Teenage Problems/Question about apathetic, drug using teen
My partner has a nephew whom we are concerned about. "L" is 18, the eldest of two boys. He seems to me very troubled, but the parents claim that all his behavior is normal, which we strongly disagree with but have no way of knowing what L's problem actually is. Note - the parents went through a horrible divorce this year, but they were in an unhappy marriage long, long before. I cannot describe every issue related to the family so this is just a summary:
L's problems started when he was very young. His (upper middle class) parents refused to impose rules (they claimed they disliked authoritarianism; really they were mostly selfish and refused to guide or nurture their kids, which I know is damaging). ex: they gave L chocolate if he refused to eat dinner. As a baby, L's weight actually dropped and his cheeks became gaunt because the stubborn parents did not want to bother L with "traditional" baby meal structures. (They later changed their ways when their pediatrician chastised them.)
When we would visit, L would often have tantrums and throw toys if my partner/his aunt did not wake up to play with him. The parents of course did nothing.
As a child age 6 or 8, L would have strange attacks of extreme stubbornness, like demand to go to the park but then freeze and refuse to move once he was there. He would have to be literally carried out. Sometimes he would play normally, but would eventually end up with an apathetic stare.
As a young teen, 13-14, when he would visit us, he was often glum. If given intense supervision, he would draw or play frisbee at the beach, but he was nearly impossible to chat with - he would mumble answers or not answer at all. I told my partner I was very worried he had depression, and needed to see a psychologist, but when we told the parents this, they ignored us.
I even wondered if his brain did not develop normally due to the "freedom" to eat candy and chocolate for dinner that his parents gave him so often.
At 16, L got worse, and began alcohol and pot use. Now L smokes pot regularly, which to me is a red flag for depression and/or other mental health issues. He has been held back twice in school, (so IF he graduates from high school, he will be 19). He says he hates school and becomes severely sullen, like a wall, when anyone even asks him what subjects he likes.
L is sometimes in cheerful moods and can engage with us and play backgammon, etc., but then becomes sour very quickly, and he is again withdrawn and sullen.
Any advice you can offer is greatly appreciated.
Thank you for writing to me. I had to really think about this question before giving you my opinion about L.
Let's begin at the beginning. L's parents has did a lot of harm to him. It was their job to see that he ate wholesome meals. His parents did not have his best interest at heart.
A child does not like to do everything that they want to do. Believe it or not, children seek and accept discipline. When a child is allowed to do whatever and whenever they want to do something L is the results. He feels as if no one loves or cares about him. I am quite sure that he has observed friends and family members that were disciplined and he felt left out.
Even as parents it sometimes hurt us to be parents. However, we discipline with the child in mind. L has no guidelines to follow and he will go the rest of his life, if he does not seek psychiatric help, thinking that he can have whatever he wants and when he wants it.
The reason he is sullen is because that is the way he is used to getting his way. He has very little to chat about because there is no give and take. Everything is his way. He will interact with others until things are not going his way and he has to share or lose. He does not know that in this world we cannot win all the time and we cannot have things to go our way at all times. This is what his parents were supposed to teach him, but they failed. This will be a cruel way for him to learn it as an adult.
Now after a bad and abusive, perhaps verbal abusive, his family has the nerve to take him through a horrible divorce. He may have it in his mind, even though he will not admit it openly that he is the cause of the difficulties and ultimate divorce. Now more on his plate for him to deal with.
He is very depressed because he does not understand that he is loved and accepted by anyone. When you try to express your love he does not accept it because he does not know how it feels to be loved and accepted just for himself.
He need psychological help immediately. Smoking marijuana and probably doing other drugs is his way of coping and accepting society as it really is. He now has a habit of using illegal and this is the only way he gets from one day to the next without feeling rejected. Drugs puts him in a state where he does not care. Everything is okay as long as he is high. That is why he needs counseling as well as drug counseling. At this point, without drug counseling as a crutch he will crash with no reason to live.
As his concerned family, you no longer need his parents permission to talk with him about getting help. Please try to get through to him and perhaps agree to escort him to a drug clinic or a psychiatrist explaining to him that it is not his fault but you would like to get him some help that his parents did not make available to him. I wish you my sincere prayers that he will get the help that he needs before he is beyond help.