Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Son, The Parents, Juvenile Hall and Emotions

I recently met "Lisa" and she told me about her 19-year-old son, "Marc." 

As a child, he was sweet and sensitive, but once he hit his teen years, he was sarcastic and mean with little regard for others.  He thought nothing of disrespecting his parents, calling them cruel names and disregarding their rules.  Once a good student, he was causing trouble at school and was often sent to the principal's and counselor's office.

The parents did not know what to do.  They sought advice from the school counselor, went to family therapy, sent their son to a therapist, but nothing improved.   

They stopped taking him to family events as they never knew what would trigger his anger or how rudely he would treat others.  Family members asked about him but the parents always covered for him, saying he was busy with school or activities.  They did the same thing with their friends and that further isolated them.  They were living with tremendous stress in the household - they had no support and no safety net. 

When Marc was 15, Lisa was doing Spring cleaning and opened discovered a large bag with prescription bottles with various people’s names on them.  This was something they could not ignore and, heartbroken and feeling as they were falling off a cliff, they called the police.

Their son was in a ring of kids who were stealing drugs from their family medicine chests and if visiting extended family or other kids, they'd steal from those people, too.  Marc and his friends were sentenced to Juvenile Hall.  Had he done this as an adult, who knows how long he'd be in prison? 

When he was in Juvenile Hall, he was mandated to attend ongoing therapy and a drug rehab program.  Marc's parents visited regularly and were shocked to learn this was the first extended period of time since he was 11 that he was not high. 

I asked how they felt when he was sentenced and living in another place, how did they cope? 

Lisa said it was devastating and a relief at the same time.  When they had this beautiful, smart, funny and affectionate child, they never could have predicted the terrible turn his life and their life had taken.  Their family dream included family vacations, enjoying viewing his activities at school, and frankly, bragging about their wonderful son. 

Once they started their nightmare with him, all of those dreams had to be shelved and to make things worse, they were afraid of him.  Each day they wondered what would he do next: break things in the house?  Would he harm them emotionally or physically? 

When he was out of the house, they found themselves mourning his loss and the loss of their dreams while feeling relief that the stress and worry of living with him was relieved.  They went to marriage and family counseling and Al Anon meetings to learn what they did to enable him and how to change their own behaviors.  They also shared their story with select family and friends, finding love, support and understanding.  It has made them stronger as a couple and their relationship with their son is mended. 

While Lisa still resents the lost time and hurt her son caused, she and her husband are learning to move forward.   

Marc is in a vocational school, living on his own and working to support himself.

Marcia Stein, PHR is the author of Strained Relations:  Help for Struggling Parents of Troubled Teens.