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Thread: Out of control teens, when and where to draw the line?

  1. #1
    HethD is offline INCIIDer - A Community Creator
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    Default Out of control teens, when and where to draw the line?

    (Warning: this got long.)

    I need some perspective. My own mother has told me that maybe we're too strict with our defiant 17yo ds and we're pushing him to rebel. So, tell me how you would respond to this behavior or how your family responded if you or a sibling were similar to my ds. I need insight.

    Here's some background. We adopted ds out of foster care at 7yo after having an unstable childhood. He was the 'parent' and took care of his bio mom and little sis (also our dd now). They experienced neglect, homelessness and probably verbal and physical abuse. They were basically just not parented. I think part of his defiance is that he still feels that he can parent himself.

    He's been in our home now 10 years and will be 18 in a few months. He just graduated high school. Ninety percent of the time, hes a good kid with a big heart. Hes capable of so much, but seems to lack the motivation or self-confidence, or both, to figure out what he wants and go after it. In all these years we still havent figured out what drives him.

    In these years, we have seen a pattern of defiance and, for lack of a better term, self-sabotage, where he starts to do well and then makes some bad choices that mess everything up. Weve tried counseling with three different therapists to try to modify his behavior, and, more importantly, to get to the heart of why he acts the way he does.

    Weve had some major issues with B in the last year. Hes stolen money from us here and there over the years, but that seems to have stopped (and weve all been more careful). Hes snuck out in the middle of the night a few times. He stole our van and drove around town without a license. He has taken our cell phones and used them when his was taken away and hes taken his brothers/sisters ipods and even tried to sell at least one of them for cash. The last time he was out all night, he came home and threatened to leave for good, even packed his bags. We called the Sheriff when he left, stating that we had an underage teen running away. They came and intercepted him and brought him home. The sheriff agreed that we should do whatever it takes to keep him safe and out of trouble, especially since hes under 18. He had been caught smoking weed a few weeks before (claimed he was 'trying it'), but insisted this time he hadn't since then, and we tested him and he was clean. We think that was the end of it.

    Last weekend after graduation, we told B we wanted a fresh start. Hed had most of his privileges (computer, video games, etc.) taken away for the last few months because of his bad choices. We wanted to start fresh, return his privileges and encourage B to do what he needs to do now as a young man with a high school diploma. We wanted to help him find a job, help him enroll in the junior college and help him get his license. He agreed.

    Four days later we found B and our van missing again in the middle of the night. We texted him that he needed to get home now or we would report our van stolen. The van returned in front of the house awhile later, but we saw no sign of B. At that point, worried about his safety, we called the Sheriff. They came out and we filed a missing persons report. About an hour later B came back home and, not wanting to face up to any consequences, he threatened to just leave again. When he tried to leave, dh grabbed him and stopped him and literally held him until the Sheriff came. They left B in our home, but told him that if he steals the van again, or causes any trouble at all, theyll take him straight to juvenile detention.

    Dh and I debate over whether were being too strict, whether were pushing him to rebel and defy our rules. But we have three other teenagers in our home who are not defiant and rebellious and we truly feel that the limits were setting for B now will ultimately keep him out of prison later (where his bio dad is and has been for 14 years). We need him to understand, now, that his bad choices have consequences and he has to face those, and choose accordingly before he acts.

    At this point, its in Bs hands. Weve told him he needs to get a job and start school. If he chooses not to go to school, he needs to work enough that he can pay us for rent and food. If he takes any of our cars again, or takes anything from any of us, or chooses to sneak out all the time, weve told him he can no longer live here. This is a choice we had to make with the well-being of the whole family in mind, and with the best interests for Bs future. If it comes to this, there is a local home that takes teens that cant live in their homes any longer. Of course, we cant force him to stay there, but we at least know there is a place available that will keep him safe.

    So, the big question...how would you handle this? Not be as strict? Or would you have kicked him out long ago? Dh was very close to having the sheriff just take him this time. He swung at dh and they wrestled quite a bit before dh pinned him long enough to calm him down.

