As I shared the story of what daily life with our 15 year old teenager was like, with friends and family, we received responses and comments like, "Oh, this too shall pass" or "That's typical of a teenager, don't sweat it" or "Don't you remember how you were as a teen?". Frankly, after hearing those lines repeatedly, even their well meaning intentions became hard to take. We were zooming into unchartered territory and choppy seas. Seriously, we needed dramamine in our house on dry land just to survive.
Our son's moods were controlled by the digital contact he had with his friends, by phone or computer. If he received good texts, he was somewhat nice. If the texts or posts were not, he was somewhat mean. If you asked him to do anything resembling a chore or household task, "I will, I will, later" was the response. Or with very good manners, he would often reply, "No thank you." He also would grunt and roll over while laying in bed, binge watching any number of Netflix shows. Occasionally, we could bribe him to go see a movie like "Rogue One" or out to eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant. But no sooner would we get home, his moodiness began all over again.
One particular holiday weekend we took him to do his favorite activity: play paintball. Not an inexpensive hobby, in reality. Even if you have your own paintball equipment, the paint balls themselves aren't cheap and that's what you need in order to play! We thought we were connecting with him, doing the fun things he liked, eating the food he liked, going to the movies he liked. You get the idea, all about him, just to keep him engaged. During this period of time, for some reason he had the door to his bedroom back on the hinges. (That wasn't always the case, because if a door gets slammed over and over, parts of the house start to fall apart, truly. So we removed his door a year earlier.) Can you say, trust factors?
Well, after what we thought was a good weekend for all of us, we smelled something unusual coming through the vents soon after we went to bed. We marched into a room filled with smoke and our son was just sitting there smoking pot. And what was shocking was that he totally denied it. We SAW it with our own eyes! WE SMELLED it with our own noses! And he said he WASN'T doing anything. I couldn't believe it. Really, right in our own house? You've got to be kidding me. All I could muster to say to him was that I was really disappointed in him, and turned around and went to bed.
The next morning he acted as if nothing had happened. I was still realing and very upset. He went to school and I called a therapist, for myself. Now to put things into perspective, I know many kids do this behavior and some can handle it, but not my son. He was also failing in school but never want to talk about how to improve the situation. So the only way left to get his attention was to take the computer AWAY. And what happened after that was surreal. The saga continues.......
Anyone else out there have difficulty with teens and their moods? How did you handle it or get through it? I would love to read any comments you have.
Hanging tough! Thanks for reading!
High School. Let that sink in for a moment. What does it really mean? You got it, my son got high in school! And he kept the iPhone connected to his physical person every waking and sleeping moment. Not to mention the amount of gaming on his computer that took place and you can see what a "wonderful" time it was at our house!
We didn't really know the extent of the marijuana use. There are ways to cover it up: stay away from home longer, use eye drops, stay in one's room in the dark. 9th grade can be a time when teens seek independence and have less monitoring by parents. They want to "hang" with their friends and not be with their parents as much. I get that, but in our case we were being pushed away every day.
On top of that, his computer and phone use was obnoxious. We suggested trying to take some time away from the devices and chill, but to no avail. A couple of our son's doctors suggested putting the charger outside of his bedroom and charge AWAY from where he slept, but that wasn't even an option in his mind. The net he threw out to friends and their friends was so large that "someone" would answer a text, join a snapchat or post some pics on Instagram. It was a full time job just keeping up with all the groups and "friends" he connected with.
Those devices became the biggest distractions from doing any homework at all. None, zilch, nada. And the grades reflected just that. "Do you have any homework?" I would ask daily. "Nah" is the refrain I heard over and over and over. "How is that possible? I've checked your online portal." He would tell me to get off of my computer and stop checking on him.
He was a master of avoidance, a student of social media and a habitual user of being connected. ALL of the TIME! His sleep was disturbed because he would answer or send a text in the middle of the night. I could gather some info from using a parent app connected to our phone service. I was able to squeeze out of him some of the repeated phone numbers and who they belonged to in his group of friends. But short of turning off the phone, which we did do a number of times, he was out of control.
Now, this is the part where I will say "don't judge". Some of you may have kids who actually responded to "NO", but our son was becoming a monster, no matter what we did. Honestly, his disposition was dependent on if a social media "friend" responded to his text positively or not. Sometimes he came out of his room to comment on the crazy election and we'd share a laugh. Other times he didn't speak at all. We were beginning to be held hostage by his moods related to his online conversations, use and postings.
