PJ is a young man who was born into a family of promise and tremendous potential. He is sixteen and the youngest of three children. His two older brothers are college graduates living on their own. His parents have a strong marriage. His Mom is a stay at home Mom. Dad is a very successful business executive.
Education has always been a priority in this family. The two older boys attended all private schools until college. PJ went to a private elementary and middle school. With deep frustration and some regret, PJ went to and is still attending his community high school.
A major reason why PJ's family settled here on the North Shore was because of the excellent reputation of the local public high schools. They moved to their specific community solely because of the fine schools.
In private school, PJ excelled. The teacher-student ratio was ten to one. The learning environment was excellent, especially for a boy with some learning problems. The structure and discipline helped PJ to thrive.
When he began high school, PJ's teachers loved him. He was polite, respectful and disciplined with his work. His newfound friends made fun of his neatness and his school discipline. He continued to be respectful to all those in authority, but started to slack academically. He became sloppy because his friends were sloppy. School dress had never been an issue because he had always worn a uniform. Now school attire was a daily issue. Regularly, he and his Mom would battle over which clothes were appropriate and which were not.
In middle school, PJ would never miss a homework assignment or not hand in a special project. He was always on time. Now he was handing assignments in late and often not handing homework in at all. When confronted, he always had an excuse. He used to take pride in his written work. His penmanship was exceptional. Now his handwriting was becoming barely readable.
His new friends in high school were clearly not interested in school. They were careless and often indifferent about their grades. However, they managed to pass everything. PJ managed to fail everything due to late and missing assignments.
As the school year progressed, PJ became lax about getting to school on time. He had a hard time getting up in the morning. That became more of an issue because he was not coming home by his assigned curfew. During the school week, it was 10:00pm and on Friday and Saturday, it was 1:00am.
However, by mid-year, weekdays on a good night were 12:00 or 1:00am. On the weekends, he would be rolling in the same time his Dad was leaving for work - 5:00am. Needless to say, sleep deprivation does eventually catch up. It did and PJ started cutting mornings, then days at a time.
When his parents confronted him on his continual non-compliance around the curfew issue, PJ laughed at his parents. He arrogantly responded that it was not an issue for discussion. He said, "my friends don't have a curfew, so why should I?" He finished his conversation around this issue and assured them that he would do as he pleased in this regard and there would be nothing they could do about it. He then walked out of the house, came home at 4:00am and went to bed.
As the school year continued, PJ became more and more indifferent to his grades and academic compliance. His major focus was his social life. He continued to be respectful in school, but at home he was confrontational and just out of control. He was violent and vulgar, almost a complete Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He was unmanageable and unbearable to live with.
Like most parents faced with this kind of behavior, PJ's parents did seek family counseling. Their son was very articulate and was most open to counseling. When in session, he presented that he was the most abused child since Oliver Twist. He gave an academy award winning performance conveying that his parents were "crazy" and they really needed the help. However, he assured the therapist he would cooperate if it would help them.
Unfortunately, PJ did not cooperate with family therapy. He would commit to an appointment but never show. When confronted with his non-compliance, he would become loud, argumentative and vulgar. His parents felt powerless. They also felt like they stood alone. In school, PJ continued to be respectful and marginally cooperative. His friends' parents thought he was angelic. He was mannerly and always respectful. On the weekends, he was the designated driver. His friends' parents were relieved because they trusted him. It didn't matter much that he was driving with a junior license and driving a family car without permission.
PJ's parents were shocked when they reached out to other parents and found out that they allowed their teenagers to drive with junior licenses, to have kids over without supervision and tolerated underage drinking and smoking of weed. They also realized that these families did not have a curfew and were grateful that their kids eventually came home at all.
A number of months passed and things continued to get worse. PJ was not getting up for school in the morning. He was making a growing number of weekends into three-day holidays. Every morning was becoming a war zone. In addition to staying out all night and cutting school on a regular basis, PJ had duplicate keys made for the family car and was now taking the car out without permission.
His parents felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. They tried restricting him. He laughed and walked out. He threatened that if his Dad tried to restrain him, he would call CPS. If they called the police, they would feel compelled to press charges. PJ would then probably have his license suspended.
As they struggled with what to do, one Friday night PJ took the car out after work. He and his friends were joy riding in a beach area after dark, which was a violation of a local ordinance. They were stopped by the police around 1:00am. The car was overloaded with high school students. Some had been drinking, some had smoked some weed. One seventeen year old had pot in his possession. He was arrested. Allegedly the beer was confiscated. No other summons or tickets were issued. PJ was identified as the driver. Nothing was said about his junior license or the fact that the car was overloaded. He was scared and sent on his way.
When he got home, he went right to bed. The next morning he shared the events of the previous night's adventure. He expressed how frightened he was, but then changed his tone and said even the cops did not make a big deal about his junior license.
Needless to say, that frustrated his parents. What message was given to that carload of kids that night? When do you stop cutting kids slack and hold them accountable?
Would it take a car accident at 2:00am with an overloaded car of high school coeds with an inexperienced illegal driver at the wheel where two of the passengers are killed? Would that wake people up? Or would it take even more?