with much more serious ramifications if don't do something now.
posted by dancinglamb at 2:34 PM on February 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

obviously there are a lot of disturbing things going on here, but i think that you have to accept that adolescence is a time when people experiment with different personality traits. i can remember in jr. high/high school people totally changing their taste in clothes/friends/music - just trial and error before they figured out how to be grown ups. since he doesn't seem to have too much in-person interaction with others, maybe he's just trying it out online.

around this age i totally freaked my mom out when she found a story i'd written in which i said my parents were divorced (mine are still together). i think i was just trying to figure out what it would be like. maybe getting him into more traditional creative writing would give him a safe space to experiment with other characters.

good luck!!!
posted by genmonster at 2:38 PM on February 10, 2008

I meant undergrad STUDIES, not undergrad year. (damn typos...sorry)
posted by dancinglamb at 2:41 PM on February 10, 2008

Meh, doesn't sound much worse than what I was up to at that age.

The revealing his own name thing sounds sloppy, though. He needs to know that is *not* okay.

Keep him safe, talk to him about why he's doing what he's doing, etc. No need to humiliate him, as attractive as that might seem while you're pissed off. Inventing tragic personal histories and fucking around on the internet are pretty small infractions in the big scheme of things.
posted by tkolar at 2:42 PM on February 10, 2008

At home alone all day at 14? That's not going to help with normal socializing.

Seconding the need for real-world peers. If he needs to go take a college class to find intellectual peers, maybe see if any place near you would be able to do that. Feeling like you're the smartest guy in the room for too long can lead to bad places, so he should be in a room with smarter people than him; he might be more interested in people if it wasn't so easy to impress them.

Taking on fake personalities online at this age is pretty normal, IMO. Even when those personalities involve fake abuse, since saying you've been abused etc is such a good way to get sympathy and attention and seem like a tortured soul. That alone isn't a sign that he's out of the ordinary. But of course, if he never does real-world interesting things, he will have to keep making up fake interesting things to talk about, to convince people he's interesting. If he had hobbies or interests or travel etc to talk about, it wouldn't be so important to make up these backstories.

Don't resent him because you see a lot of his dad in him. He can be different from his dad, if given the opportunity. The thing is to get him into a situation that rewards him for being geniunely interesting, and ignores him when he is manipulative. Punishing him for being manipulative won't work.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:44 PM on February 10, 2008

So, all the innumerable hours it is taking to create all these profiles and trouble and shit are happening when, do you think? While he's home alone all day at "school". Come on! He's not studying, he's fucking around all day, as would any *13 year old*. You have GOT to get him into school, immediately.
posted by tristeza at 2:44 PM on February 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have two teenager boys who have acted up and out on some occasions, although not to the extent you have described. I think if one of my sons was exibiting this behavior I would print out all of offending online activity and highlight areas for discussion. I think I would put all the papers in a folder. Go through item by item and ask him to discuss his reasoning behind the deceit, aggression, etc. He seems to like to mess with people and belittle in order to make himself feel superior. 'Games People Play' by Berne would be a great reference book for you, and may have insights as to why he does what he does. It focuses on Transactional Analysis. The one thing that has helped me with public (and private for that matter) behavior problems with my own boys is the work "YET" As in "You are not ready YET for..." Most chat forums are geared for adult discussion, and if he is not ready for that YET, than he will not participate. And he is putting himself at risk as well. There are genuine crazies out there. I would also encourage his writing, as he seems to be very creativly gifted, it just needs to be re-directed. Also I think he need to develop some nurturing skills. I take it he is an only child. It might help if you got him something to take care of, as a pet. A kitten that needs to be bottle fed... Usually with teenagers, the behavior they exibit if contrary to their true feelings.
Above all hug him.
posted by Acacia at 2:44 PM on February 10, 2008

Creating many different personas which represent a maligned-yet-accomplished individual whose real life appears rather lonely and underrealized sounds like a dissociative sort of coping skill. Many kids with multi-layered and highly articulated fantasy lives are quite intelligent and are typically well developed morally, and they may tend to shy away from real world encounters because they feel more adept in their fantasy roles. I'd like to know what else you may be seeing though, as this list feels somewhat incomplete... it makes me wonder whether there's some serious anxiety going on, whether it's internally generated (as a psych condition) or external (family conflicts, lack of trust in others). The first big nut to crack in looking at this is what he may be trying to cope with (separation from a parent of like-temperment), lack of social stimulation reinforced by his minimal exposure, or genuine mood instability, anxiety, or symptoms other organic or environmentally induced mental disorders.

I'll second and third therapy (and certainly therapy before psychiatry... let's be sure that this can be addressed with strategies before meds) and getting him involved in real-world encounters where he can achieve tangible goals. I'll also second and third therapy for you and possibly parent training or support groups. Despite his seemingly reclusive nature, he's doing in the cyber world what most teens would be doing in the physical world; trying on identities to see what fits, overflexing strengths to gain acceptance, and meddling with established order. Provide him a physical venue for that, and he'll learn quickly what aspects of his fantasy self can best be used to his advantage and what falls socially flat.

Finally, ask yourself what you want out of your relationship with him... authority and control, or nurturing and guidance. Believe it or not, he is looking at all the adults in his life for behaviors he can role model, so examine what you're projecting at home. Certainly, injecting yourself into his private life when it's not required (no immediate threats to health or safety) does not breed trust between you two. With possible jealousy issues with the dad's rapport with your son, the aire of mystery surrounding your son's online life, and the belief that you can't trust him, you've got a recipe to create a personal hell where there doesn't need to be one. Try to come at this as an opportunity to bond with your son and smooth out misperceptions you both may share, rather than fretting about a crisis that may be unnecessary.

Caveat: I'm reading some tea leaves here based solely on your own words, and with a venue like this, you may have not brought all of the issues out as clearly and as detailed as you would have done in person. Yet another reason to get thee and your son to counseling.
posted by moonbird at 2:46 PM on February 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

I can understand how, as an adult spectator, this behaviour is disturbing. That said, I don't think what your son is doing is all that unusual.

Teenagers naturally like to try on different personalities and play different roles as they try to synthesize their own self-image. The internet is a vast sandbox that allows you to explore these things to a degree that is unattainable in real life. Gender, race, and class boundaries no longer exist, and kids can pretend to be anyone they want.

Some experimentation of this nature is healthy, and not a cause for concern, because most kids also have to deal with creating a real-life persona, as they interact with others in meatspace. The fact that your son is fairly isolated from the real world is what makes this a little more disturbing. He needs to be interacting with other children his age regularly - whether at school, at clubs or sports, or wherever. Your first step should be to encourage this type of interaction. I have a feeling that the internet personas will fade as his real self-image develops.

