Parenting --Teens/Teen Son issues
QUESTION: My ex-wife has kicked our 17 year old out of her house. He is now in my house where I live with my fiancé. My fiance has left for awhile to try to give us some space to work things out as the place is just 700 sf. My ex felt the girl was too drunk to leave on her own and insisted that she call her mother to come get her. An argument ensued and they broke past her and the girl left. When our son came back she slapped him out of frustration because a very similar situation had occurred several weeks earlier where she came home and found 5 of his friends sitting outside and when she went into the house went to my son's bedroom and found him attempting to revive a naked young lady who was passed out and vomiting. He had her in the shower trying to wake her up. Very dangerous. Later she found a stash of bottles of hard alcohol, marijuana smoking devices, several viles of THC type of stuff, and get this, a stun gun.
He is in his senior year of high school, flunking out, and missing a lot of classes. He was suspended yesterday for one day for aggressive behavior with a visiting student nurse, trying to get her to put her phone number in his cell phone. She reported him in detail. Even with the woman's email testimony he denies it happened that way. He is exhibiting disturbing behavior in regard to doing this to many strangers; telling them to put their number in his phone. Amazingly most of them do it. We are now concerned about this behavior, along with the alcohol and the drugs, (marijuana) and the lack of doing anything in school. He also has a low level of respect for his parents.
We have recently considered sending him to Wilderness Therapy for several months, or some kind of intervention, or someplace to go. These places are not cheap though. Would appreciate your frank advice.
ANSWER: Dear Michael,
Normally I would add this suggestion to the end of my reply, but in this instance, I think it is probably the most important suggestion I have if you are going to have any hope of a long term relationship with your son. There is a book called "Parent as Coach" written by a friend and associate of mine, Diana Sterling. This small, inexpensive book will change the conversation between you and your son. Even with my years of experience raising 13 foster teens, reading this book profoundly effected how I communicated to my own son. You can find a link to it in the parent resources section of my parenting website [http://TheParentsCoach.com
]. There is also a blog on that site which is the beginnings of a book I am writing on parenting of teens.
Now let me attempt to suggest things that will work in your current situation as I understand it. The way you presented it is a little hard to follow, so here is what I think you are asking. After a series of incidents at your ex's house where she found him partying with friends at a very dangerous level since one of the girls was physically having problems and having found his stash of alcohol and drugs, she got fed up and sent him to you. Since he has been with you, he has been acting out socially, continuing to drink and use pot and edging towards flunking out of his senior year. You are at your wits end and are looking for outside help. Did I get this right?
I think that those wilderness therapy camps are an extreme last resort. If I was going to send my son to any of those places, I would first make sure that I had exhausted all local solutions. You did not mention if he has had trouble with the law and is on probation. If he is, sometimes by coordinating with the probation officer, he can put lots of pressure on you son that will make going to school and staying clean the lesser of a bunch of onerous choices in his mind.
If he has managed to stay out of the juvenile justice system, I would have a discussion with him (after reading Parent as Coach) where I would solicit his assistance to work out a plan that would work to get him the help he needs to stop using booze and pot and to tutor him so he had a chance of graduating. I would use, as a hammer, the fact that you were seriously contemplating sending him away, but really would rather have him grow up at home.
Before having this conversation, you need to do your homework. You need to find out the availability of remedial tutoring for him. You also need to investigate local teen recovery programs. Remember to include in that search 12 Step Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and if those organizations have meetings that are geared to young people.
The reason why I would make a wilderness therapy camp my last resort is that there are too many horror stories about them. Most of them are in AZ and NM where they are not well supervised or loosely licensed by those states. You want a therapeutic environment not a beat the crap out of your son boot camp. Before I would decide on your of those places, I would do a thorough Internet search and check with the local and state authorities and visit the place yourself. For me to even consider a placement, they would have to have an alcohol/drug treatment program that was 12 Step friendly because after leaving that environment, you son will need to have local support and if he is familiar with the 12 Step programs he will have all the support he needs, regardless of where he is.
If you have any more questions, please feel free to reply.
Jason Wittman, MPS
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Thanks Jason,
Although there are drugs involved, I don't think there are serious addictions present. However there are serious trust and attitude issues regarding respect for girls, and his choice of friends. Is it unreasonable to NOT give him a key to my house, so that he can only be there when I am there, take away his computer and phone since they seem to represent a "portal" to a bunch of negativity. Every computer, xbox, some jewelry and clothes were stolen from his mother's house because of friends he had over and I don't want that happening at my house.
I apologize for the late response. I thought I had replied and just notice that I hadn't.
I hope you have bought and read 'Parent as Coach' by now.
I think it is totally reasonable for you to limit his access to your house until he shows that he is responsible to handle it. Let him use the computer as needed but you control access to it. For the cell phone, if he already has one, it will be harder to take it away without him doing something irresponsible. If he doesn't have one, you might have him earn it, either by doing stuff around the house or getting a part time job or very good grades. Better than dictating this policy, remembering that at soon to be 18, you lose any control, period, you might just present what you have in mind and let him negotiate a deal with you. You might even make a written agreement that both of you sign.
The bottom level is that he is a young adult and not your 10 year old child, so you need to treat him as an adult. If you had a friend who was irresponsible, would you let him house sit for you? You either need to get a buy in from him or you will become the cop. If possible, the former is both easier and good training for him in building a sense of responsibility.