The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 057 · Duration: 00:17:49



I’m Terrified That My Son Is Losing His Way

What do you do if your model student suddenly quits doing their work and becomes interested in marijuana?

Lisa from Jacksonville Florida writes:

I have a 15 year old son who, until this year, has been a model student. He’s in the pre-IB program at a challenging magnet school.

I'm Terrified That My Son Is Losing His WayHis attitude toward school has become negative. He is not putting effort into any of his course work and yesterday I was alerted that he posted on social media a statement that implied he may have access to edibles.

After reviewing his phone, I found evidence of a neighborhood teen smoking marijuana and my son was with him. Apparently, the father of the teen is okay with his son smoking marijuana. My son has denied ever smoking or eating edibles but my gut tells me he’s lying. I have told him that I don’t want him spending any time with this neighborhood boy anymore but he tells me that I can’t stop him. And the truth is, I can’t. I work and he is home alone a lot. The kid lives right down our street.

My son’s father and I have had struggles over the last couple of years due to child support and other negative things and I believe this has impacted my son negatively. I don’t know how to help him. He’s defiant and oppositional. He says has done nothing wrong.

But there is a major issue that I feel is getting worse every day. I’ve taken his iPhone from him, which resulted in him punching a hole in my wall.

Do you have any advice or can you recommend a psychologist or counselor in the Jacksonville, FL area? Any help you could provide me would be appreciated. I’m terrified my son is losing his way and I want to do whatever I can to redirect him before it’s too late.

Thanks for your question Lisa. I’m glad you’re reaching out. Yes, it does sound like your son is losing his way. But, since your son was doing well until this year, we can be hopeful that if we take some constructive steps, things will get better and your son can get on a healthy more self-valuing path forward.

First of all, definitely ask around to find a therapist that works with resistant teens and their parents. Check with the school, his pediatrician, and even the local youth probation department and see what names keep coming up.

If any readers out there know a therapist in the Jacksonville, FL area who is right for this situation, or if you’re that therapist, shoot me an email and I’ll get that information to Lisa.

Find Hope In The Positive Things

There are a lot of elements here Lisa so let’s take a look and see if we can get things going back in the right direction for you and your son.

Before we look at the challenges you’re facing, let’s look at the positives.

  • Your son is bright and capable and, up until this year, was doing very well.
  • He has a Mom who cares and has him in a school for kids willing to meet high standards.
  • While your son is showing interest in marijuana, at this point, it doesn’t sound as though he’s gotten completely involved with it, and it is common for 15 year olds to have some interest in cannabis.
  • While you and his father don’t get along, he does have a father and I’m going to assume his father loves him and wants him to do well in school and not use drugs or alcohol.

Evaluate What Caused The Change

So, why the decline now? There a few things we can speculate on.

  1. He is extremely gifted, and often gifted kids can do well without doing much work. If that’s the case, and this year the work has gotten harder and requires effort and focus, and he’s never developed those skills, he could suddenly do poorly. That is a common phenomena for many gifted youth.
  2. Another partial explanation could be that when he was younger, he was willing to follow rules, but now as an older teenager he is acting more independently and isn’t used to making his own decisions. It’s best for us to teach our kids independence skills when they’re young so as they get older, they have the ability to make good personal choices. If he’s been overly structured, he may not know how to handle being a teenager.
  3. We could find clues for the cause of this by asking: what might have changed in his situation? Are you less available or is his father less available? I know that things are contentious between you and his father, and that always impacts kids. Children and teenagers need to feel good about both parents and if the parents have animosity towards each other, that’s confusing, and emotionally painful. Kids can internalize it and become lost and depressed. They can become triangulated and use one parent’s anger at the other as a way to become unaccountable to that parent. Even though there’s been fighting about finances and child support, as I mentioned earlier, I’ll assume his father is concerned about the decline in his school performance and his early involvement with marijuana. This might be something the two of you can come together on and work on together.

One thing we do know is that he isn’t in a good place, maybe depressed, and most likely does not have strong self-esteem or a strong positive identity.

It’s best for #parents to teach children independence skills when they’re young so that as they get older, they have the ability to make good personal choices. Click To Tweet

Taking Steps To Create Change

So, what can we do?

Now, your son was doing well until this year, so what are his interests; sports, music? What activities was he involved in? What’s going on with those?

Who in the school is he connected to? He must have had some friends before he became involved with his marijuana-using neighbor. What’s happening with those friends? Maybe there are some ways to get him reconnected with them.

Those are just a few thoughts. Let’s look at the bigger picture here. Right now, you and your son are in a Control Battle. You don’t want him hanging out with the neighbor and you don’t want him using marijuana. By focusing on what you don’t want him to do and trying to get him to not do those things, you are only inviting his opposition and defiance. You’ve already discovered that you can’t keep a 15 year old from spending time with kids they want to spend time with.

