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When in Doubt, Throw Him Out (and don’t forget to change the locks)

June 23, 2012

Photo - Wikimedia Commons; Author: CMEarnstFirst, a little background.  I was perusing a website yesterday which will remain nameless where I stumbled upon a request for support which I couldn’t resist responding to (no, the site wasn’t StumbleUpon).  To summarize:

A parent was talking about his/her 18-year-old son whom they have decided – after painstaking deliberation and trying everything in the book – to kick out of their house.  They compared him to a ‘typical rebellious teen’ who says inexcusable things to them despite their kindness and patience.  He doesn’t work or do chores, he has no sense of responsibility or accountability and he has been stealing money and selling their things to buy marijuana.  They referred to his friends as losers and compared him to a terrorist.

Before I share my response (which I feel was not sufficiently appreciated by that particular audience) I must point out a few observations from the original post:

  • The post didn’t open with a plea for advice, it simply began by stating that they are kicking their son out of their home.
  • The poster then mentioned how he/she went through many of the same things – even acted out in similar ways and turned out fine.
  • The poster didn’t close by begging for an alternative.  He/she closed by asking if any readers have gone through this and if so to share how everything worked out all puppies and rainbows in the long run.

These three things suggested quite a bit about these parents – but I will spare you an analysis which I know you are capable of making on your own.  Because this wasn’t my personal blog I tried to be diplomatic and avoid any accusatory language.  For authenticity I only made a couple of grammar and format edits here; I wish I had taken more time to edit and condense my comment before submitting it.  Anyway;

The only thing I can say with reasonable certainty is that there are some significant emotional issues here.  I am not a parent but I am a high school teacher and have worked with both ends of the socio-economic spectrum; I started my career in an urban high school with mostly ‘at risk’ students and then moved on to teach at a prestigious Los Angeles private school catering to children of rich and famous parents.  I’m not saying this to impress anyone, just to point out that I have had the privilege of getting to know kids from every walk of life personally and I hear this same [story] all the time.

Our children are extremely frustrated and confused.  Most of the time everyone means really well (parents, teachers, administrators, and students) but there are so many expectations and pressures put on children from a young age that your story isn’t that uncommon.  Even things we consider fun or interesting have become a burden – [most] children don’t play sports and join clubs for fun or out of interest anymore; they do it because it will look good on their college applications.  And if there is a club they really are interested in, it is often ruined by lots of other kids who are only there to beef up their own [college] applications.

Anything left in their life that they truly enjoy is usually the first thing that gets taken away when they aren’t fulfilling all of their responsibilities, so why bother giving a damn about anything?

When I make these kinds of comments I am often retorted by “when I was a kid” comments.  Please resist.  First of all, if by some chance you actually do understand what they are going through 100%, then consider how you would have responded to an adult telling you they understood how you feel.  It just doesn’t compute at that age.  All you need to do is listen.  Secondly, and I apologize for being blunt, you probably don’t have a clue what they are going through.  Adolescence may look similar on paper to when you were their age but things have changed dramatically – the workload, pressure and expectations on kids these days is absolutely out of control.

And all it takes is one mistake – a bad day that happens to fall during SATs/finals or the woes of a high school romance gone bad that leads to a couple bad grades during one marking period – and any hope of getting into their dream college is gone.  We tell kids with our words not to fear failure and to embrace/learn from their mistakes but the only lesson life seems to teach these days is that any one mistake can haunt you for life.  I can accept that now that I have hit 30 but in my teens?

Sorry, I have gone off about this for a bit because it is very personal to me.  Let me get to my suggestion.  Therapy would be great but at this point the chances of him taking it seriously are slim to zero and he will likely interpret the suggestion as you telling him he is a screw up.

Have you considered sitting down and sharing a joint with him?  You did pay for it and god knows you could probably use it.  I know, I just went from intelligent to absurd, and I don’t condone using drugs but this boy clearly has something on his mind and doesn’t feel like anyone really understands him.  He needs to find something to motivate him – and whatever that may be I guarantee it will not have a dollar sign or a grade attached to it.