    Please share some perspective.

    Thanks,
    Heather

  2. #2
    psilverman is offline INCIIDer - A Community Creator
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    Default I honestly don't know...

    ...I think I came into reading this expecting to agree with your mother. But honestly, the choices he is making and the things you are describing are not "small things" -- at least the way you are describing them here. I would be less concerned with him smoking some marajuana (most of my friends did in highschool and are all productive members of society today) than I would the stealing from his family, the running away with the van, etc. Unless he is doing this because he is SO restricted... does he have unreasonable curfews, no access to transportation? I think he is certainly old enough that he should have a job and not expect money from you for spending money. I think your effort to "start fresh" sounds (to me) like a good idea and I'm sorry he abused it. I do think that I would NOT push him out (unless he is putting you in danger). I think your younger kids can learn with you how to deal with him, and if he chooses to leave (not run away, but seriously pack up, get a job, get an apartment, get a bicycle!), you let him. But for him and his sister, they need to know they can't push away your love and your commitment to them -- no matter how hard they try. Not to say you are doormats.

    I guess this next question is so naive it is painful... but have you asked him WHY he does these things... and if so, have you gotten any answer beyond a surly shrug? I mean, why is he taking the car... why is he stealingl... why is he staying out all night. What is he so angry about. I'm sure your multiple therapists and sessions with him have tried to get at this... but I'm sure curious. Or maybe it is obvious. He had a ************ty childhood. I'm not sure how you fully recover from that.

  3. #3
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    My kids are much younger so I have no direct experience to offer, but it doesn't sound to me like you're being too strict. It is unacceptable, period, to steal, lie and sneak around. That is not behavior that you can tolerate - and, frankly, that your other children should have to deal with / be exposed to. The consequences you've imposed seem logical and fair. If things have deteriorated to the point where your son is getting physical with your husband, its time for a change - either in your son's attitude and behavior (seems unlikely right now) or in the composition of your household (he moves out).

    Do you think he would benefit from counseling, either individual or family? Have you tried this route?

    Slightly off-topic but sort of relevant: I've been reading a blog lately about a family who just lost their 18 year old son to a drug overdose / severe beating (mamapundit.com - found via the NYT motherlode blog where you might want to look for helpful discussions). This family could be any of ours on this board - the boy was a smart, capable kid (with loving parents and 3 adoring siblings) who made really crappy choices and was extremely susceptible to addiction. The entire family is absolutely grief stricken and the mother is tortured by the fact that when her son came to her at 14 and confessed that he had tried pot, she initially wrote it off as normal experimentation.

    Reading this family's story has really made me rethink how I will approach my sons when I even sense that they are engaging in self-destructive behavior - drugs, stealing, or anything else that they might come up with.

    Good luck, Heather. I know this must be incredibly difficult.

    Courtney

  4. #4
    CDB is offline INCIIDer - A Community Creator
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    I need more info - like psilverman asked, what is his curfew? is he allowed to drive your vehicle or can you help him get his own? is he allowed to go to parties and hang out with his friends without feeling like he has to ask permission, be home at a certain time, etc. etc.?

    This is a tough one for me because I moved out at 17, fully capable of supporting myself and taking care of myself, and I did (no financial help from my family, no help getting an apartment, they no longer were 'required' by me, if that makes sense), so I have trouble understanding why an 18 year old is at home and behaving this way if he has enough privelages that make him feel like an adult. Absolutely he needs to either go to school or contribute to the household if he continues to live with you, but to take a cell phone/computer/etc. away from a 17/18yo seems very heavy handed to me and that you're treating him too young. He's an adult, set the rules. Is he paying his own cell phone bill? If not, he needs to be and you don't then have the right to take it away. I guess you find a way to set him up for success by relaxing some of your rules and he definitely has to suffer his own consequences if he can't succeed in this adult way. What about helping him move out on his own in terms of financial support for rent for X amount of time, but beyond that, you don't provide support in the form of transportation, cell phone bills, etc. He can figure out if he likes living like an adult or if he still needs family/financial support to get there. And if that's the case, he would need to follow your rules - but he IS an adult living in your home, so the expectations/rules should take that into consideration.

