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Teenage Problems/help with 16 yr old boy and difficult behaviours

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Question
First off, I'm from the U.S. in Twin Cities, Minneapolis, Minnesota. I've become a little bit concerned about my 16 yo son Jon's behavior; he's began buying 5 Big Macs and a Diet Coke - friends give him the money, we don't give him the cash for it. He gets cranky and rants if he can't get McDonald's but is otherwise polite to most people and gets average grades. He tries his best. He's also joined a gang, which worries me. The gang don't do anything particularly illegal, just annoying; the ghetto-blaster plays Carly Rae Jepsen and Katy Perry at full blast, which annoys everyone in the neighborhood. Also, don't know if where you live's the same, but are or aren't ghetto-blasters now no longer fashionable?. I'll be honest, is the full blast of music normal teenage behaviour?
Thirdly, under his bed, he's began to hoard food and I found a box of pictures of a glamour model in her late 50s not someone he knows, not exactly porn but not great either, a little bit tacky but not what you'd call pornographic, but not that seedy. I confronted him about the pictures, and told him women weren't sex objects, but he said this woman was hot, pretty and sexy, and then asked him where he got the photos from; he told me his friend Mark had got them from an old catalog a friend gave him. Incidentally, my son shows no interest in online porn, only the paper versions.
Should I be concerned about his interest in old women, especially as they're in their late 40s-early 50s, old enough to be his grandmother. The women are like, you know, the ones on, Real Housewives Of XYZ series.
He's also started to become addicted to M&M's and Skittles in quantity; again, a friend in school gives him the cash to do this, I've seen them in bags with the receipts so I know they're not stolen. Some of the Skittles were half-eaten. I think he had, like, 10-20 packets hidden in the wardrobe. Is this normal for a lad his age to eat so many M&M's and Skittles. There was even 3 bottles of Diet Coke, large ones, 1 half-consumed, 2 unconsumed.
I've seen him at 3am in the morning sometimes eating these in his bed and he doesn't seem concerned at all about that.
He still does eat normally but is less enthusiastic about his diet and would, given the chance, eat nothing but McDonalds, M&M's and Skittles with Diet Coke all day.
I'm concerned, as is my husband who's his dad, because, he seems to have several problems;
1. Addiction to McDonald's.
2. Addiction to M&M's/Skittles/Diet Coke
3. Looking at pictures of older women [my age] excessively.
4. Reading about and looking at websites on the foods above.
We give him attention, ask him how he is, he says everything's fine, but we are a little bit concerned about his mental health judging by the scenario above.
As a counselor, what problems if any, would you say he had and what, if any action should we as a family take?

Answer
Hi there Sandra,

Thank you for taking the time to write to me and I hope that I can help.

From what you have described about your son's eating habits, I am concerned that the sheer amount of sugar, caffeine and fat that he is consuming is excessive and not healthy. The excessive amount of sugar that he is consuming could potentially contribute to an increased risk of diabetes not to mention, problems with his teeth due to acid wear from the diet coke. McDonald's buns also contain sugar which is caramelized during the cooking process (by toasting the bun) to prevent the sauces from leaking through which will also mean that he may unwittingly be consuming more sugar than he realizes. All of the fat that is contained within Big Macs may contribute to him becoming overweight and having an increased risk of stroke as well as leading to other health related problems (such as potential glaucoma) which can have a lasting effect on his body if it is not addressed. McDonald's themselves, in a statement issued after the film 'Supersize Me' stated that McDonald's should be eaten as a rare treat and that the calories contained in a medium sized Big Mac meal with coke is the equivalent of a healthy salad with dressing. That point helps to highlight the fact that even McDonald's understand that excessive consumption of their products is unhealthy and not recommend and daily consumption of their high fat products will result in a negative state of health. This is also true with the over consumption of Skittles and M&Ms again, along with their sugar and fat content, will also contain salt which again, increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as obesity. All of this information is known and to some point proven about the link between unhealthy diet and negative health consequences, what is not understood as well however, is whether or not these foods can become addictive or whether or not it is just a matter of will power.

There has been research done in obese adults looking at whether or not the lack of an appetite suppressing hormone is missing in adults that means that they do not have the trigger that most people have that tells them that they are full. As a result, they over-consume foods, not because they are greedy but because they do not physically feel full. This does indicate that there may be a link between overeating and a hormonal imbalance but the evidence is scarce around this. What the information does not tell us is whether or not there is a genetic pre-disposition for someone to become obese or whether or not they would be addicted to certain foods. Other studies have looked at the addictive properties of sugar in foods and whether or not it is actually addictive. Studies are on-going but studies in mice suggest that there may be a link between sugar and the emotional effects it has on the brain.