The issue really is not the boy, the issue is that your son is not positively engaged in his life, not managing his school responsibilities and it doesn’t sound like he’s involved in anything else that’s a positive activity like sports, music, or theater.

So Lisa, you’re going to need to shift out of your powerless position, out of your Control Battle with your son, and engage very strongly and positively with him, with his father, and with his school.

I’d like to share that in a recent blog, my colleague Nicole Burgess referenced Alice Walker’s quote:

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

This sounds as though it relates to you pretty well.

You do sound desperate, and I’m sure you’re suffering from parental burnout; between your work stress, child support stress, and worrying about what your son is up to; I’m sure you’re suffering from burnout.

So, in addition to a better strategy for working with your son, you’re going to need some personal time and recovery activity for yourself and some personal support. It’s important to know that our kids need us emotionally, and in every other way, so we have far more power than we know.

Parents need personal time, recovery activities, and personal support. Kids need us emotionally and in every other way. Taking time for yourself helps prevent parental burnout. Click To Tweet

You are going to need to have a more confident and positive vision of him that you hold for yourself and express to him and a more positive tone with him.

Putting It All Into Action

Here are some strategies you can use:

  • For starters, your son should not be home after school unsupervised and unsupported. He needs to be in an after school activity: a sport or another positive activity. The school should be able to work with you here. Whatever your son’s interests are, we should capitalize on that and get him involved in activities that support them. For whatever reason, it could well be that the family strife is a big part of it. He isn’t demonstrating a positive identity or positive self-esteem. We are going to want to get him the structure and support to get back on track to developing a positive identity and good self-esteem.
  • You should immediately go to his school with him and find out what opportunities there are for him to get involved in right away. What are some strategies he can engage right now to get his grades up? Who at the school will check in with him daily and see how he’s doing and what his activities are?
  • Talk with his father and discuss the situation. See how he can support your son in getting back on track. You’ll need to use a positive, no-fault tone with his Dad. If he attacks you, don’t react, keep the focus on what you each can do, not who’s to blame.
  • Locate a therapist in your community that can help, make an appointment to go with your son, and even if you can’t make your son go, you go.
  • You can talk with the father of the boy down the street and let him know what you are learning and see if he shares your concerns. He might be concerned but not know what to do.

Lisa, here is an example of a way you can talk with your son. I’ll call him Andrew:

Andrew, I’m very concerned about how things have been going. You know I’m concerned about your interest in marijuana, but more importantly, I’m concerned that we aren’t communicating well and that we’re fighting. It’s not good for you and it’s exhausting to me, too. It’s not what you need.

You’re a wonderful young man and I’ve always been proud of you. I still am.

Obviously I’m very concerned that you aren’t investing in your education and that you aren’t managing your school responsibilities.

I’m concerned that you aren’t doing any of the positive activities you used to do.

It’s by doing your best and being involved in positive activities like sports and music, that you will continue to learn and grow. Backing off of your school responsibilities and your competitive swimming (which I’ll use as an example), is going to hurt you. You are smart and talented and it’s important that you invest in those gifts.

I’m sorry I’ve been so negative with you. I’ve been upset about your grades and the stuff you’ve been posting. But yelling and punishing is not the right way for me to deal with it, and I’m sorry. You don’t need that.

I do need to add that punching a hole in the wall or violence of any kind is not the way we deal with our feelings and that isn’t the way we earn privileges.

So, before we go forward with any privileges, including having any data plan for your phone, you’re going to need to recommit to your school responsibilities. If you don’t want to do competitive swimming anymore, you need to choose another activity you’re going to get involved in.

You and I are going to see your school counselor and see how he can help support you in getting back on track.
Also, before your privileges come back, you are going to have to fix the hole in a wall. I’m happy to help and maybe it can even be a good learning project.

I’d like you to think about all of this and let me know what you come up with. My goal is not to control you or boss you. My goal is for you to be able to make healthy choices and grow your independence skills so that when high school ends, you’re in great shape to be much more on your own. You’re a wonderful kid, and you deserve my best effort and your best effort.

Lisa, how does that sound? From your description of things, one talk or one action isn’t going to be applauded by your son or have him turn on a dime. That’s not realistic. But in talking to him, you’re also talking to yourself and recommitting to being an empowered parent. If you are clear that things need to change and are willing to stay positive and show the path forward, your son will follow. It may take a while, but it will happen.

If you are clear that things need to change and are willing to stay positive and show the path forward, your teen will follow.Click To Tweet

So listeners, let’s all learn from Lisa’s question. If you’re a parent and you’re feeling stuck and like you can’t make a difference; you are underestimating yourself. You matter. Get clear about what needs to change, make a plan, and engage with positivity and with your great intentions showing.

And let’s not forget what Alice Walker told us: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” 

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks Lisa from Jacksonville, FL.

Do you think you or someone you know might benefit from reading my book, Ending the Parent-Teen Control Battle? Some readers have said it’s the best counseling session they ever had.

Please remember, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.


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