Standard disclaimers apply - IANA shrink, but I am a member of the first generation that grew up with the Internet.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:50 PM on February 10, 2008

Just so you know, Mom here is right that she needs the RIGHT therapist. I saw my share when young and many of them ARE very easy to bamboozle.
posted by konolia at 2:53 PM on February 10, 2008

And as for the homeschooling I get the impression she just wants to get him past middle school. Middle school is EVIL. I don't blame her for wanting to keep him out of it.

Now, as to advice, you need to find him some smart adults who can spend time with him and share their interests. He's brilliant and bored and other kids his age are NOT going to meet his needs for socialization in a healthy way. Having him involved with adults will also give him a bit of vision for his future. Being his age and that smart and that different is sheer unadulterated hell. He needs a little healthy hope.
posted by konolia at 2:56 PM on February 10, 2008

The original poster has asked me to post this additional info for her:

I'll add some clarification. Some of you have assumed he's home alone all day and night, just bored on the internet. That is actually not the case. He sleeps late and I go to work early. So, he's actually sleeping approximately half my workday. He is home alone most days and in the evenings has several outside activities he's involved with intermittently. We could certainly add more. We don't have issues with those activities. Those peers are older, with less of the silly crap at schools, and they're all interested in the same thing. On the weekends, he usually sees his friend and used to hangout with a group of friends. I think the group broke up, though.
I will not terminate homeschooling at this time. This was a temporary arrangement for this year only, as I said, because his current public school was not meeting his needs. The situation was completely unworkable, although I tried. The administrators involved apologized for the behavior of teachers, but it doesn't really help matters. Academically, it was making things worse. Emotionally, it was really damaging his most basic level of self-esteem. If a TAG identified kid doesn't keep his grades above A & B's, they remove him from those more appropriate classes. Now, he's thriving academically, challenging himself, and actually has ideas about his future. Next year, there's a completely different environment involved and I'll review at that time. But, for now, homeschooling this year is the best move I've made.
Since the school is organized through online coursework, there are some virtual options for him to meet some of his peers. He's not totally isolated in the daytime. He talks on the phone with family, friends, myself, and chats online with various peers. Not all of his interactions are negative, I'm afraid I didn't paint that picture clearly enough.
I agree with you all that my humiliate comment is harsh. It is one of my initial knee-jerk reactions to write the site admins involved and users involved, expose his deceit, and request removal from the sites. That's what I meant by humiliate, not an ongoing trolling game. I know this is a bad idea, which is why I specifically mentioned it as a negative method.
As the parent, I have no issues with my stalking him. I have repeatedly told him that he does not have freedom to do anything he wants on the computer in my home. I've been very clear from the beginning that those activities will be monitored, especially when given a reason. He's given me several reasons over the past week. I don't care whether he's angry over my monitoring. I needed to know how far this has gone and now I know. Also, he actually IM'ed me the link to the latest site he's playing on. He led me right to the worst of the profiles and right to his live chat sessions. He didn't even attempt to disguise himself.

posted by konolia at 3:09 PM on February 10, 2008

Adults cannot tell teens that their shit stinks. Only their peers can do that.

If your local schools are indeed so bad as to warrant homeschool, then get him involved in some after school activities. Drama, a writer's circle, music, whatever, just get him out and meeting people of different backgrounds. They'll let him know in quicktime if his shit does indeed stink. Hopefully, if he gets a good tutor or mentor or a supportive group, they'll tell him what smells like roses.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:10 PM on February 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

You actually sound a bit jealous of him. Whether you are or not, your views on him are really not healthy.
posted by fire&wings at 3:14 PM on February 10, 2008

I don't have any direct links handy, but I've heard of some homeschooling associations/whatevers that bring homeschooled kids from the area together for socializing. That might be one route to look into. Or maybe a young writers' workshop, if there's such a thing.

If you decide to take him to a child psychologist, please abandon the "my son is a genius, he can outwit everybody" angle. Suppose he comes home from a difficult session, complaining about how Dr Whoever is dumb and what they talk about is dumb. Would you be helping the situation by agreeing with him and helping him brush off the substance of the session?

I want to humiliate him on the sites involved, to take all the wind out of his deceitful little sails.

Don't do this. Here's one example of why you shouldn't:

I caught a story on some news show a while back, about online humiliation and fakery. Some woman's daughter was having a spat with a neighbourhood girl. The woman invents a fake teen male MySpace personality in order to ask this girl why she's fighting with her daughter. The woman takes it to the point of flirting with the girl via this fake teen male personality. They become online boyfriend & girlfriend. The girl's head over heels for this "boy". The "boy" then breaks up with her, and badmouths online. Humiliated and depressed, the girl commits suicide.

Not only will you humiliating him online alienate him from you, it could lead to very bad things that you haven't contemplated.
posted by CKmtl at 3:30 PM on February 10, 2008

This might be a bad idea, but my gut reaction is that you should send him to one of those military boarding schools. You seem over-obsessed with him and you seem to be taking a school counselor's layman's observations way too seriously. Your kid could either be a lunatic in the making or a normal, anti-social kid who needs to find more friends in the real world who aren't so mainstream and boring like the peers he had in school. I think his home environment could be what's making him act out of sorts and that being in a different setting could set him straight and generally improve his life.

Also, does the school district that approved your home schooling plan for your son know that he's not being supervised during homeschooling and that you are out of the house because you have a job?
posted by onepapertiger at 3:31 PM on February 10, 2008 For the entire summer.
posted by parmanparman at 3:41 PM on February 10, 2008

I cannot easily block his site visits yet, but a new router with improved functionality will arrive on Monday. I know that I will be scheduling all online freetime, at the very least.

Since he is a very smart kid he's absolutely going to get around whatever restrictions you put in place, guaranteed, likely even if he doesn't have physical access to the device. There isn't a technological solution to a social problem. He can reset the router, have a sympathetic friend get him a new one, log onto the neighbor's wireless, set up new accounts on his computer or bypass monitoring software.

He's never committed a crime...His dad has caught him stealing his writings and passing them off as his own.

Seems like a bit of a disparity there. Plagiarism is a BFD and will certainly bite him hard if he ever gets to college.

