Our 15-year-old is Out of Control

"We have a 15-year-old son who has gotten totally out of control. The problems began a year ago when he was caught drinking beer in the restroom at school. We took him to counseling and thought that maybe it was a one-time incident, but four months later we caught him with two marijuana pipes and money he had stolen from my purse. Since then things have gotten worse. He says counseling is no good because he's smarter than his counselors. He is failing most of his classes, and we can't make him do his homework. Recently he was caught smoking pot in the school restroom. He says he doesn't care about anything, and hates anyone in an authority position. I don't want to send him away to one of those places I have read about because I'm afraid that he may be hurt, but I am beginning to think that we can't control this anymore. Do you have any suggestions?"

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Robert Schwebel

Clinical psychologist Robert Schwebel, PhD, has been in private practice for almost 30 years, counseling children, couples and... Read more

So much of what you wrote points to a problem with drugs. Your son was caught drinking beer and smoking marijuana at school. This is an issue that must be confronted. Behind every drug user is a motivation for drug use. You have described a real problem with anger and authority. Add to that failure in school, which could be both a cause and an effect of drug use. There could be other issues as well. You are right to take this problem seriously.

Sending a child away for treatment, as you point out, is a large step to take. Often parents try intensive treatment at home first. You said your son feels he can fool the counselor he was seeing. This may or may not be true.

I definitely suggest counseling, even when a teen resists it as your son has. Young people often feel two ways about counseling: On the one hand, they don't want to deal with their problems and may resent adults trying to help them; On the other hand, they are often secretly upset, or at least very concerned about the way things are going in their lives. Experienced counselors can work with adolescents to help them overcome their resistance to help. They can also help parents in terms of how to respond and maintain authority.

If you seek counseling locally, be sure to find someone who is experienced and respected for his or her work with adolescent alcohol and drug problems, and adolescent anger and emotional problems. Options may vary in terms of intensity of service. Some programs offer several sessions a week. If you can't find help locally and the problems persist or get worse, then you will need to consider more drastic types of help for your son. In the meantime, it is important to remember that no teen wants to fail. Even the most angry and defiant young people want and need help.

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