Struggling with a teenage son does not have one particular profile. Every parent runs the risk of real conflict in parenting teenagers. There is no manual issued at birth or instructional classes one takes before deciding to have children. For most of us, parenting is a complicated enterprise that we have learned along the way through trial and error, and for some of us, a lot of hard knocks.
AJ is seventeen and a senior in high school. He has an older sister who is almost ten years his senior who lives in the Northwest. He comes from a loving, well-educated family. His parents have been married over twenty-five years.
When asked about AJ's upbringing, his parents describe his early development as normal. He was exceptionally bright and learned things very quickly. By the age of twelve, he was probably too bright for his age. He started to act out at home and possibly resisted structure and discipline at school. However, he had such a great disposition that most school personnel let AJ slide for any of his non-compliance. So, at an early age, AJ was already beating the system.
By middle school, this bright, former honor student was re-writing all of the social rules that most teenagers are expected to comply to. AJ did not want a curfew. He felt he was mature enough to come and go as he pleased. When his parents indicated that was not the case and that he would have a curfew until he was twenty-one, AJ went ballistic. He called his parents everything under the sun, suggesting that they were "old farts." He named all of his acceptable friends who had no curfew and basically did what they pleased, when they pleased.
Upon investigation, AJ was correct. He had a circle of friends who lived life on the edge. They were somewhat reckless and their parents tolerated that behavior. As parents, they did not want to rain on their children's parade. That position is reprehensible!
Parents need to parent their children. Their children don't just fall out of the sky equipped with all the appropriate life survival skills. Many of those skills they need to learn over time from good role models. Where have all the role models gone?
Unfortunately, they are shackled by so much nonsense. Whatever good example they try to set is too often overshadowed. We live in a world of mixed messages and blatant social contradictions.
AJ developed a circle of friends from fairly reasonable families. However, these were families who set no boundaries for their children. By the end of his twelfth year, AJ was drinking every weekend and randomly skipping class. By high school, he was skipping school days at a time. In tenth grade, he smoked pot daily and dealt a little on the side.
When his parents got up the courage to confront his behavior, AJ became very hostile and threatening. They forced the issue of counseling. They went as a family. That venue became a waste of time. So, his parents saw the counselor separately and AJ saw him by himself.
AJ went regularly and even still goes to counseling. He admits that he only goes to keep the fragile peace. Recently, the therapist admitted that counseling for AJ was an effort in futility. AJ took no responsibility for any of the conflict and tension in the family. He is an expert at blaming everyone else.
AJ's parents admit that they are not perfect. They are very willing to shoulder some of the blame, but AJ won't budge one inch in this area.
As a senior in high school, AJ believes that he has an endless list of entitlements. He thinks he should be able to come and go as he pleases, even if it involves staying out all night. He also contends that if he drinks and smokes pot responsibly and with moderation, it is his business. He feels his parents should stay out of his affairs. In his mind, it does not matter that these behaviors are clearly against the law. His parents have also made it clear that it does not matter what other parents do regarding these issues. Their position is simple, but clear!
The last few months have been ravaged with conflict, with threats of violence and with constant non-compliance. AJ started coming home during the week stoned and drunk.
One night he came home rather high and became very threatening and belligerent to his mother. She challenged his behavior and called him to task. He went ballistic. He started kicking doors off their hinges and punching holes in multiple walls in his home. The straw that broke the camel's back was when his Dad came in and found AJ smacking his Mom in the face and pushing her. His father immediately called 911. AJ was so out of it that he threatened to kill them and himself if the police came.
As the police cars pulled up, AJ ran downstairs to the den and acted like nothing happened. AJ's violence was so out of control that his parents felt they had no choice but to have him arrested. They also felt they needed to obtain an order of protection against him.
Thanks to the judge assigned to the case, at least for now AJ is out of the house. He is in a safe environment, under duress, but nonetheless doing the right thing. The unfortunate aspect here is that AJ really believes he has done nothing wrong. He believes his mother drove him to the point of no return. Thus, she should be held accountable for all of his violence and acting out.
Clearly, the judge did not see it AJ's way. He read AJ the riot act. He made it clear that he would not tolerate any of AJ's disrespect or violent behavior. He made it loud and clear that AJ needed to be much more respectful to his parents.
Of course, at that moment AJ was willing to promise the world, but still showed no real remorse. He is now in the midst of going back and forth to court, so he is somewhat angelic. However, he is not really using counseling. It almost seems like AJ is playing the game until the system cuts him loose.
In fairness, it is too early to tell. However, until AJ accepts full responsibility for the choices he makes, he is never going to mature and really find happiness.
It is tough on all involved, because the world too often sets parents who want to do the right things up for failure.