If it is true that it is an addiction at the base of your son's choice of foods, then it is likely that withdrawal will have to be gradual and the symptoms that he will present with will be similar to anyone breaking an addiction. These symptoms can include an initial 'come down' when the food is denied, mood swings, lack of energy, anger and a need to eat the food no matter what the cost. If this does occur or is occurring then a referral to a doctor may be necessary as this could be what is termed as 'EDNOS' or Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified and it would have to be managed effectively through counseling and perhaps, medication.

If it is not an addiction but just a food choice, then limiting his accessibility to the food (where possible) may help to at least reduce his intake of these kinds of foods but this would have to be supported by a consistent approach with support from the school. You will not be able to stop his friends from giving him money for these kinds of foods but if everyone realizes the severity of the issue, it could be that they then help by saying 'no' to giving him money. Another way of tackling this is to make your son aware that you will be checking his room regularly and if you find that he is hiding food then you will limit or stop his allowance. Again, you cannot stop him from eating these types of food outside of the house but at least, you can control it in the house. It might also be a good idea to start keeping a food diary so that you can take this to the doctor if needs be, to give them an over-view of his general diet.

You can also download free software that allows you to put on parental controls on his computer (if he is using one at home) whereby you can specify the types of sites that you want him to be able to look at it. Although he is not a child, these parental controls can help you to block some of the websites he is accessing, hopefully, reducing his obsessive tendencies with these foods. Failing all of these actions, I would recommend a visit to the doctor to give him an overall health check and to ask about your concerns regarding his general diet.

In regards to the him looking at pictures of older women, this could be linked to an obsessive type personality that your son has (whereby he gets addicted to and focus on, quite specific things and does not like to deviate from a routine) or, it could be down to a fascination with older women. Either way, telling him that you are going to be checking his room and also, limiting access to restricted sites on the computer (just in case he is accessing other pictures online) should discourage him from keeping items like that in the house. You could even tackle his friends about giving him any kind of material like that (even if it is not necessarily pornographic) and the act of embarrassing him should again, discourage him from doing it.

One final thing I would suggest is if he is showing obsessive like focus on individual things to the point of excluding things like seeing his friends or putting his health at risk, then it could be an idea get him assessed by a doctor as potentially being on the Autistic Spectrum as this could explain some of the things that you have described.

Chances are, it could just be that he is over-indulging in something that he knows he shouldn't because it gives him pleasure. If this is the case, it should subside as he gets older. The problem is that he will still end up suffering from negative health consequences by the nature of what he is eating and if he will not listen to you, he needs to have hit home to him the severity from his doctor.

I hope that helps and I wish you good luck.  

Teenage Problems

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Daryl Taylor, BSc (Hons) Psychology, PGDip (pending certification)

Expertise

My expertise covers everything and anything to do with growing up, being a teenager or a young adult or being the parent of one of the pre-described. I can cover issues on identity, sexuality, love, relationships, families, drug/alcohol abuse and anything and everything in between.

Experience

I have volunteered for AllExperts.com for over ten years now, but even before that I was trying to use my experience to help others by working with Advice4teens.co.uk, Teenadviceonline.org and even Lycos and Ask Jeeves. My experience comes from being a teenager primarily but this lead me to work with young people from the age of 13. I have worked front line, face to face and over the telephone, e-mail and webchat for a government department called Connexions UK (aimed at young people aged 13-19); as well as being student counselor in New York, a Peer Mentor, a student teacher and working for my school, college and University to help raise the aspirations of young people. My life has not been easy and I have been through my fair share of issues; so there is little that I haven't been through in reality opposed to just reading it from a book or from my academic studies. I have been featured as a case study as achieving through adversity for a number of magazines and I have featured in a couple of books on both sides of the Atlantic; even though I am UK based.

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The Albert Kennedy Trust

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Relationships: Cathy Senker, 2012, Raintree The Dean and Chapter Positive Nation GTEN Television Aim Higher

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BSc(Hons) Psychology Post Graduate Diploma in Multidisciplinary Design Innovation Basic Counselling Skills Effective Listening Skills Mental Health First Aid

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Outstanding Student achievement Adult learner's Award

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Allexperts.com Advice4teensuk.org Teenadviceonline.org lycos.co.uk askjeeves.com Connexions Direct

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