Parenting --Teens/My hands are tied; what can I do?
My grandson, 15, has been smoking pot for years including with his mother, 47. We are 70 and live in another state. My husband, the boy's step grandfather, is a cancer survivor. My ex husband, 74, is still teaching psychology! He is the boy's real grandfather. The adults in question have no financial problems but my daughter and the boy live a dreadful hand to mouth existence and both are in and out of depression and terrible anger against each other. This boy has been in advanced classes for years but he always drops out. I helped raise him and even obtained legal custody for a year when we lived in their state of Arkansas. They are living in the very first Winnebago ever made meaning it's awful. On 3 acres her dad gave her. She has done every drug but heroin and meth. Her son, my grandson, is very humiliated by his living conditions. When he lived with me he had quite the setup--big house, dogs, love, all the food he could eat. But he always returned to my daughter. She'd tell him lies about how "great" everything would be and how much she missed him. Her "friends" are society's down and out types=some in and out of rehab. It's worse than you can envision.
Anyway, the boy is now refusing to start school. All his life he has heard how smart he is so it's like , "who needs to go to school then?" and his father has nothing to do with him and lives in a 3rd state. My daughter , i feel, actually doesn't really want him to go to school because she is afraid of the new "drug sniffing dogs" there now. She fears the authorities will come out to the RV and give her trouble. She allows him to dictate the rules. There is some fear there on her part; he is very strong. He recently attempted to hint to me that if I do not send him enough gift cards to Aeropostale so he can style around that he "might" not speak to me again. He thinks he can railroad me. Like, if he did get the gift cards he'd still not go to school. My question to you is : how in the world can my husband or I get him to go to school? He thinks he can outsmart the world and he lies and steals. I hate to write him off as a total loser. He always had so much potential but it appears he wanted to get expelled a year ago by smoking weed on school property! And it worked! I feel so helpless.
I am going to answer your questions in two parts, the first will give my insights about your grandson and the second part will be about you and your questions about what to do.
From what you write about your grandson, he is what is normally described as an under-achiever. The common remedies for under achievers is to get them motivated by giving them challenging and stimulating things to do. As you describe, he doesn't do them for long, typical of under-achievers.
I believer under-achievers are very motivated. It takes a lot of motivation for a very smart kid to fail. What I really think is behind under-achieving is a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. Under-achievers voluntarily take themselves out of the competition! The do not picture themselves winning so to avoid losing they drop out or do not get involved in the first place. If you don't compete, you can't lose. The problem is, you can't win either and until they have some wins to change their inner minds thinking, they will continue to stay uninvolved. That kind of thinking I call 'Loser thinking." I do not think anyone is a loser. I just observe folks that think like one. Under-achieving is a symptom of loser thinking.
Chronic pot smoking and all the other abuse and addictions are also the product of loser thinking. In order not to have to deal with feeling inferior and less than, people with loser feelings can easily use drugs and alcohol to live in another reality. At one level, those substances make life more bearable. Long term use of drugs and alcohol unfortunately makes life without those goodies, unthinkable. Pot is particularly insidious. Because there are few, if any, physical side effects, there is little chance of getting the message to quit from bad experiences such as an overdose. And because it is euphoria producing, the fact that the users are going nowhere in their lives rarely becomes apparent. For a long term pot using kid, it will take moving to a non-drug environment for their to be any chance of them stopping. If that non-druggie environment is court mandated, unless it is a treatment facility with a long stay, they will count the days when they can use again. Sorry for the bleak picture.
Sometimes a kid happens upon some adult who is really admired and who is a non-user. In other words, a great role model and a great mentor like Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid. The chances of huge changes in both self-esteem and in less pot use will most likely follow such an association.
Now on to you. I would suggest that you investigate and go to Alonon [ http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/
]. It is a 12 step group that is for those who care for and about addicts and alcoholics. You double qualify to be there do to your daughter and grandson. When you go to their meetings, you will find many people who are telling your story AND have figured out how to deal with the situation without destroying themselves. The truth is that unless he is physically living with you, there is little you can do to change what's going on with him. You can only parent him when he asks for it and lets you do it. You can, though, not put up with his irresponsibility when he is interacting with you.
You didn't say how you answered his threat to not speak to you if you didn't contribute to his latest desires. I would have said, "that would be a shame because I really love you and would like to be your grandmother, though if you only value me for my money, then you are not the grandson I used to know and you will have to do what you do." I would not give him a dime if it comes with a threat. That would be condoning irresponsible behavior and that is the opposite of what he needs to learn. By the way, that is an idle threat. Do not fall for it. He might, in fact, not speak to you for a long period of time. Eventually, he will grow up enough to talk to you again. The folks at Alonon will really give you good guidance and support to get through these situations.
I know that you feel helpless. You will find out in Alanon that actually the better description is powerless, which is what every parent and grandparent feels when dealing with older teens and young adults and especially with teens like your grandson who really could use your guidance but because part of being a teen is to be wanting to be more and more independent, you will only get small window when you can be of assistance. Remember, he is your grandson, not your friend. You have to be willing to lose his friendship if the price of that friendship is enabling him to continue to do irresponsible behaviors.
I hope this all helped. You can always reply with follow up questions if you want or need to. If you go to my website, http://TheParentsCoach.com
There are a bunch of useful parenting tips on my blog. There is also a parents resource page with recommended books. My favorite one, which is required reading for all my clients, is "Parent As Coach." It is low price, a quick read, and it transforms even pretty good parent/son relationships. You absolutely need to buy and read this book. If you click on the title it will take you right to the Amazon.com page to order it. But you already know this. I hope you have read the "Parent as Coach" book by now.
Jason Wittman, MPS