Raising A Teenager Amidst Mixed Messages


How do you raise a teenager in a culture that constantly gives mixed messages? We say that children are our national treasure, but we don't treat them that way. We say that family is important, ...

Print Email

How do you raise a teenager in a culture that constantly gives mixed messages? We say that children are our national treasure, but we don't treat them that way. We say that family is important, but we don't really support family life. We are concerned about teenage mis-use and abuse of drugs and alcohol, but we are not consistent in how we respond to those who are non-compliant.

Mr. & Mrs. J. are well-educated, middle class parents with two children. The oldest is an honors student in a local high school. Their daughter is in middle school. When their children were in elementary and middle school, they thought they had the almost perfect family. They ate dinner together every night and went to church as a family on Sunday. They knew their children's friends. Their kids spoke to them regularly about things that were important.

As their children grew, they started to spread their wings. RJ, their oldest, was now in high school. His friends changed, but his grades continued to be excellent. Socially, he was trying to stretch the boundaries at every opportunity. He balked about having a curfew. He didn't like having to be home for the family dinner. He vehemently opposed his parents' opposition to overnights.

Throughout ninth grade, RJ remained compliant, but clearly under protest. He made his parents feel his protest on an on-going basis. The tension in the household was escalating. RJ complained that he was the only fifteen year old who had a curfew, who was expected to be home for dinner every night and who could not have sleepovers with friends.

If the real truth be told, the J's objected to sleepovers because RJ would not allow his parents to call the parents whose child was allegedly having the sleepover. Thus, they suspected that these sleepovers would not be supervised. Every time RJ's parents tried to have a connection about this issue, he went ballistic.

At the beginning of tenth grade, RJ was totally out of control. He became extremely verbally abusive towards his parents. He defied every expectation they had except school. He was coming and going as he pleased and staying out all night. He rarely complied with his curfews. A few times he came home intoxicated. When he was confronted about his reckless behavior, he told his parents his social behavior was none of their business. Needless to say, they were not pleased. They tried to restrict him as a consequence, but he totally disregarded their sanctions.

By mid semester life was becoming unbearable. Besides his drinking and staying out all night, some of RJ's friends said he was smoking pot. When his parents confronted him about that, RJ informed them that if he wanted to smoke pot, he would and there was nothing they could do to stop him. His defiance and arrogance was intensifying by the day.

Early on a late fall Tuesday morning, the principal called Mrs. J at her place of employment. He informed her that her son was being suspended for five days for possession of pot and for assaulting the security guard who caught him. The principal indicated because of the nature of RJ's offense, he could be criminally charged. Mrs. J was instructed to pick him up immediately. When she picked him up, she was informed that there would be a meeting on RJ the next morning.

When RJ was picked up initially he was belligerent and arrogant. As he calmed down and realized the scope of his circumstance, he became a little remorseful. His parents were devastated, angry and fearful of what the school might choose to do.

The next morning they met with the principal and the school social worker. RJ was on his best behavior. He at least put on a remorseful disposition. The principal stated as school policy the circumstances that brought them together would normally automatically be turned over to the District Attorney, criminal charges would be filed and the student would be arrested.

However in RJ's case, because he was such an outstanding student and had no other disciplinary actions, they decided to depart from their standard protocol. Initially the J's were relieved, but quickly regretted the kind treatment their son received. They hadn't even gotten home from that meeting when RJ was ranting and raving at his parents. He accused them of overreacting. He felt this whole ordeal was no big deal.

His abusiveness continued and got more out of control. He basically told his parents that he would do what he wanted, when he wanted and that there was nothing they could do to stop him. During this time, he continued to smoke pot.

Frustrated and overwhelmed, the J's did what every parent prays they will never have to do. They filed a PINS petition against their son. Once the papers were filed, their case was referred to the diversion process. Diversion is an attempt to provide families with support and supervision without having to go before a judge.

RJ was less than cooperative. Under protest, he agreed to see a counselor. When he met with the counselor, he made it clear that he had no intention of changing any of his behaviors. He really believed his parents were disturbed and that they really needed help. He made it clear to his counselor that he didn't intend to stop smoking pot. He did concede and agree not to bring any to school. He also told his counselor that he did not want counseling.

After a half a dozen sessions, the therapist shocked RJ and terminated him because of his lack of cooperation. RJ was delighted until his probation officer got wind that RJ was still using and was not utilizing his counseling opportunities to learn better coping skills. His P.O. read him the riot act and told Mr. Charming that if he did not change ASAP, he was violating him and bringing him before the Court. Considering his circumstances, RJ would be very vulnerable to being placed.

There is a deeper problem here. "Mr. Wonderful" has effectively set his parents against one another. He is effectively wearing them out and rendering the PINS process useless. RJ thinks he can get over on the system and not be held accountable. He is talking about getting a lawyer and getting out of this process, which he says is a waste of time.

Unfortunately, his parents are not in concert with holding RJ accountable. They still cannot fathom that their son is so out of control.

As parents, we don't have much to assist us in keeping a child focused and on task. The PINS process is not ideal. Honestly, it is a pretty flawed and overburdened process, but it is all we have. If this family hopes to save their son, they need to be focused on breaking his cycle of non-compliance. They need to deal with his drug use, which is now haphazard, but unattended could lead to a lethal and forever disaster.