  5. #5
    fatcat is offline INCIIDer - A Community Creator
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    I think like it sounds as though you are doing everything right - or at least with the best of intentions. I can only imagine I'd be doing the same in that situation. I don't imagine I would want to be less strict -- I'd only imagine the worst could happen or the peer group he hangs out with could get less and less desirable.

    Maybe I'm also naive about how these things work, but I would probably look into something like and Outward Bound camp or one of those wilderness thingies to help teens gain self confidence and make him go. Or else, I'd demand he do something like volunteer in a food kitchen or possibly even an animal shelter or where he can see that empathy and hard work really pays off and makes you feel good about yourself. Anything to hopefully separate him from other kids who are sneaking out at night, etc.

  6. #6
    HethD is offline INCIIDer - A Community Creator
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    Default Here are some of my answers...

    First, he's not 18. He's 17.5, which is why we have called the sheriff to report him running away. He's still legally a minor and we're responsible for his safety until he's 18. If this happened six months from now, we'd be heartbroken, but we'd simply say, 'Good luck, remember to visit'.

    At this point, he has no curfew because he's never shown enough maturity to be able to just let him 'hang out' and return home at a said time. Occasionally he'd go to a friend's house that we trusted and watch movies or something and the time would be chosen depending on the activity. (This is something that our other teens have earned in their early teens, so they have more freedom in their later years. My 18yo ds has a midnight curfew, but can pretty much do what he wants, like be out from 1pm 'til midnight yesterday without checking in.)

    He's not allowed to drive because he doesn't have a license. We started the driver training process, but put it on hold the first time he stole the car. We will not allow him to get his license until he can afford insurance ($150/mo.), let alone a car.

    About the cell phone, we were paying for his until we found out he was texting to 'score' some weed (another parent showed us the sent texts to her ds). At that point, dh got so mad he was using something we were paying for to score drugs, he threw it away. Ds was told he'd be on his own to get his own phone on his own plan and he did with graduation money.

    And therapy...yeah, we've tried it. When he was in elementary school, we got him therapy for the permanent transition into our family. In middle school/early h.s. it was for his rage and anger and his occasional suicide threats in that rage. He was treated for anxiety over the separation from his bio mom. This spring, it was to try to finally get to the bottom of *why* he keeps sabatoging himself. He won't open up to the therapists and he won't open up to us, either, beyond the 'surly shrug' that psilverman mentioned. He has admitted that finding out that his bio mom is now homeless was the trigger to most of the bad choices this spring (ie stealing the car, trying weed).

  7. #7
    mckenziecat is offline INCIIDer - A Community Creator
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    Default Wow, big hugs

    My kids are younger so no real advice, but just wanted to say you're a good mom and good parents and you are doing the best you can in a difficult situation. Hugs all around. The only thing I would say is that I'd bet money there's drugs involved. There are various reasons to steal but a big big one is to support a drug habit even if it's "only" weed. Unfortunately, that's a toughie - especially considering his age. I think you have done a lot of tough things that most parents wouldn't and you should be proud of yourself and him for all you have all been through. I don't think you are too "strict", you are doing what you can to protect him. One out there thing to try though is maybe say, hey, you're almost an adult we want you to be able to make some decisions for yourself, learn to drive etc and give him some rope and see how he does. Sort of a gradual send off if you will. He might surprise you.
    hugs, hugs and more hugs,
    beth

  8. #8
    Laura H1 is offline INCIIDer - A Community Creator
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    Don't know how you can do it, but he needs to be given MORE control in/over his life...

    Is he perhaps fulfulling a label he has assigned to himself? Does he think of himself as the "bad one"... does he feel unable to live up to and attain the accolades his older sibling gets???

