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Stubborn Teen Denying He Needs Help

by Jessica
(Charlotte, NC)

Annie,

There are several aspects I would like to address with you, so I will break apart the most important in two or three questions.

For now, I would like to ask you for tips to gain my son's trust, since he does not confide in me with anything and I know he is struggling with several things.

First, my husband is not his father and Philip overly rejects him, at such a point that their relationship is practically null. They travel together to school in the mornings and for my husband is very difficult because Philip does not talk the whole way. My husband is very frustrated and I understand him. It is not pleasant.

I have to be mother and father for Philip, because he does not see nor respect any authority in my husband, and his relationship with his real father is vague. They speak on the phone a kind of twice a month or so.... and Philip told me he does not need to tell him about his private stuff.

Philip is also having personal appearance issues, which is affecting his self esteem considerably. He is not so tall (I am short so is his father), but girls like tall guys. He is one of the oldest in his class, so acne broke out first for him. I have bought whatever you want for him. I offered to do the facial myself daily (I mean the Simple one).

I took him to a Dermatologist and paid for very expensive medicine that he does not take with discipline and the cream dries his skin that much that he did not want to use it again. I agree about this last. His skin gets worse with that.

Yesterday I saw him cleaning his face, so....Let's see if he does it daily. Philip is a nice boy, is my son and I see him gorgeous ha ha ha. But the truth is that he is OK.

When he listens to me and let me take him to the salon for a haircut, he comes back from school very satisfied, because he sees the impact among the girls and his pals. Many people celebrate his modern although short style haircut. And he looks handsome.

He has a very strong personality and likes to be the center of attention. He has friends, although they have been up and down lately, saying he did not have friends at the school he is attending now he is in Middle School. Almost demanded from me to remove him from this school and enroll him in another private school where he has some friends with whom he was before in an Elementary private school. However, suddenly something that one of his best friends said in his school about the new friends he has made, made my son calm down and forgot about that idea of not having friends and going to another school where he had friends.

He is very moody. The hormones are getting crazy in his system and that breaks my heart. I am more flexible to understand that and to be able to accept certain attitudes, than my husband. He probably does not feel it like me, first because he is not his son, he has no children on his own, and I think there is a missing connection there for him to be able to understand better.

Well, Philip changes his mind 24 times a day. He struggles with popularity (being the center of attention) because he is not a sports guy and girls like that. He is more an artist.

We are also having the famous behavior problems because he is terribly disobedient and he challenges me every day with every order I give him. He does not respect rules and restrictions and homework is a twins delivery.

He and I have made an agreement for a prize I gave him, but he has not done what we agreed to. My husband gets very irritated when he disobeys, and considers many of his faults very disrespectful. I have another concept of disrespect.

Sometimes is hard to get to a middle point with my husband, because we are different on the way to raise and correct. I know I might make mistakes that I do not see so badly as errors.... but some of my husband's methods do not please me very much. Especially when his relationship with Philip is so very tense. I have suggested him to gain him first than keep trying to educate and punish him. I believe punishment is needed but, it is not my first option, nor the one to be repeating and repeating.

Last thing, Philip is not dealing very well with the beginning of his social relations with girls. Especially, because he is attracted to one girl who for the few things I have seen and can judge, is playing around with him and is hurting his feelings. He is hurting. She left the door open to a possible relationship when he first asked her out (you know what the kids refer when they say going out). Is not what we call going out, or dating. They are not really in the age of dating as we know it. Anyway, she changed her mind immediately. Same day, and called him. Rejected him initially saying to him she was not of the age to be hanging out with boys. I think she is 12 or 13. Philip is 14. Afterwards, I found out that she told him she has had so many boyfriends and she had dumped so many guys at her young age.

I would like to give him some advice on this regard, but I am afraid he would consider that impertinent from me, since the way I found out about this, was not by his mouth.

Well, my husband and I decided to get a Psychologist for Philip, just with the intention to help him. My husband wanted to address first the issues as a family, but I got to convince him that our priority could not be our frustrations, but his as a teen. I told my husband that Philip was showing different attitudes and the most important for me, was to discover why he was so blue. I came out to be that he has his own issues to deal with and needs a hand. It was not fair to start fixing the family's problems, without helping him with his first.

To our surprise, Philip does not want to go back to the therapy we arranged for him, stating he does not need help, and added he could talk with us if we wanted to. However, he is not doing it. His therapist said he cannot force him to talk to him and Philip told me up front a couple of days ago, that if I force him to go, he will sit down to look at the ceiling, because he is not going to talk to the psychologist.

Please guide me. Usually I am a very calm easy going Mom. Nevertheless, I am a very apprehensive Mom, when it comes to self esteem and depression in kids.

Thank you for your help.

Comments for Stubborn Teen Denying He Needs Help

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Unhappy Teenager - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Dear Jessica,
You clearly love your son very much, and are greatly concerned by his behavior.

Firstly let me tell you, everything you share in your letter is totally normal for a teenager! Their fluctuating hormones contributes hugely to changeable behavior, they can sweet and nice one minute and loosing their cool the next. Moody, self conscious, and irritable can be par for the course I'm afraid.