Obviously this thread is a magnet for strong feelings. I'm not all that alarmist about his behavior but it does sound like he's bored and maybe depressed. He needs structure and interaction with more people, even if you aren't going to put him back into school. Sleeping in half the day isn't a good thing, either. Therapy for both of you wouldn't hurt. And, having said I'm not all that alarmist about his current behavior, most of the times these maladjusted and poorly socialized children turn out OK. But sometimes they kill themselves or pull Columbines.
posted by 6550 at 3:44 PM on February 10, 2008

Thanks to Konolia for providing the clarification from the OP.

With the elaboration, one thing does seem clearer; there is a structural vacuum that you are both attempting to fill. He's sleeping in, pacing his own study, and going outside at will. You're discovering increasingly large chunks of his life are unregulated and his autonomy has taken you by surprise. I think if you could both get into a routine of certain things happening at certain times (school times, offline research times, etc), you might stand a better chance of opening your relationship to trust.

Also, kids cannot self pace their discipline; that needs to come from a range of authorities and be consistently enforced by the "sandpaper" of social interaction. Kids need to learn limits from adult authorities and other kids... so see what level of out of home involvement you're comfortable with (again reinforcing the idea of a local homeschool group). If you're finding that his free time on the net is negative, replace it with an activity you both do together. He wants your attention, your approval, and your guidance. Show him that while you can as a parent govern certain aspects of his life, he can be trusted exercising his judgment in others.

There are lots of good ideas here, OP; but none can "cure" your kid... the best cure if any for this situation is adapting to each other and setting healthy limits... challenge yourself to allow his strengths empower him socially, while challenging yourself to transform impulses to control him into routines of teaching and supporting him. Challenge yourself to let go of winning a influence war with your ex and accept that your kid has a personality and opinions of his own cultivated from a variety of resources, and strive to be the kind of resource you would want in your life if you were a kid again.

After all this free advice, and despite the volume of comments [mine included] drawing inferences and telling you what to do, kudos for stepping forward and acknowledging there is a problem. That already places you in a strata of parenthood that is sometimes scarce to find in a world of kids who feel directionless and live directionless lives. That said, seize this opportunity to bring hope to both of you...
posted by moonbird at 3:47 PM on February 10, 2008

Avoid panicking and sending him to some spirit-killing boot camp. Awful teenage behavior is a temporary evil; what's worse is when parents overreact in believing their own child to be a demon seed, and then make the mistake of hastening him into a bunch of humiliating instutitions where he's permanently designated a manipulator.
posted by Kirklander at 3:52 PM on February 10, 2008

He wants to be a writer. He writes intense stuff now that people either love or hate, depending on whether they're easily offended.

I think his behaviour on the internet is perhaps an extension of this vivid imagination and what seems to be a very intelligent lad.

So, now what? Is this part of some normal teen rite of passage that somehow eluded me?

I honestly think it is (normal enough). It eluded me too, but only because I missed the internet in my teens, as I'm guessing you did too. Had the internet been around I reckon I would be so similar to the way your son is behaving.

Must be tough parenting, I can't empathise at all as I feel I'm only starting to grow up myself. Just be careful. I remember all to well what it was like being a boy who was pretty self absorbed. No harm was done. You should keep an eye on him, but be reassured that he is acting like a regular teen.

With the internet I would have been stirring it. Sometimes I still do. And being compared to V from Vendetta would have been so cool! I'm envious of your son. Haven't seen the movie, but I kinda admire V of the graphic Novel.

As the parent, I have no issues with my stalking him.
That's a shame, I was brought up having my privacy respected and to respect that of others. It's one of the most important things my parents did. They kept out of my teen years, let me develop, but were always there to guide me. Had they not treated me with the respect they did we would not have the close, grown up relationship we now do.
posted by twistedonion at 3:54 PM on February 10, 2008

The suggestion of military school was totally totally a bad one. A kid like this would either find a creative way to be expelled within a month or...I guess there is no "or." Let us just say it would be a bad fit.

I must say the percentage of bad advice in this thread boggles my mind. How many of you have actually raised kids this age? It is a frightening tightrope to walk at times. I think Job One of the OP is just to keep this kid safe till he gets a couple of years older: fourteen is the HARDEST age, in my book , of childrearing that there is.

I think mom is doing a lot of things right so far. Remember, she is parenting alone, basically, and it sounds to me like she is choosing her battles. Which is incredibly important when raising teens. She needs some reinforcements. That doesn't mean she is a bad parent at all-it just means the job is way too big for one person.
posted by konolia at 4:49 PM on February 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and one more thing. I am a Christian and I parented as such -one principle that is incredibly important in my view is that as much as you do need to show these kids that you are the PARENT, and that they need to respect your authority-at the same time you have to keep their heart. They have to KNOW you are on their side. You have to have that bond because without it, all you are is the warden. And that doesn't work very well. No longer is it appropriate-if it ever was to begin with - to say to your child that they must do such and such "because I said so." Particularly during adolescence, you need to discuss with them the reasons behind your parental decisions, etc etc. They aren't adults yet but neither are they children, and they can tell if you are respecting that difference or not.
posted by konolia at 4:53 PM on February 10, 2008

I work daily with adolescents in an inpatient setting. I understand your concerns about him pulling the wool over a therapist’s eyes, because I have seen it happen before, but it is much less likely to happen when you get a referral from an inpatient facility that treats several hundred adolescents a year. We’ve seen it before--many, many times. Try to get a referral from an inpatient adolescent facility.

If you can get him into an adolescent therapy group, it will be helpful. I’m sorry the counselor pulled him out of the group—he does have trouble socializing and it probably would have been good for him to continue with the group. I can’t quantify how much benefit the kids get from us and the therapy versus how much they get from being around other marginalized kids, but I think they probably get more benefit from being around the other marginalized kids (who are in therapy—not just marginalize kids, generally). They will respond to feedback from the other kids that they won’t consider from an adult.

I agree he probably knows you’re watching him online and that most ways that you try to restrict his online access will be challenges to him that he’ll find a way to overcome. That’s secondary. The primary issue is that he’s very bright and bored. There’s a small possibility that he’s on his way to more serious problems but I wouldn’t worry about that right now. Just focus on the bright and bored part, and try to get him into some kind of therapy.
posted by aliksd at 5:17 PM on February 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

... fictional tales of [...] severe mental illness(es) including OCD, bipolar, depression, and ADD ... His dad is severely bipolar ... He has no diagnosed mental illness ... He has not seen a psych ...