    I think he needs a new start... he needs to believe he has a new start... he needs to be able to make choices... if they are "bad" or "wrong" he should be able to accept reasonable consequences (perhaps allow him to help decide what that would be)...

    It's got to be unnerving to be a parent of a teenager so close to legal adulthood... It makes me so anxious to even think of it with my just beginning schoolers...

    I have no idea if there is any sibling rivalry in your home? It is quite abundant in our home, which is how the following book was recommended to me: "Siblings Without Rivalry..." by Adele Faber and Eileen Mazlish it shed some BRILLIANT light on why I make the choices I make today in relation to my own siblings and my childhood... our local library has a copy... I need to purchase one now... it is one of those kinds of books where you can go back to and get "aha" moments... Although it was written to help parents with children and sibling rivalry, it also serves as a "therapist" for adults who had well-intentioned-parents-that-sometimes-miss-the-mark... so forget about the title and take a look... it has helped dh and I modify our parenting when we have hit a roadblock...

    (((hugs)))
    Laura
    Last edited by Laura H1; 06-05-2010 at 08:46 PM.

  9. #9
    Reese14 is offline INCIIDer - A Community Creator
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    Default Don't give up on him

    I have no other answers. I do not have teens but I know they can be irrational and make bad choices.

    I'd be upset at the stealing money, car, drugs. I don't think I would kick him out. He is obviously struggling, trying to come to grips with his past, maybe has some guilt that his bio mom is on the street and somehow feels he doesn't deserve the home he has been given? I have no idea what goes through the mind of a teenager, but I think his past is playing into it.

    I would not ask him to pay for food or rent. But I would take his phone and if he wants a phone, car, etc, then he has to go get a job. Nothing, other than food and shelter would be free. At that age he should be working. It will do wonders for his self esteem.

    As far as your car, you should get a box with a keypad lock for your keys. Yes, sounds crazy, but that is what I would do as it seems to be something that he continues to do to set this behavior in motion.

    Don't give him any indication that you are ready to give up on him. Maybe he is reading that from you and testing you. Over and over and over.

    I keep thinking about your words...Ninety percent of the time he is a good kid with a big heart. 90% is a lot. Yes, the bad stuff is bad, very bad, but he's a good kid making bad decisions and needs a new direction.

    I'm sorry I have no answers. I don't have teens but I heard they are really tough so I don't envy you.

  10. #10
    Laura H1 is offline INCIIDer - A Community Creator
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    Quote Originally Posted by Reese14 View Post
    I have no other answers. I do not have teens but I know they can be irrational and make bad choices.

    I'd be upset at the stealing money, car, drugs. I don't think I would kick him out. He is obviously struggling, trying to come to grips with his past, maybe has some guilt that his bio mom is on the street and somehow feels he doesn't deserve the home he has been given? I have no idea what goes through the mind of a teenager, but I think his past is playing into it.

    I would not ask him to pay for food or rent. But I would take his phone and if he wants a phone, car, etc, then he has to go get a job. Nothing, other than food and shelter would be free. At that age he should be working. It will do wonders for his self esteem.

    As far as your car, you should get a box with a keypad lock for your keys. Yes, sounds crazy, but that is what I would do as it seems to be something that he continues to do to set this behavior in motion.

    Don't give him any indication that you are ready to give up on him. Maybe he is reading that from you and testing you. Over and over and over.

    I keep thinking about your words...Ninety percent of the time he is a good kid with a big heart. 90% is a lot. Yes, the bad stuff is bad, very bad, but he's a good kid making bad decisions and needs a new direction.

    I'm sorry I have no answers. I don't have teens but I heard they are really tough so I don't envy you.
    I so agree with this post, especially with: "Don't give him any indication that you are ready to give up on him. Maybe he is reading that from you and testing you. Over and over and over.

    I keep thinking about your words...Ninety percent of the time he is a good kid with a big heart. 90% is a lot. Yes, the bad stuff is bad, very bad, but he's a good kid making bad decisions and needs a new direction.
    "


    This was my impression too... (((hugs)))
    Laura

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