Parenting teenagers on a good day is a complicated, challenging enterprise. A manual isn't dropped off in the maternity ward when a child is born. Most of us who take parenting seriously work at it each day. Sometimes we learn by trial and error, other times by our intuition or our common sense.
However, parenting is hard. It is a full time job that sometimes provides little or no support. When we get to parenting teenagers, it can border on adversarial and painfully difficult.
During the teen years, most parents seek support from other parents, family members and even the system - school, government, one's neighborhood. Most of us would never think those entities might be at cross-purposes with us.
Unfortunately, a growing number of parents who are seeking just basic support and affirmation in simple things like curfews, obeying the laws around drug use and consistent attendance at school, are finding fewer and fewer allies in these areas.
Mr. & Mrs. K live in an upper middle class community. They have four children. The first two entered teenage hood without a crisis. Their fourth child entered the teen years with ease. But their third son entered the teen years with one disaster after another.
JK is a bright, good-looking, engaging seventeen year old. Growing up, he had a few medical problems. His mother always used his medical struggles as an excuse for his non-compliant behavior. In junior high, he was merely argumentative and lazy. Since he was bright, he always pulled out the schoolwork in the final hour. When he got into trouble for disciplinary reasons, his charm and smooth talking would mitigate any of his consequences. Everyone loved JK.
When JK went from the small middle school to the small village high school, his boyish pranks escalated to more serious antics. He started to cut class days at a time. He had a million excuses and lies that always delayed the school from immediately calling his parents. In tenth grade, he started smoking pot and dealing it in school. He finally got caught. The school gave him a choice to seek treatment on his own or they would involve the police. Needless to say, he sought treatment. That lasted a few months and he found a way to get over on them.
Things in school calmed down. He realized his principal meant business. His disruptive behavior was affecting the entire school community.
At home he was still pushing the envelope. He started taking the family car out without permission in the middle of the night. He does not even have a permit. On the weekends he was drinking and not coming home at night. If his parents grounded him, he would sneak out by way of his bedroom window.
To say JK was out of control would be an understatement. His parents were seeing a family counselor who suggested that they file a PINS petition. They were very reluctant to get involved with the system, but felt powerless and as if they had no other choices.
JK's sophomore summer was a nightmare. At the end of that summer, his parents filed a PINS petition. JK was fifteen. He was referred to PINS Diversion. Initially he was compliant and cooperative. That lasted about three months. After that time, his drug use escalated and his cutting class increased. His probation officer violated him. He was recommended to residential treatment. In his first placement, he was non-compliant and ultimately ran away.
Once he was apprehended, he was given one more chance at treatment. Through the efforts of his parents, a non-traditional treatment program was found that was willing to accept him. It was strict, structured and no nonsense. The presiding judge approved and he was in.
True to form, he was initially compliant and cooperative. He tried to convince his treatment team that he was the most abused child since Oliver Twist. After a few months, the roller coaster ride began. JK gave a series of academy award winning performances, always aimed at amending or aborting treatment and having him go home.
Every angle that JK tried to get himself released and/or kicked out did not work, but he was creative. He pushed every emotional button a mother could have, short of threatening suicide. He cried the blues that no one liked him. He tried to convince his parents that his safety was in jeopardy. However each maneuver failed. As they failed, his anger increased, so did his acting out. For each acting out episode, he was consequenced.
Finally, he said he realized the error of his ways and was starting anew. His treatment team was delighted. His renewed efforts were short lived. As soon as he didn't get what he wanted or was caught breaking the rules, he was back to trying to guilt his parents into rescuing him. It was hard, but they remained firm.
Although Mr. & Mrs. K remained firm, JK did not stop his wheeling and dealing. A few weeks ago he told his treatment team that he had had it. He was leaving and no one was going to stop him. Hours were spent in trying to dissuade him from running. His counselor reminded him clearly what his consequences would be if he ran. On paper, they were not good. He ran anyway.
The program called the police and a report was filed. He ended up finding his way to his home. His parents have an Order of Protection against him. They immediately called the police. The police convinced him that it would be in his best interest to return to the program he ran from.
The non-traditional program, which had been in existence for years, has a very strict rule that if you run, you don't return the house you left. You can go to the hospitality center, but not the treatment center. The police brought him to the hospitality center. The program he was in was not contracted with the system. They saved the county over a hundred thousand dollars and then dropped the ball.
Although he was on probation and in violation of his probation, the system was prepared to cut him loose. Their position was that he did not commit a crime and he was close to his eighteenth birthday.
It did not seem to matter that he was non-compliant, that a hundred thousand dollars was spent on his treatment and education and that he needed to be held accountable.
The message this young man was getting and giving to others is that the system is inept and not effective. You can break your probation, not be held accountable and ultimately be cut loose to do what you please.
Granted, the system is over burdened and understaffed, but that approach is not going to encourage parents and/or other helping professionals to work with Suffolk County's Drug Court, Family Court and the Probation Department.
We don't need to strain the already fragile partnership between these entities, we need to strengthen it.