It's possible your son is depressed. And if not, I still wouldn't be at all surprised if he thinks he has a mental illness. It's pretty common (anecdotally) for kids with family histories of mental illness to worry that they'll inevitably have those problems too. I've had a couple friends work themselves into rough places over it. He may be experimenting with diagnoses, thinking, Well, I'm lonely and unmotivated...maybe I'm depressed. I can't concentrate on this stuff that everyone seems to...maybe I have ADD. It's entirely normal for a smart kid to try to explain why he feels different, and if he's kind of hung up on his dad's illness that would be logical place to start. Talking to a counselor/psych might actually reassure him a lot.

It seems clear that he craves interaction with older people--maybe because he finds kids his own age to be not on his intellectual level, or they tease him, or he can't relate to their interests (all totally normal). And maybe also he's looking for adult approval--especially if his dad is largely absent and seems adolescent himself. Proving he's clever and can argue with and provoke people much older than himself gets him that attention. Try to work in more opportunities for him to socialize with people of mixed age groups. Community classes in art or computer skills? Is there a volunteer job he'd enjoy?

And those two family members he respects: don't try to get them in on condemning his online behavior. But let them know you've been worried about him, and see if they can spend more time together away from you.

Definitely, definitely encourage him to write! Fiction, "articles," journaling...
posted by hippugeek at 5:49 PM on February 10, 2008

when I was a teen (I think 15 at the time) and discovered the internet, the first thing I did was to impersonate a female 30yo abuse victim on a chat room and laughing my ass off that I got away with it.
So I'd say, pretty normal behaviour for a teen, from my biased perspective. Don't blow it out of proportion.
posted by kolophon at 6:10 PM on February 10, 2008

Another update from the OP:

I appreciate everyone's suggestion to place him back into public school, but it's already a given I promise. In my area, the school you attend is strictly decided by address. To place him into a more appropriate school would require we move to another area. I'm absolutely unwilling to place him back into a public middle. They are horrible institutions. His school year is over in 4 months. Next year, he begins highschool and will hopefully be attending a small private or small public school. Those plans are in the works, so not fully decided, but he will be re-entering outside schooling. When I removed him from the school, we all knew this was a temporary solution to rid ourselves of that middle school hell. This is a 14yo, he doesn't need ongoing babysitting or constant presence of a teacher. It is not a requirement and he does very well learning independently. He's favored less structured and independent-learning since mid-2nd grade. Over the years, the good teachers have accommodated his needs rather well. So, this primarily self-taught curriculum is a pleasant and desired change to him. Enrolling him into a Christian, Military, or boarding school would antagonize him beyond belief. We are atheist/agnostic, so even weekly chapel would be a thorn in his side.
We're going to recommit to more outside activities. These activities won't necessarily help during the daytime, but most of that time is spent finishing schoolwork. I don't think he's lonely in the daytime, but he's probably got some chunks of boredom here and there. Also, I fully understand he's seeking more attention specifically from me. That's an easy fix. He doesn't have many outlets for his creative writing, so I'm already researching ideas for that. Probably be better as a separate question, but if any of you have ideas, I'm open...
He is not open one bit to the idea of therapy. In all likelihood, he will not even speak. I'm concerned that forcing a therapist will make things worse, rather than help.
The main purpose of the router is to restrict daytime internet usage. Before this week, I knew he was spending too much time playing games while I was at work. He will still be able to get his schoolwork done, but the play will come in the evening after I've had time to review with him. I hear what everyone's saying about it being a temporary solution. However, I do believe it will help him specifically with self-discipline.
Nebula, you specifically mentioned something that caught my eye. Middle teachers don't take him seriously, most adults see him as a kid, and he's desperate for his ideas to be seen before his physical appearance. The good teachers over the years have provided that exact relationship to him. Every teacher has either loved him or hated him, there's no middle ground. He has trouble reaching out to adults. Many of them equate his opinions and independence as disrespect and defiance. Love or Hate, every single one of them.
Acacia, I love the idea of printing everything and discussing it all. I will lookup that book as well. Thanks for your ideas, some things I didn't consider at all. We do have pets (including a needy dog), so that's covered. I don't think we can fit anymore into this place.
Moonbird, I don't see any real anxiety in him. Family situation is stable, we've been divorced since he was 1. His moods are kooky, but I don't think it's abnormal for his age. I'm not jealous or resentful of his dad's relationship with him. I'm cautious and irritated because his dad is a negative role model encouraging these outright negative behaviors. There's many more examples I could give in this regard, from years of parenting him (and the dad's relationship), but I feel those are too personal and identifying. I do find your words encouraging and will definitely be taking this issue as an opportunity to improve things around here.
Konolia, Thanks for the kind words in this sea of blame. I have been able to weed out some good suggestions. You are absolutely right, I've picked my battles over the years. That's been easy because raising him was super-easy. He was never clingy, never prone to temper tantrums, rarely a whiner, and there were no terrible twos. He doesn't fight, he doesn't steal, he minds me (but now with some grumbling), his grades were always good, he rarely lied, etc. His only vice is video games. I do want him to know I'm always on his side, good or bad, which is why the thought of embarrassing him was just that, an initial thought.
Kolophon, And then what? Did you get bored of it?

posted by konolia at 6:27 PM on February 10, 2008

He is not open one bit to the idea of therapy. In all likelihood, he will not even speak.

Well, what's his theory about what he needs? I mean, have you just said, "I saw X, Y, Z. What is up with that? Are you okay? It seems like something not-so-good is going on with you. Or am I misunderstanding something?" If he led you to the worst of it, he wants you to know. So it's either a cry for help or a desire for you to set some limits ("hey, lying online is still lying, you know").

I don't know, I'm not a parent, so I'm probably not wording it right, but when I was having a truly shitty time as a teenager, I knew it and would have welcomed help (and my mom later told me she felt bad she hadn't been more proactive about getting me help during that one hard time, though I certainly didn't blame her). Other times, my parents may have thought something bad was going down, but I could explain why they actually didn't need to worry. I'd just ask and then listen.
posted by salvia at 7:12 PM on February 10, 2008

I think you need to reconsider this internet stalking. If the kid has shown he isn't a troublemaker, and he's as smart as you say, you need to stop monitoring him every second. It's your right to, as a parent, but he hasn't really given you a reason to obsess over his online activities this much. The worst thing he's done is give his real name, so remind him about needing to stay anon online as needed. But really, if he's so anti-authority and as smart as you say, he'll start hiding things from you the minute he realizes how much you know about what he does online. That won't help anything. Your advantage now is that he seems to trust you. Don't mess that up.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:24 PM on February 10, 2008

A lot of really good advice here. I was a similar sort of young teenager - precocious, snarky, often isolated because I stayed home from school a lot. I had a lot of depression issues that were related to my illness and I have to say that I am grateful that a) the internet wasn't really something people had (not anyone I knew anyway) then, and b) that my mom didn't homeschool me as she often threatened to. Because being alone made my feelings of isolation and depression worse, not better. At the time I hate hate hated school, but I realize now that I needed it for a lot of reasons, and that even though I was bored and understimulated there, the social elements were critical for me. I could go to the library and bring home a pile of books to stave off the boredom of the school day but I could not replicate the social interactions on the days I was in the hospital or at home sick.

