Rough Patches

Nobody Tells You How Lonely It Is When Your Kid Acts Out

If you’re struggling with your teen, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

by Anonymous
Teenager sits on a bench in the park and listen to music and learning for exame
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My hardest year as a parent was my eldest son’s sophomore year of high school. I went from feeling like I had a pretty good handle on things to not knowing what to do or where to turn. My ex and I had just separated and he was acting out. A few weeks into the school year, he got caught smoking pot at school and was suspended. Not long afterward, I had to pick him up for fighting in the halls. He wouldn’t do his homework. He didn’t care if I took his phone, and he didn’t care that I was upset.

When the principal called me a third time and informed me my son had recorded a teacher on his phone and posted it to Snapchat, I slithered down my wall and cried before going to get him. She explained that while she really liked him and said, “He’s a good kid making bad decisions,” he was in serious danger of expulsion. I was at a loss for what to do — and I told her that.

I didn’t mean to blurt that out in her ear, but I did. I felt alone and judged by some of my mom friends and even some family members, and they didn’t even know about most of the things my son was doing. I was lucky that day because instead of the principal telling me I needed to figure it out, she recognized I needed help. “I’m going to schedule an appointment for you to sit down with your son and the superintendent,” she told me. “I think he needs a wake-up call and this has worked in the past.”

After hanging up the phone with her I decided to put my pride and ego aside. I needed help. I needed someone to listen. And most of all, I was sick of hiding behind this mask I was putting on. My son also needed to know his actions were affecting a lot of other people, especially me, and I needed help dealing with it.

I called a trusted friend, someone my son has known his whole life. He liked her and felt comfortable with her, and he didn’t like many adults — including me — at the time. I felt that if he got feedback from another adult maybe he’d be able to hear them better than he was able to hear me. I told her what was going on and asked for help. Specifically, I asked her if she’d talk to him. Not only did she agree, but she also offered to have him work around her farm a few afternoons a week. This was my saving grace. As a single mom working full time, I couldn’t control his every move. He needed something to do, something that would boost his confidence and occupy his time. Confiscating his phone wasn’t enough.

It is easy to tell parents to control their kids. But when they get to be 16, over 6 feet tall, outweigh you by 70 pounds, and want to hang out with their friends without getting permission, they will. If they want to take off on their skateboard while you are in the shower, they will. If they want to act like an ass in school, they will.

My son didn’t want to go and help on my friend’s farm, but he did. And on it went well for that first afternoon. My friend told me my son worked hard, and that they had a good talk. When she asked him why he was acting out, he shrugged his shoulders but she did tell me he sat down and acted as though he wanted to talk more. He didn’t leave the room the way he did with me.

Over the next few months, my friend kept him busy after school. She was able to reach him in a way I couldn’t. She talked to him about her memories as a teenager and reminded him how much I loved him and how we all wanted him to succeed.

Another mom friend, who has kids a few years older than mine, made me feel normal. She didn’t judge me or my son and shared stories about her difficult years with her kids.

I emailed all his teachers and asked for feedback on his behavior. I knew they were busy and might not have time to get back to me but I let them know I’d email them every Friday to check in. They appreciated my efforts and always got back to me. Most of the time they were short answers but we always touched base. The fact my son knew I was going to do this (I think) made him pay more attention to his actions.

After all this, I noticed a change, and he started to turn things around. Those afternoons at the farm helped us all out. Talking about it helped. And being involved in his life — no matter how time-consuming or draining — helped. I needed to be present for my son. He was going through a hard time and needed help. But that meant I needed help, too. And there’s no shame in asking for it.

Parenting advice and support aren’t exclusive to those younger years. In fact, I’d say parents of teens are the ones who need the most help. Asking for it was the best thing I could have done for myself, and for my son.