My Son Left Home And I Don’t Know What To Do

My Son Left Home, And I Don’t Know What To Do

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 082 · Duration: 00:16:25

My Son Left Home And I Don’t Know What To Do

Sometimes when parents decide to set some limits for their teenager, the teenager will decide to leave home. What's the best way to handle it? What are the potential underlying causes of their behavior? How can you move forward in a healthy way? We’ll talk about that and more this week!

Today, we’re answering a question from Cindy. She writes:

My Son Left Home, And I Don’t Know What To Do

My son has been smoking marijuana for about two years and we just recently found out about it a few months ago and we have grounded him. We didn’t let him go anywhere or have a cell phone. Yesterday, I found marijuana and when he got out of school I questioned him about it and he said he was moving out. I tried to talk to him about it and told him we could all go together to get help and he said he didn’t need to talk to anyone and he wanted to figure it out on his own. He told us he loved us and that we did nothing wrong. He said he just needed time to think, so we decided to let him leave with only two sets of clothes, no money, and gave him the cell phone he paid for; I shut the service off because I pay the monthly charge for it. I’m very worried about his well-being; he does have ADHD and depression but has not taken his medicine in a long time because he doesn’t like the way it makes him feel. I’m at a loss of what to do. Should I call the cops to get him to come back? Or do I send him somewhere to get help? Please help me with this. He has social issues, has to have instant gratification, and feels everyone is against him. There was an issue the other day where he didn’t speak to his daddy until he bought him a can of snuff; then things were good and he started talking and cutting up. Please help.

Thanks for your question, Cindy. Your son said he’s leaving home and you’re not sure whether to call the police and have them bring him home, let him go, or send him someplace. Let’s take a look at the bigger picture here. You didn’t share your son’s age, but I’m guessing 15 to 17. Obviously, he’s been struggling for quite a while, and you’ve gotten him treatmentthat’s how he was prescribed medication. I’m not sure if it’s for his depression, ADHD, or both, but he doesn’t like the way it makes him feel, so he doesn’t take it.

Now obviously, you and your husband want what’s best for your son and now you find out he’s been smoking marijuana, and want him to see a therapist with you to get some advice together. Perfectly reasonable. So why did he decide to move out and how should you handle it?

The Bigger Picture

Clearly, he is not doing well from the point of view of growing and maturing.

You don’t mention how he’s doing in school but I’m guessing not very well. You describe him as wanting instant gratification, and managing and delaying our desire for gratification is an important emotional skill for successful school performance.

The other hint is that he was able to manipulate his father into buying him snuff; I’m sure neither you nor his Dad wants him using tobacco products, but he gave in in order to get your son to be friendly towards him.

So here is what’s wrong. Your son is way behind on his social and emotional development. His executive functions, as we talked about last week, are underdeveloped. Planning and organization, impulse control, emotional management, to name just three of the big five, are obviously seriously lacking. Kids with ADHD will have some problems in these areas, but your son has gone way beyond “some problems” to “big problems.”

Cindy, I believe from the way you wrote the question, that English is not your first language. I edited some of your pronoun use and other grammar, but I don’t say that as any form of criticism. I admire and am amazed by people who come to the US and learn English. I wish I could learn another language and actually struggle to learn Spanish, and I’m not nearly as skilled with it as you are with English, but it does raise certain issues. If you came to the US from another country, whether it be Asia, the Middle East, Mexico, or Central AmericaI have no ideabut often, parents from these areas are unfamiliar with US institutions such as our schools and medical systems and aren’t well-versed in how to get the best response from them. So, while you and your husband were trying to get help for your son, the institutions didn’t get you sufficient help and your son didn’t do the growing he needed to do.

Kids need #empowered parents, as well as safe, welcoming, and supportive schools.Click To Tweet

Kids need empowered parents, as well as safe, welcoming, and supportive schools. If you and his father are unclear how to get his needs met in this culture, you are going to feel at a disadvantage to take a stand with him, when that’s exactly what he needs you to do. Whoever prescribed medication for his ADHD or depression, should have followed up and made sure you both had the support and counseling needed to go along with it. In addition, there should have been a plan and follow-up to the plan.