Learning how to deal with bullshit, assholes and unfairness is a big part of what school is. And being bored. I know your son is smart, but what happens when he needs to take a crappy survival job and he's grown up with the luxury of doing whatever he wants to do all the time? He's going to be shattered that life isn't sitting at home studying at your own pace.

Therapy for both of you. He shouldn't be at home unsupervised. Spending so much time at home alone was what got me into things I shouldn't have been doing. I was bored, and so is your son. He sounds like he is doing these things on forums as a way to flex his creative muscles - he gets instant feedback from people as to whether they buy his stories or not (I wonder what people say to the 'pot addicted' part, heh). You're also really projecting his father onto the kid, which seems a little unfair considering his father is an adult man with a mental illness, not a very young teenager. And if he's bringing up suicide you need to get him to a therapist NOW. Because even though he's couching it in terms of "a couple of years ago" he might very well be trying to gauge your reaction to how he's feeling currently while putting some distance on it. Don't worry about him manipulating the doctor, he's smart but he's not Hannibal Lecter.

Get rid of the internet in the house - he doesn't need it, let him use it in metered, monitored doses at the public library like the poor kids do. Use the money you save to sign him up for a creative writing class outside of the public school system - maybe at a local community college? And let him throw his creative energies towards something useful. Something like that which is structured and gives him some sort of external goal (say, having a short story x pages long polished and ready to submit to a journal for young writers).

Sorry I rambled a bit. To recap:

- Therapy/counseling
- Back to school
- Get rid of the internet in the house
- Sign him up for a creative writing class at the local learning annex/community college/continuing ed center.
posted by SassHat at 7:42 PM on February 10, 2008

Getting rid of home internet is kinda a no go these days. You need it for school, period. Besides, mom is an adult and deserves her access.

Oh and is NOONE READING HER UPDATES? Sheesh, people, he goes back to school NEXT SCHOOL YEAR.
posted by konolia at 7:48 PM on February 10, 2008

Reading your posting, I couldn't help thinking of the siblings from Ender's Game - maybe he will grow up like Peter to be Hegemon and save the world from falling into polical chaos :)

Are you familiar with John Hopkins Center for Talent Youth? He might really like their summer programs and/or on-line creative writing program. By the way, is one place where kids post their work and can even develop a following without having an editor pass judgement on whether or not it is good enough.

Also, he might really like a volunteer position where he could be in charge of younger kids - maybe as a tutor. It might give him recognition and a chance to show off his knowledge.

If he is good at mathematics, try getting him involved in the problem solving competitions. He'll learn a lot of cool stuff that outside of the standard school curriculum - a place to start is a book called "The Art of Problem Solving"

Therapy is probably a good idea. You do need to ask around and try to get a good referral - a good therapist can certainly handle him but not all therapists are good with all types of clients. The most important thing for him will be that he needs a therapist that he can respect and that he believes respects him. Once the two of them have that foundation, he should be able to get a lot of benefit from therapy.
posted by metahawk at 8:07 PM on February 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

In addition to what everyone else has said, I think your son needs a good adult male role model in his life. He's reaching out to his father on the phone, but that isn't helpful. He needs someone local, available, and smart. It will be good for him, and good for you too, in helping you parent your son.
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:59 PM on February 10, 2008

How about making him join a paintball club? It's social and lets him release teenage aggression.
posted by markovich at 10:05 PM on February 10, 2008

There's something missing here: Everything you've said about the local school is all about what you think of it. What does he think? What does he think of the other options?

Schools for the gifted and correspondence courses would be ideal. As others have pointed out, the real purpose of school is to learn to tolerate the mountain of bullshit other people demand you deal with day in, day out. It has nothing to do with actually learning anything worthwhile.

The empathy thing as mentioned by the counsellor, and the writing skills, and the subject of his writing (ie, imaginary lives), go very much together. That's what a skilled writer does. Just because one writes about abuse or murder or whatever, doesn't mean anything insofar as doing it is concerned. The reason your son "hates them all" (and he doesn't really) is that he's still working out how much of a person it's polite to let them know you can see; he's no doubt gone too far a few times and gotten flak for it. From what you've said, it seems he would make a great therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist himself, if he wants to.

Generally speaking he sounds like a great kid. He could do with more socializing - it's clear he has the talents, from what you describe of the Misfits Club. Tell him he needs to take up a hobby of some sort that involves spending time with people. A sport, dancing, role-playing games, creative writing, carpentry, anything. Let him choose it, and it might take two or three goes to find a good one, but socializing is an important skill and he needs to learn it.

Don't try so hard to control him, try instead to influence him. He's not quite a kid any more. Two years, he won't be a kid at all. Controlling him is henceforth pretty much guaranteed to backfire. Interfere with his love life, and you will never see another girl he dates 'til he's at least 25. Take away his computer, and he'll start staying out late at internet cafes. Go through his books and take away one he's reading because you "don't think it's good for him" and he'll get it out from the library. If you want him to do or not do something, you'll basically need clear reasons for it; you need to convince him. Making him do things, from now on, is reserved for avoiding short-term serious harm. Over the next ten years, this will only increase.

What you can offer him now, apart from basic shelter and food and bills paid on his behalf, is the advice of an older person who's experienced more things, who actually does love him and have his best interests in mind. He may have lost sight of that a bit, especially if your interactions with him are all based around attempts to assert authority or make him do things or otherwise control his life. Actually what will help most of all is, get used to the idea of him turning that laser-gaze on you. He probably already has a bit, though fourteen years of you being Mother (and only a few years of seeing you as you) is seriously affecting his view of you. Make time to have fun. Have a mother/son movie night - get out some movies you loved when you were young, and show him them, and talk about them. Let him show you his own favorites and tell you why he likes them. Or similar things with whatever else you like to do. Art galleries. Walks in the park. Jazz clubs if that's what you like, assuming there's one you can both get into. Talk over your own relationship with him. If he's got the empathic skills, he'll see it.