I know it hurts you to see him struggling with issues, but your son is right - sending him to a psychologist when he doesn't want to go, just simply will not work. You are actually giving him a message that something is wrong with him, and that he is to blame for any issues in the family. Of course as adults we can see the value in him having someone neutral to talk to, but you can only gently suggest it as an option and get his agreement. If is he resistant then it is counter productive. There may be someone else he can find who he feels he can talk to, sometimes Mom is just too close to the situation - or a part of it, but seeing a professional is just too much.

It is perfectly normal for a teenager to struggle with many relationship issues. Learning about girls and about how to be a young person in today's fast moving world is one of the primary challenges for a teen. It is so hard as a Mom to see our kids struggling, but that is how they learn. We can't teach them everything, and we can't protect them from hurt. And we are often not the one they come to when they need to talk.

Teenager's primary relationships starts to move to their peers. Of course they still need Mom, and preferably Dad to talk to, and I am sure your son knows you care for him very deeply. But I also suspect your anxiety over him, may be a bit of a barrier to him talking to you (apart from the issue of your husband - which I'll talk about shortly)

Mostly our kids just want us to listen - Us Moms have a very strong tendency to want to rush in and fix it up (his skin, his girlfriends, his school, his emotional well-being!) - When we are the fixer, we are dis-empowering our kids. They need to learn strategies to stand on their own feet, and sort out their own problems.

Mostly if we can be a sounding board and let them talk it out, they will find a solution without us having to say much at all. I suspect he is a bit reluctant to talk to you, for several reasons - firstly you are going to worry and make a small
issue into something far more major. Secondly you are going to bombard him with advice or things he has to do!

Part Two Follows . . . .

Unhappy Teenager - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

I know it is not easy to let a teen make their own mistakes (in our eyes!) or be hurt. So the big challenge for you will be to try at least some of the time to zip your mouth! Just practice looking at him and listening when he talks, and in your mind say over and over, I love you, I trust you to know what is right for you.

Even if you don't believe it! It will make a HUGE difference.

Simply sending him love, listening without rescuing or judging is far more empowering for him. You are demonstrating to him that you are really there for him, instead of rushing off into your own anxiety. You are showing him you believe in him and his ability to work things out. You are showing him it is OK to make mistakes, that is how we learn.

Think about it - when our children were tiny and just learning to walk - they fell over constantly. We didn't give them a lecture about how to walk properly, we didn't suggest there was something wrong because they couldn't do it perfectly, nor did we do it for them. We most likely picked them up, gave them a hug and
encouraged them to keep trying and keep practicing. It is no different with teenagers. They have so much to learn at this age, plus huge pressures at school, and we have to give them the space and trust to keep trying and testing out what works.

I'll give you some examples of his issues:
His skin - you have done everything possible to help him with is acne. Now it is up to HIM to figure out what regime of skin care works best for his skin. He has already noticed some of it is too dehydrating for him. He will also need to figure out if he doesn't take care of it often enough it will break out again. You don't need to do anything else to help him learn this. If he asks you to do a facial, that could be a lovely loving thing to do for him. But do it from a place of love and acceptance, not judgement over his bad skin. He is already self conscious
enough over it.

His girlfriend issues - it is SOOO hard as a Mom to see girls flirt and tease and be cruel - and girls can often be far more manipulative and unkind than boys.

But they are all starting to be aware of their sexuality, and their feelings are all over the place. They want to be cool, and want to be liked or admired by the opposite sex, and it is a minefield of emotions and confusion.

Your job is to simply listen to him if he shares it with you, and acknowledge how hard it can be. Listening to how he feels, without jumping in to offer advice or criticize him or the girls, is more empowering for him. If he asks you what he
should do, simply tell him to be himself, and take things slowly, and have fun without making a big deal out of it.

Part Three Follows . . .

Unhappy Teenager - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

Wanting to change schools - Mostly kids just want to let off steam, and it is all over and done with, and we think it is a bigger problem. My daughter taught me a LOT about being an over-reacting fixer upper! I would think something was so major because she had been upset and was all ready to march up to school or call in professional help - and she would be over it all! Don't underestimate the importance of letting off steam. In the moment they are SO unhappy and the WHOLE world is against them and you HAVE to do this to fix it. But as you say,
the next day something changes, and the issue has gone!

I suspect you are way too quick to jump in and try to fix things for him. Better to let him explore how it might feel in each scenario, and think about it for a while, rather than reacting to fix it.

Now I'll talk about your son's relationship - or lack of one with your husband. It is really difficult for a new partner to come into an exisiting family. And when he has not had children himself, then he will have his expectations and beliefs about how children should behave, but none of the reality of being a parent.

In general unless children are very young, I do not suggest that step fathers take on the role of father. I don't know how long you have been together, but clearly as you say, there is not enough of a loving bond for a full parental relationship.

I got together with my second husband when my children were teenagers. I made it very clear I was not looking for a father for my children, nor was I wanting someone else to take over the discpline or introduce new rules. Teenagers particularly are only going to be resentful when that happens.