All of this is water under the bridge at this point, but it’s important to understand how we got here and that it hasn’t been from your lack of trying.

What's Next?

Here is something to keep in mind, your son loves you and needs you, and even if he is walking away now, he will be back. He does not have the resources to go out successfully on his own. Not the financial resources, not the emotional or social resources, not the maturity. You and your husband need to understand that your son’s maturing and growing up is a process, a long-term process; and if you have clear guidelines for going forward and stick to those, he will learn, grow, and mature over time.

Your teen’s maturing and growing up is a process, a long-term process; and if you have clear guidelines for going forward and stick to those, they will learn, grow, and mature over time.Click To Tweet

Your son needs empowered parents. Parents who will have clear healthy standards, including responsible, cooperative behavior and no substance abuse. Parents who will offer privileges only when they are earned by meeting those standards. You’ve already taken important steps in that direction by taking away the privilege of a data plan and when you found the marijuana, taking away the privilege to go out.

Let’s look at your question about sending him someplace which is a very good option under these circumstances when a teenager under 18 is out of control or not at all accountable.

Wilderness programs are an excellent way to get youth off of drugs and feeling a lot better. They are with counselors, other kids facing similar issues, and naturalists, and get a lot of support for personal growth. Kids in the programs who have made some progress help the newer kids learn to take responsibility and the kids call each other out on their manipulation and self-destructive behavior. The kids develop self-esteem and pride from their accomplishments in the wilderness. After 30 to 45 days in a wilderness program, the program and the placement professional can help you decide what’s next. Often a therapeutic boarding school, but if they are coming home to their parents, they and the family will need strong follow-up counseling support and an appropriate educational placement as well.

Yes, all this is expensive and most families don’t have those kinds of financial resources.

Positive Peer Culture

I’ll just share that last evening I was at a fundraising event for a school program in Santa Cruz County called “Food What”. It’s a fabulous youth empowerment and food justice program for kids struggling with self-esteem, mental health, substance abuse, and family trauma, and gives them a community that accepts and inspires them. In the program, they learn to grow, cook, eat and distribute sustainably grown food. While they learn about nutrition, health, and the environment, they learn about themselves and build confidence and character.

This is a program that kids go to voluntarily, but my point is that a positive peer culture with strong adult support is powerful mental and behavioral health treatment for kids.

Positive peer culture with strong adult support is powerful mental and behavioral health treatment for kids.Click To Tweet

Plan B

So what is plan B? What if you don’t have the resources to send your youth to a Program? Plan B is to put yourselves back in the driver's seat as parents and continue down the path you were starting on. Different states in the US have different laws regarding runaway youth and how law enforcement deal with it. Policies can differ from town to town as well, so you can go to your local law enforcement agency and ask how they will handle it and what they advise. However, I wouldn’t be surprised that by the time you listen to this podcast, he’s already returned home.

Basic Principles Moving Forward

Regardless of what your son does, if he cooperates or not, here are your basic principles to stay with:

  • Stay positive and patient.
  • Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated.
  • Require responsible, cooperative behavior to offer privileges, including phone service, use of a car, time out with friends.
  • Before offering any privileges, insist on professional help and guidance for you, his Dad, and your son.
  • Ensure your son is in the right educational environment and is getting the help for his ADHD and depression, not just medication.
  • Your son may very well require substance abuse treatment.
  • A job or involvement in a program like the Food What program I talked about would be important. That way he’s building skills, character, and self-esteem.

If you follow these basic guidelines, things will get steadily better.

Thanks for tuning in this week and special thanks to Cindy for bringing us her question; I hope this has been helpful. If you are struggling with your teenager or work with challenging youth, pick up a copy of Ending The Parent-Teen Control Battle; you'll be amazed by how actionable it is!

And I’d like to remind you all to please take care of yourselves. You need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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Posted in The Healthy Family Connections Podcast.