Here's something concrete and definite to do: teach him to cook. Tell him that next week, he's to invite over his girlfriend and another friend or two of his, and perhaps a friend of yours whom he likes, and he is to cook dinner for all of you. You will pay for all of the ingredients, and you'll help with the clearing and washing up after everyone goes home, but he is to decide what it is he wants to cook, and to do the actual cooking. You'll be home in case he wants advice, but short of smoke or boiling over, you won't interfere. Let him have a practice round, just the two of you. Cooking is a fantastically useful social skill that I wish my mother had given me. There are plenty of other things you can teach him of that nature - adult life skills, basically. Involve him more in things like the household bills, and fixing things around the house, etc. He'll likely want to go away to college or something at some point, and if you can make him more self-sufficient, he'll appreciate that greatly. (As will his future wife!)

About his father and you, he's already forming his opinions of you both and they're probably more accurate--if biased--than you'd care to contemplate. He's free to do that. If you've never told him honestly why you divorced, or what his dad was like (good and bad - bipolar, in other words), then it's well past time to start, if you can find the words to do it.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:18 PM on February 10, 2008

I'm not going to speak to most of this, because others have done a better job than I would have.

I did, however, want to share a small anecdote about my own upbringing.

Smart? Yes. Talented? Yes. Bored? Yes. Confident? No. Affectionate? No. My parents were not warm, and my father in particular was not supportive of things I'd try to do; nothing tragic, but nothing helpful, either. It made for an empty life; I vividly remember getting so overwhelmed by my loneliness at home that when real issues at school or in my personal life came up, I'd be so destabilized by the need to express real emotions -- which I had not been given the tools to do -- that I'd blow way, way over the top and tell peers lies about the awful things my parents did or would do to me. I didn't do it that often, but looking back I know exactly why I did it (I didn't know at the time) -- I simply had no words to describe how I felt or deal with my emotions, and in that emptiness and confusion I slotted in the kids my age I'd seen on television or read about in books, and aped their actions (and accusations.)

My strongest memory of this is from high school, after getting a horrible grade in a class, and during my emotional breakdown over it I told peers that my father was going to break my arm when I got home. Keep in mind that the only emotion my father ever displayed to me was indifference or disappointment; he never laid a finger on me.

So this wasn't a cry for attention at the time, it wasn't even a decision I made. It was simply me trying to say things like the people on TV and books said, because that was the only model for emotional expression that I had at my disposal. I did it because I didn't know what else to do.

Please spend less time being freaked out by your child's behavior, and more time getting him properly socialized -- back into school, busy, supported...and for god's sake, hug him and tell him you love him once and a while.
posted by davejay at 10:59 PM on February 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

ps -- I eventually stumbled into a social group of warm, supportive and intelligent people who treated me very well, and from them I learned how to be a confident and happy person over the next several years. my sisters were not as lucky, one in particular. just in case anyone wondered what happened next.
posted by davejay at 11:01 PM on February 10, 2008

Nthing that he needs to get back into some kind of school! Part of being in school is learning to socialize normally, and this kid desperately needs that, along with some sort of structure. He shouldn't be spending so much time alone left to his own devices. If the local school is out of the question, look into boarding schools or free schools. Some boarding schools have need-based scholarships.
posted by hazyjane at 2:35 AM on February 11, 2008

When I was 14 I faked an older identity too. Granted I worked out my 'parents beat meee!' through fictional characters in roleplay, but I just wasn't interested in what the internet had to offer a typical 14 year old at the time. Who wants to discuss bands I never heard of and feed neopets when there's porn, political debate and fictional violence to explore? That being said, half my online peers were really my age and lying about little things like gender anyway, but the environment where everyone claims to be at least 18 is one where everyone goes out of their way to seem mature.

I got exposed to porn, as written by fellow 14-16 year olds. I'm still an internet addict, and observing the sort of people who lie about more than age, I'd have to say that your son comes across more as cheesy than disturbing, and an overly elaborate abused background was characteristic of someone trying to deal with the idea of going through that.

I would guess your son's trying on mental illness and trauma as a way of deconstructing his background with his father. I know my roleplaying characters would often do this, and Little Miss Angsty Alter Ego was therefore forever dealing with deceased parents (I was missing a father at the time), insanity (I have insane family members), social isolation and integration (enough said) and achievement (learning disability).

These fake personae played an important part in my emotional development as a human being, and I eventually grew out of it once adult life seemed manageable. These days I write bad fiction once in a blue moon, but I'm too busy with school.

Forum trolling, which is what he is doing, is bad behaviour, but on a scale of delinquency it's about as damaging as calling someone a doo-doo head. If his forum is occupied by adults, chances are they would know better and apply the ban stick, so it's likely he's just having a bicker with a bunch of kids his age.
posted by Phalene at 5:59 AM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Underschievers are people who are afraid that they will fail at whatever they attempt, so they don't attempt it. I know one such young man. He's a friend's son, and I regard him as my friend, too. He's brilliant, a very talented artist and writer, and a gourmet cook. But he's working as a self-employed house-painter. He has no interest in competing in the outside world. His mother is convinced he is afraid of failure. Perhaps, but then again it is his life and he can do what he wants with it. He's 26 and I've only known him for a couple of years, but his mother assures me he's always been like this. He truly has encyclopediac knowledge; we're part of a trivia group competing for a trip to the Bahamas and his breadth of knowledge from 19th century literature to 21st century pop music is astonishing. He's good-looking, personable and well-spoken. Truly, here is someone who could go far but isn't interested -- yet -- in trying to do so. He simply doesn't want to compete. The OP's son sounds a lot like this. He has a big brain but doesn't know what he wants to do with it. Probably he's straighten himself out over time, but I would like to nth the need to communicate with him, anonymous, and tell him you love him. He's probably not nearly as screwed-up as you think he is, but he still needs a more nurturing environment, IMHO. Stalking him online won't help him or you.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 6:32 AM on February 11, 2008

This is just what I see, and I'm some dude on the internet so take this for what it is, you don't need to worry about your sons internet exploits, you need to worry about him being clinically depressed.

1. Family history of depression
2. Suicidal thoughts
3. "is pretty shutdown to humans in general"
4. Sleeps to much

All these, especially one and two, are huge flags to me that your son is depressed. I'd suggest going to a psychologist who specializes in depression as soon as possible and asking their advice. They will be able to help much more than any of us here.
posted by afu at 6:32 AM on February 11, 2008

You mentioned that he doesn't hide his little online personas and has even sent you a link to a website where he's played out a false identity. What was your reaction? If anything, it does sound like he's trying on roles, but it might be as simple as you saying "I think it's mean-spirited that you manipulated these people, and it could be dangerous to reveal your information."

