Troubled Teen, Worried Mom
anonymous Asks ...
My son has had a difficult time since we moved to Miami at the start of his freshman year in high school. He is a little shy but for the first 2 years we lived here he really had no friends at all to talk to and I know he war really hurting and alone. I tried to get him involved in extracurricular activities but it never really worked out. Then a few months ago he started getting phone calls and going over to friends' houses even to sleep over and I was thrilled and I never thought to worry because he has always been a very good kid. Now last week the vice principal called and told me he has been suspended for marijuana at school and for probable gang membership. When she said gang membership I almost fell over on the floor. We are a middle class professional family and I just never saw this coming. My son denies that he is in a gang but he is really defensive of his new friends and kind of secretive about it. What am I supposed to do now? How do I get a really good but really lonely teenage kid to stop hanging with his only friends? I have forbidden that he associate with them anymore but he would not promise me that he would no longer hang with them.
Lita Perna Says ...
You say he has been a good kid. You’re going to need to get your strength from your belief in this. His values will win in the end. If he’s hanging around with jerks, he’ll likely see it eventually.
Take a breath.
Tomorrow get a copy of ‘Yes Your Teen is Crazy! Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your mind’! By Michael J. Bradley. This book will comfort you and help explain your son’s behavior.
How are his grades? Does he have college plans? What are his goals? Where’s his father? Does he communicate with anyone in the family? What is he interested in?
Your son being defensive and secretive is normal because he knows you probably won’t approve of his friends. Do you know any of them? Can you make an effort? Can you suggest he bring them home? Can you try to suspend judgment?
His steps to break away from you are also normal. He’s trying to grow up. He’s testing his wings and new ideas and identities.
You do need to set limits. You are the parent and you are in charge. He must be made to have reasonable consequences for his behavior.
Don’t let the term 'gang’ get to you. It can mean a group of other lonely kids. Do you know if they are also from professional families? Have you spoken with any of their parents? Can you do this?
You probably can’t stop your son from seeing his friends. Your forbidding your son to see them will likely drive him closer to them and further away from you. They are more important than his family at this stage of his development. This too, is normal.
Don’t make him lie to you or make false promises to you about not seeing them.
Bite your lip before you criticize his friends, the way he dresses or his interests.
Make an effort to keep communication open. He probably won’t. (normal)
Don’t give him the third degree about his activities.
The worst thing you can do is become an advisory.
The best thing you can do is to invite the kids over and get to know them.
I’m also going to suggest that you find a counselor who specializes in teens. Talking to a counselor who specializes in teen behavior will help both you and your son.
I understand that you are probably in a state of shock right now and sick at heart.
Take a breath. You’re on a bumpy but very familiar road that many parents of teens have traveled. Good values and good parents usually win out in the end.