I know my partner found it very hard sometimes when my children were not behaving in a way that he approved of, and he learned to take himself off when he felt like stepping in. We talked about his role - I wanted someone to support me as a parent, and to be my sounding board, I didn't want him to undermine me or take over as the disciplinarian. I did want my kids to experience a healthy male role model, but I wanted him to build his own relationship with my kids in ways that felt comfortable to them all. In general, it was mostly through family activities and having fun together that he got to know them and build his love and care for them. I certainly did not want him bossing them around or telling them off, unless they had personally hurt him in some way.

Part Four Follows . . .

Unhappy Teenager - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

A new husband doesn't just automatically love your kids, because he loves you. It certainly sounds like there is not a loving bond with your husband and son, and I agree with you about getting him to back off in terms of being an authority figure. I think your son would be much more willing to make some kind of relationship with him, if the reason for the resentment were removed. But of course your husband may be more traditional and see himself as head of the household and that he has the right as your husband to be in the father role.

Rather than sending your son to a psychologist, it may be useful if the two of you go and see someone to work out together what role he has in the family, and how you can live together in a way that is more positive.

He may be OK that you discuss rules and requirements with him, and you get his input, but the decision making regarding parenting is yours. However it may be that you want someone to take over, that you are looking for someone else to do the disciplining. (although I would suggest that option is going to cause a lot of conflict!)

At the moment you are not working as a team, you are stuck in the middle, trying to please or protect, and that is a very stressful place to be. Your son is the one acting out the tension in the family, and most likely being blamed for the lack of family harmony.

Working out some ground-rules and strategies for how you both deal with the situation would be a good idea. It will also be helpful to include Philip when you and your husband get clear on what his role will be.

Teenagers naturally test and push back and don't like being ordered around. The older they get the more parents have to pull back from being the boss, and encourage self determination and decision making.

Of course you have requirements that your son needs to respect. He is living in your house, he should be expected to contribute in various ways, and if he doesn't uphold his end of it then you may introduce consequences. However, I think you will get better results if you back off from imposing so much on him, and give him a say in his life. You can make a list of all the chores around the house and let him to choose the ones he is willing to take responsibility for. Ask for a commitment to a time frame, and include him in discussions about what happens if he doesn't follow through.

The more he has a say and some power in the situation, the more likely he is to take responsibility for his commitments. The more you treat him as a little boy that is messing up, the more he will continue to rebel and be unpleasant and uncooperative.

Part Five Follows . . .

Unhappy Teenager - Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

Negotiation is the key with teenagers; communicating your expectations without it being an authoritarian order, and listening to his ideas and how he can contribute.

So how do you encourage a teenager to talk to you? Spend fun time together. Do stuff, just with him, firstly, he needs to know the relationship with him is something for the two of you sometimes, not just a family relationship. You also need to get out of the stress situations and just have fun together, and simply follow his lead if he starts to open up.

You can't make a teenager talk, but if you have a close loving fun relationship, plus plenty of opportunities when you are together, then he is going to be much more likely to come to you when he is down, or feeling out of his depth.

You also need to have MUCH more fun as a family. If you can share good times together, then that will build a family bond, but also it gives the opportunity for your husband and son to build a bond in a non-threatening situation. Play mini-golf, go on family adventures, an Art exhibition, or something that you think they both might be interested in.

Maybe your husband can think of something he would be interested in doing with Philip, a project round the home, or something they have in common. You can't take responsibility for their relationship, or lack of it, but you can clear some of the contributing factors, and encourage family bonding activities.

It may well be they don't find much to connect on, in which case all you can do is make sure you have time with each of them that is building the relationship with you, not just routine or even destructive times together. Both relationships are very important, and taking yourself out of the piggy in the middle role would be a good idea.

Try to get back to the calm easy going Mom you were! Let go of some of the anxiety, as that is simply feeding the stress. Trust that your son has had your guidance for many years now, and your love and support will have developed a good core for him. Yes he has a lot to learn as he moves through the turbulent teenage years, but he will deal with it all in his own way. Find more ways to relax and have fun together and that will take you further than punishments, worry or unwanted therapy.

Good luck,
Annie Desantis

Very Satisfied Mom
by: Jessica

Dear Annie,

I just finished reading your response to my multiple questions, and let me tell you that I felt like I was talking to you in person. You got immediately my anxiety and have taken at least 30 pounds off my shoulders with your wise advice and recommendations.

I am very satisfied with your professionalism and want to thank you in a very special way, to be able to get into my heart and see. You are very intuitive and enormously accurate in your statements. I will use your suggestions and hope to get back to you in some weeks with a wonderful outcome.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

Thanks Jessica :)
by: Annie Desantis

It's always great to get feedback, so thanks for commenting back Jessica, I really appreciate it.

It would be great to hear how you go, teenagers are not always easy at the best of times, and you have the added complication of a second husband.

Just believe you are doing a great job, Philip may well be more of a sensitive type, being artistically orientated, rather than rough sporty type - and that is also a great way for him to express himself when words are difficult. Something to encourage in him.

go well,
Annie D :)


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