Acting out online tends to be a thing kids do just because they can. It's a crummy thing to do, but I'd imagine he knows (to a point) that he's invoking an emotional reaction from other people, and he's learning to gauge the reaction and adjust accordingly. This is what kids in middle school (and sometimes early high school) do. That's part of why kids are such jerks in their tween/early teen years, and why middle school can be such a living hell for kids. I know I felt like I had a small peer group when I was that age because I was a reasonably smart kid. I was lucky enough to have accelerated classes and a few solid friends, but that doesn't mean they were any more well-adjusted than other kids, only that they were my friends so we knew what we couldn't get away with.

The best thing you can do is be available for open, honest conversation. He probably won't want to discuss a lot of things or will shrug them off and act like it doesn't matter, but you're already treating him as a young adult, and part of that is giving him opportunities to fail. If you're afraid that he'll turn into his father, or that he'll put himself in trouble by stating too much information, tell him so -- and why. Explaining why you believe something, and discussing how you got to that conclusion, is going to be key. If my parents told me that talking to people I didn't know online was bad, I would have thought they were just ignorant. By explaining concerns, I knew how to set my own boundaries, even if pushing them was tempting.

You might want to ask him who he considers his peers. If there's a messageboard where a bunch of kids are pulling these fake persona "pranks," then it might be them. But if he's only talking to the people he's manipulating, then he lacks peers. I tend to believe that peers online are as important as those you see in person, even if they're more like casual acquaintances than friends. I'd ask what he knows about those peers, what their goals are, and whether he'd be friends with them if they went to school with him. Not all online communities are created equal, nor are all groups of friends.
posted by mikeh at 7:33 AM on February 11, 2008

This may be utterly useless, as I don't know where you're located, but a school such as this might be right up your son's alley. People are right; middle school is one of Dante's rings of Hell, and should be labelled as such, but a lot of high schools aren't much better. If you can get him into some kind of nontraditional environment, one that tries to direct his strengths instead of hammering him through that square hole he's supposed to fit into, all that energy that's going into the internet might get put to a really good use, and he'd feel more productive and confident of himself as a result. (These schools also tend to have teachers who will relate to kids as human beings instead of behaving/misbehaving automatons.)
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 8:05 AM on February 11, 2008

A lot of people seem to be suggesting that you get therapy because you have contemplated humiliating your son on web sites. As a parent, I certainly don't fall in that camp. I understand what it's like to be grasping at straws to try and curb inappropriate behaviour. It's tough because you don't have many allies. I am reminded of a segment on This American Life episode where one of the contributors makes the case that it's OK for kids to be yelled at furiously by authority figures. I think this situation is similar.

You have received lots of good advice. Nthing the one on putting him in school. It will give you other help in monitoring him. I also liked Phalene's comment, because it puts things into perspective. It could be something, or it could him just working things out using the tools that he has available. You're his mom and you're worrying-- that's your job.
posted by mausburger at 10:21 AM on February 11, 2008

My high school had two programs where you could spent either one or two years taking all of your classes at the local community college. I empathize with many of your son's behaviors. I attended the one year program my senior year of high school and it was leaps and bounds ahead of my high school in providing for my needs from several standpoints- intellectual, psychological, emotional. The flexibility of scheduling, the maturity and diversity of my classmates, the relatively greater academic rigour and increased quality of professors, more numerous course offerings to let me pursue subjects that interested me, the ability to flex your independence and lack of handholding, etc. were all beneficial.

Also, this may be completely off your radar and is admittedly not everyone's cup of tea- but you may want to do some reading on the Indigo Child. There are plenty of books out there on ways to heal and parent this type of child.
posted by flaneuse at 10:45 AM on February 11, 2008

A long-term solution perhaps, but I think a school like Simon's Rock College of Bard would be a good fit for him. He could start college with a bunch of other smart and weird kids in 10th or 11th grade, rather than having to slog through 4 years of high school, feeling unmotivated and isolated. As a troubled teen, I was helped by the friendships I made, social connections, etc. through the local YRUU group. My point is, get him out of the house and around other kids he'll relate to.
posted by thewrongparty at 10:46 AM on February 11, 2008

I'm not a parent but I'm not seeing anything too alarming about this. He's 13. He's bored. He's good at creating new characters. He's even telling you about it. What's the problem?

Warn him about giving out his real name and warn him that if he pisses people off too much they CAN find him- his anonymity isn't as solid as he might think.

I don't think there's anything too wrong with you checking out what he's doing online, either- that's your job. He's 13! Not 16. Not 20. But I'd tell him I was doing it. As for the router business... well, I view it as education. Once he figures out how to thwart it, he'll be that much better at computers.

If he's sleeping in that much in the morning he's probably up late at night, too- when you aren't. I'm not a parent, but judging from myself at that age, and from my friends' kids, I really strongly believe he needs more structure and more formal socializing. It's a hard age (though age 15 is the hardest, from what I can tell) and it's easier to break a friendship at that age than keep one, especially if you aren't thrown together every day like-it-or-not so that you're forced to make up, or at least stay cordial enough to function in a class. I understand that public school is simply not tenable in a lot of places- my friends and family have found themselves in similar circumstances. But he needs to have SOME place where he goes regularly even if he's not always getting along with the people there (as in, he doesn't get to drop out just because he had a falling out with someone.)

I strongly believed that middle school and high school were wastes of time and some sort of torture. I now realize that what they were teaching was interpersonal skills, and how to make the best of boredom and a situation that's mostly beyond your control. My friends whose parents allowed them to drop out (rightfully feeling their formal education was suffering by being in school) for the most part have not be successful as adults. They are certainly smart enough, but take SassHat's post to heart- they've ended up feeling like they should always be engaged and valued. That's not realistic and it hasn't served them well in the long run.

As for the rest of it- he's telling you about it! That is so cool! Figure out a way to use the computer to encourage his creative thinking. Create a universe with all these characters in it. In this or that situation, how would each react? You have a great opportunity here.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:52 AM on February 11, 2008

Based on past experiences, I did things like this when I was bored.

He needs to see a therapist to see if there is a deeper issue, but I think he needs more friends.
posted by Schuby at 11:54 AM on February 11, 2008

Your 14 year-old son has one friend. He doesn't like his other peers.

He currently isn't attending school and won't return this school year. He spends many daylight hours alone, ostensibly educating himself.

You believe his father is a bad influence.

Your son respects the opinions of only two other people in your family.

So, outside of you, I count only 3 people in the entire world your son cares about. Anyone would be lonely and disaffected if that were the extent of their social network.

