The Passive-Aggressive War

A few weeks ago a young high school student was referred to me for counseling. He is from an intact, grounded, loving family. PJ is the oldest of three children. They live in a nice ...

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A few weeks ago a young high school student was referred to me for counseling. He is from an intact, grounded, loving family. PJ is the oldest of three children. They live in a nice neighborhood. PJ and his siblings attend a good local public high school. His parents are materially successful.

A month before school ended, a security officer spotted PJ passing a bag of suspicious material to another high school student. The officer called over to PJ and PJ ran. The officer chased him into the men's room. PJ attempted to flush his bagged substance down the toilet. The officer intervened and PJ physically resisted.

The appropriate authorities immediately examined the substance. It was confirmed that the bagged substance was marijuana. PJ was immediately suspended pending a superintendent's hearing.

The hearing was held a few days later. Due to the seriousness of the offense, it was decided that PJ would be suspended for the rest of the year. Because PJ's family was very cooperative and PJ had an impeccable record up until this point, the district decided not to pursue this circumstance legally. PJ never cut class and was in all honors classes.

As the school year ended, the real nightmare began. PJ was quiet and laid back for a few days after the school confrontation. As time passed, he became more and more arrogant in his attitude and his speech.

He expressed rather boldly how ridiculous the confrontation was and how the school really overreacted. He informed his parents that no one was going to tell him whether or not he could smoke "weed." He indicated that the law "is stupid" and that he would do as he pleased!

Needless to say his parents were not pleased with this newfound arrogance and blatant disrespect. They made it clear that his feelings were his feelings. What he thought and/or believed was his business. However, if he were to live in their home, he would have to abstain and observe all the laws of the state of New York.

This is when the cold war began. This bright, articulate sixteen year old started to wage his passive-aggressive war with his parents on a daily basis. Every request became a battle. Every comment a possible cause for confrontation. PJ had clearly moved into the out of control range.

PJ's parents were overwhelmed. This radical change seemed to emerge over the last few months. PJ's friends were changing and so were his social patterns.

In hindsight, his parents could track the major change in behavior to four months before the school term ended. It was around that time that he started to smoke pot on a regular basis.

Since the school year ended, PJ has been pushing his curfew and blatantly missing it. When his parents question him about any of this, he becomes highly agitated and explosive.

As of July 1, 2002, the PINS (Person In Need of Supervision) age has been raised. Parents in distress can file a petition until their son or daughter is eighteen.

PJ's parents tried every outreach possible. They sought counseling and PJ refused. They sought help from their local clergyperson and PJ was rude and disrespectful. They felt totally helpless and powerless. Finally, someone suggested they file a PINS petition and they did.

Initially PJ thought it was a joke. With reluctance, he went to the intake appointment. The intake worker made it very clear that PJ would be very foolish if he failed to comply.

One of the conditions of PINS diversion is counseling. PJ was told that he needs to cooperate with the experience. If his counselor reported that he was non-compliant, he would run the risk of facing a Family Court judge.

Of course PJ went to counseling. He told his counselor that the whole process was a waste of time and that it was his parents who really needed the assistance.

After a number of clinical connections, PJ was referred to me. He was very verbal and very clear with his viewpoints. He viewed the whole system as corrupt. He felt that everyone was overreacting to his end of the school year confrontation. He was adamant that no one was going to block him from smoking pot if that is what he desired to do.

As I listened intently for a few sessions, I realized that this sixteen year old was not immoral, but rather amoral. For all of his book smarts, he has no real sense of rightness and wrongness. He really believes that he can do as he pleases as long as he does not hurt anyone in the process.

Drinking and smoking pot are personal choices. From PJ's perspective, it does not matter that the use of illegal drugs and alcohol by sixteen year olds is against the law. He says it's a "dumb law that he is not bound to follow."

PJ was tenacious that he should be free to do as he pleases. Only after he was convinced that if he did not comply, he would run the risk of being removed from his home did he temper his arrogance.

This bright, articulate sixteen year old believes that he should not be held accountable regarding certain social behaviors. His position is that everyone is smoking and drinking, so what is the big deal? He really believes that the system is wasting its' time with him and should be going after real criminals.

PJ's lack of insight is troubling. Even more troubling is that there are a growing number of teenagers who believe as he does - that it is no big deal getting stoned and drunk, especially if every other area of their lives is in order.

It is a big deal. We parents and adults need to be more consistent in this area. At sixteen, every teenager should be held accountable, should be expected to abide by the law and should be drug and alcohol free.

If they want to change the law, then they should work to change the law and not merely ignore it!