You said you are relatively successful, why don’t you take him on some crazy and life-changing vacation?  Not to some fancy modern European city, but somewhere where the way of life is completely foreign [perhaps Indonesia, or Tennessee if you are on a budget].  It doesn’t need to be that drastic, either.  Take him anywhere he will go (movies, museums, concerts, shows, parks, etc.) and expose him to anything and everything you can possibly conceive until something clicks in his brain.

And for the love of god, don’t try to make it a learning experience – just live life and have fun.  Teaching is the worst thing that ever happened to learning, so just shut up and appreciate the fact that although every excursion may cost you money, at least he isn’t at home trying to sell the TV on Craigslist.

This may sound strange, but when I have students that fit this description I get excited because once you break through they are always the most fascinating people.  And let’s be honest, anyone can teach algebra but really helping a young adult find a meaning/purpose is what teaching is all about and no doubt that is one of the best parts of being a parent as well.  You have put in 18 years of hard work and it may take a few more but you care too much and have sacrificed too much not to see it through.

Ok, I just read that back for the first time since yesterday and I can’t believe the crap that comes out of my mouth sometimes.  Oh well, I stand by it – it is sound advice.  It just works better when implemented well before they can legally get into strip joints and buy their own cigarettes.  I wish I knew who this kid was because despite only having read a paragraph about him I get the strongest sense that within five years he will be making more money than both of his parents combined.  And this may sound a bit ignorant and arrogant but I am almost always spot on when I get this kind of feeling about a student.

Ok, thanks for sucking it up past the dreaded 1,000 word mark, I will let you go in a moment but I have a parting question I want to ask.

I normally don’t use this blogger ploy to pad my comment boards but I am very curious to hear the perspectives of my readers on this one:

What would it take for you to kick your own child out of the house?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    June 23, 2012 11:42 am

    Though I don’t agree with EVERYTHING you stated, I do agree with you on most points. I am in the very early stages of raising a child, but I do have some experience and I have worked with teens and for whatever reason, tend to connect with kids that age much better than the younger ones. Where most people talk about how much they dread being a parent of a teenager, I actually look forward to it. I can’t wait to see what kind of person he will become and what things make him feel truly alive. That said, I know he will stumble, I know he will make mistakes, rebel and at certain times possibly even want nothing to do with me. But in all honesty, though difficult for a parent to accept, his life does not belong to me. I have no ownership of it. He (in my opinion) is on loan to me from God. It is my job to love him, no matter what. And showing love to your child (to me) does not involve an attempt to be their best friend or do something I would never do otherwise in hopes that they might accept me as a “cool” parent. BUT, it does mean time, affection, discipline, encouragement and truly LISTENING. These are just my thoughts….to answer your question: Though this is extremely difficult to answer not having been through anything like this yet, my gut tells me I would only kick my child out if there was a safety issue such as causing physical harm to other family members in the household or himself (in which I would seek professional help so I don’t know if that classifies as kicking him out) or if he was old enough and able to live on his own and began taking advantage of me.

    • June 23, 2012 6:31 pm

      Thank you for sharing! I think your attitude and philosophy are beautiful and full of wisdom. If I were on $100,000 Pyramid and needed the best possible clue to make Betty White say “Things a successful parent would say” I would quote your line:
      “I can’t wait to see what kind of person he will become and what things make him feel truly alive”.
      For the record, I want to reiterate that I do not condone drug use. If you read any of my other writing you will realize that I like to ride the border between brilliant and absurd with a little touch of ‘WTF’ thrown in to stay unpredictable and keep everyone thinking. Normally I wouldn’t even address this but I don’t want to go to work one day only to be greeted by a mob of angry parents concerned that I may be smoking pot with my students.
      I wish you and your family the absolute best and you will be in my thoughts.

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