Your son has very little meaningful in his life other than you. If that were true of me at age 14, I'd be making up false identities as well. It's a lot easier to create a fantasy than construct a true identity out of what he currently has got.

This seems a problem that a mother (and you sound like a really caring Mom) can't directly fix. All you can do is direct him to people and activities that aren't related to you. He's got to separate from you to grow up.

I detect (in your long post and extensive follow-ups) that you view your son as uniquely talented and amazingly intuitive -- much more interesting than his peers, potential pyschologists, and half his teachers -- and perhaps destined for great things. Every mom should quietly feel this way about her kid. But if your child actually believes this and behaves accordingly, it should be no surprise that he's got few friends or allies.
posted by ferdydurke at 3:28 PM on February 11, 2008

but you may want to do some reading on the Indigo Child.

Actually, you don't want to do any reading on Indigo Children except out of an interest in crackpottery.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 6:15 PM on February 11, 2008

If you're still reading this, anonymous, there was a very good article about children and honesty linked today. Well worth reading in detail.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 1:36 PM on February 12, 2008

I can really relate to your son. I grew up in the Internet age and when I was about 13-14 yrs old, I spent 3 months at home by myself during the day in the summer (due to a family situation).

During that time, I was about to go insane. It didn't matter that I had a lot of stuff to do, that I had schoolwork, that my parents made sure I had things I needed... I was unhappy, bored and frustrated. I felt like I was being tortured in a slow, painful way but can't quite pinpoint what the problem was. As a result, I channeled a lot of that frustration into creating false identities online but I also became very, very self-destructive in real life (but in a way that my parents wouldn't noticed).

Luckily, school started and I got a LOT better and healthier. It wasn't necessarily because of school but rather what school provided me:

1) Friends and people I get to see every weekday
2) Structure and change of environment from home
3) There's always something new, interesting or unexpected things everyday
4) Multiple clubs, activities, etc. that I can explore and use as a healthy outlet
5) I learn from sources other than a book

You printing everything out and discussing with him why he shouldn't do these stuff isn't going to solve the root of the problem - which is him feeling restless. You need to channel his energy into something positive. For example, it sounds like he's into debating. If that's the case, then have him join a Debate team, there should be ones at middle or high schools nearby. If there is none, then a community college debate class, etc.

Otherwise, by taking internet away, he'll feel like you're punishing him for his strengths (debating in this case). It'll probably feel similar to when the counselor took him off the group because he knew how to socialize better than the other kids.

So my suggestion, in summary, is see what he is good at AND interested in and then give him an environment where he is being rewarded by people other than you for developing his skills. This HAS to be a daily or 5x / week thing.

Hopefully you will see this, because I really wished my parents did this for me when I was your son's age.
posted by vocpanda at 8:51 PM on February 12, 2008

Here's a final update from the original poster:

Final update to all of this...
It became crystal clear while reading all of your responses that I was definitely overreacting.

I felt it had to be addressed though. Too many youth get sucked into an ongoing game of emotional manipulation as a primary means of interacting with the rest of the world. I wasn't able to just let that slide.

I was just casual and clear with him. Didn't get upset or angry, listened to him, and he seemed relieved by the end. At the beginning, as I traveled the links he sent me, he actually got physically nauseas and slumped into a corner of the room with pained tears. Rather than continue that, I let him know that I'd already seen everything. He didn't believe he gave out his name and city, until I showed him the log. So, that seems to be a sincere accident. I just made it clear that the emotional manipulation was wrong and there are better ways to be involved online. He explained that he wanted to be respected as an adult online, so I told him to behave that way. That seemed to the clincher for him. Lying about his age is acceptable, but lying about dying girlfriends and other dramatic tearjerkers is an entirely different matter. He couldn't defend his actions, which is typically very important to him. I reminded him that his computer access is not an unlimited right. He seemed to have forgotten that.

I also had a serious conversation with his father. I'm addressing Every Single Incident instead of letting them go. If his father doesn't want to hear from me, he can simply quit advocating negative and illegal behaviors in our child! Things have improved slightly, but I'm sure that's all I'll achieve unless my son actually stands up for himself and makes it clear that he will not be a partner-in-crime for his father. Anything more would require court involvement.

My son also seems to have snapped into the realization of many things that I never thought would happen, even though people warned me. He himself is not disabled, no reason to believe he will be (his father always tells him he will be), he's smarter, he can do more with his life, he doesn't need to be a jr version of his father, and he doesn't need to participate in his dad's ongoing bullshit. His dad's craziness is now officially standing in his way. He wants to move upward, but there's an inappropriate neediness, clinginess, or something that weighs him down. It still needs to be dealt with, but the mere awareness of the issue between those two is more than I ever expected. He's now trying to manipulate me into fighting his father/son battles. Not gonna happen. As a reminder, his father is disabled by psychiatric issues. I've always been very quiet about his father's issues, believing that the son needs to figure that out on his own.

School. As I said a billion times, the school arrangement was temporary. His current middle wasn't meeting his needs and he was miserable with all the juvenile behavior around him. There was no worthy socializing to be acquired from that school. His friends were all a grade ahead and traveled to high school already. Another friend went to special magnet school. He hated the place. Homeschooling was a better option. It worked out very well because he could work at his own pace, rediscover learning, and take online AP courses. He passed the AP exams and impressed his online teachers. He also exceeded all expectations on the state exams, so now he's moving on to high school. The middle school he came from had a 20% pass rate on the state exams. Ugh.

It was always our intention to have him return to public at the beginning of high school. He already loves the high school, because when we registered him for classes, the counselors actually asked HIM (not me and not paperwork reference) which classes he'd like to take. He will be taking a couple AP classes available to freshmen and Honors for everything else. He did not want to participate in their gifted program.

He's found an activity he loves near our new home and has very specific goals in mind. The activity involves older teens and young adults (college), so he's right at home. They love him, he loves them, it's a love fest. He has specific short-term work goals in mind and he's working on the training required now. He also has several specific converging long-term school and career goals that focus on his loves, including medical, writing, and travel. He started writing again and was published in a local newspaper. He's written several wonderful short stories that his online friends loved.

Things are much improved. Addressing the craziness online was absolutely the right thing to do.

posted by konolia at 8:03 PM on June 28, 2008

Our program at Heartlight is specifically designed for troubled kids like yours. I welcome you to check it out. My blog also addresse many of these issues. I'm not trying to be promotional, but helpful. --- Mark
posted by Heartlight at 9:37 PM on January 30, 2009

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