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My Son Has Got So Withdrawn It Worries Me

When my son turned 17 it was as if a dark cloud blew over his life. He used to do sports, go out with friends, go to parties, and still get his school work done. Now he won't even go to school, he's stopped seeing friends, he finds it quite hard to talk to us. He still enjoys his computer games and laughs with his online friends so it's not that he's completely depressed or anything, it's just so hard to see so much potential that he has, being wasted, and his life seemingly 'on hold'. As his dad says, these are supposed to be the best years of your life yet our son is so lost and alone... he will do mindless jobs around the home if asked but if we even mention the future he goes into his shell. Is this normal? Should we be getting help for him? Will he be OK?
dddebbb dddebbb 41-45 4 Responses Feb 5, 2011

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I do appreciate your various insights. True, Claire, any kind of probing conversation is guaranteed to make him uncomfortable! I am taking your advice Dore and just showing him affection and support in the hope that eventually he manages to open up, but he has always been quite reluctant to do this until he has resolved the issue himself, then he will happily say what was on his mind, maddening but just his personality!

Tell me, how do you define potential? <br />
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No, let me do it for you "the way you want him to end up". <br />
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Let him live his life like he wants and shut the **** up about it, you don't have any right wanting anything from him.

I have a lot of empathy for your situation. Without having more specific information about your son's history, it can be difficult to figure out the actual problem. My suspicion is that the behaviors you are seeing from your son are symptoms of something else that is going on in his life. There are many things that could be affecting his behavior. It could be something as simple as normal teen development. At 17, your son is very close to being developmentally independent. This could be an attempt by him to demonstrate that independence. Simply stated, you want him to do A, therefore he's going to do B. His behavior might stem from some control issues that have existed for many years. If a child has been under very tight controls his entire life, it's not unusual for that same child to act out by refusing to do anything his parents wish once he advances into his teen years. Likewise, if a child has been allowed to do anything he pleases, without any boundaries, he also could exhibit the behavior you describe. Another possibility is that your son could be using alcohol or other drugs, thus causing a behavior that is new to you and destructive to him. I would start by trying to talk with your son about your concerns. But you need to do it in a way that he feels completely safe. He needs to know that you love him and that you're concerned with his health and safety, not with punishing him. If the two of you can get to this point, he might tell you what's really going on. At least then you'll have a way to start helping him. If that doesn't work, you might ask the school counselor to get involved. Most school counselors see this type of behavior all the time and are very qualified to help. You could also check in with his teachers to see what they think. If he has another adult in his life that he is close to, you could ask that person what they think is going on.<br />
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If those suggestions do not help, you might consider professional counseling. There are many qualified counselors who can help you get to the root of the problem. You should see the counselor first, so you can explain the situation. Keep in mind that finding a good counselor is often like finding a good pair of shoes. Sometimes you have to try on a few pairs before you find one that fits.<br />
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If you have any reason to suspect alcohol or other drug use, even if it's a small chance, I would urge you to seek professional help as soon as possible. Parenting teens is one of the most difficult tasks imaginable. Sometimes we feel like we are the only one who has a particular problem. Understanding what is at the root of the problem, and then getting the necessary help, can make parenting easier.<br />
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Dore E. Frances, PhD

I guess you need to talk to him to able him to open up what bothers him. Although most troubled teens would prefer not to have this kind of conversation anymore. It's uncomfortable and it's personally embarassing because sitting down to talk about something so obviously wrong just makes the wrongness offense that much obvious but this is the only best thing you can do right now.