I turned off the modem, I changed network passwords, I turned off his data. You name it, we did it and then some. I even pulled an important wire from his room to disconnect him and the next thing I discovered is that he actually "cut" the internet to our whole house! That didn't hurt him, he just went to the local Starbucks and used their internet connection. He was out for revenge!
One of the oddest things was his obsession with carrying cords and plugs and extra batteries so he could charge his phone from where ever he was. And he carried all these cords in his famous "backpack". Whenever he left the house, the backpack was with him. "What's in the backpack?" was our daily question. "Oh, just chargers, cords, batteries so I don't lose power", he replied. But sometimes, he did lose power. And, he was never without this backpack. He even took it into the bathroom with him when he showered. REALLY?
I do not consider that behavior normal, however it was very OBVIOUS that he was hiding more in the backpack than just cables and batteries. You can't believe what we found in there......Come back to the blog for the next post and find out.
Peace for now,
With the day to day exhaustion of 7th grade over, we headed into the Summer before 8th grade feeling guarded and still on alert. Clearly our son was unhappy, but as vacation took hold, things chilled a bit and the Summer of Nothing began.
What does that mean? Easy, he went to no camps (except for one week of house boating with a youth group), had no real plans, did lots of sleeping, played lots of video games, used his phone for hours and did lots of nothing. We went from a regular schedule of trying to get our son to school on time everyday to one that included no schedule at all. It was opposite ends of the spectrum for sure! I'm sure that sounds relaxing to some, but not ideal for a soon to be fourteen year old who should be kept busy.
It doesn’t mean that we didn’t try to make suggestions for a more productive use of his time. We did manage to take some short trips and to try all sorts of ways connect with our teen. It just seemed to be futile, with less conversation, less engagement, more seclusion and more silence from him. It was a terrible feeling in a household that once had vitality and energy. As normally positive people it started to wear us down.
I tried to keep the conversation going, but all we got were one word answers and grunts most of the time. As I shared our situation with other parents and friends, their comments included: “This too shall pass”, which happens to be my least favorite line of all time. What we were going through felt that we didn't have time to wait for it to pass, but what could we do? So we just kept trying our best to make it work.
Our therapist suggested that we get to know all the families of our son’s friends, so we did. We invited them to join us for get togethers, hikes and meals. The parents commiserated about their kids behaving in similar ways. We got to know all the kids in the new friend group. Our gut feelings told us that some of these friends were negative influences, and a very few were what I call the "good ones". We tried the old adage, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em".
No matter what we did and what we tried, the Summer of Nothing continued until the end of August. Thankfully then our last year of middle school began. Maybe, just maybe, new and positive patterns would develop with some maturity. Instead, we got back on the wild roller coaster of school again. Assignments were given, no home work was turned in. Emails and phone calls were exchanged with teachers and administrators. We were able to finally relax when they told us our son would indeed graduate from 8th grade because they socially promoted students, so he would have to move on to high school for their own needs. The middle school did not want fifteen year old 8th graders in their system.
We were very disappointed with the lack of help he received from the school, even though our son had an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in place since 3rd grade. Some teachers cared, others didn’t know what to do. Well, we didn’t either. We asked for guidance but in a public school system their hands are tied and we felt like they dropped the ball big time.
And to top it all off, ALL the 8th graders were given iPads for the year to take home and use everyday for school work. Isn't that giving kids a mixed message about electronics? Stay off your phone, but the school iPad is okay? No "games" were allowed, but frankly the students were more savvy than the teachers, so who really knows what was going on? The school's defense was that they had the right to check any iPad whenever they wanted, to make sure things were safe for all.
I bought insurance for the iPad since I wasn't sure it would make it a whole year without a crack on the screen. (And believe it or not, it was turned in fine condition!) What work my son was actually doing on it for school was questionable. But at least for my son, the playing field was leveled to a certain degree since he was good with electronics. My biggest question has since become, but at what cost does keeping up with technology have on some students who truly can not self regulate and know when to put it down? Perhaps it was causing a dependency that we all would later regret.
We did survive our Summer of Nothing and our son's 8th grade year, barely. He did indeed move onto public high school and keep the same friends. But the challenges that were ahead of us turned into something we never expected. Come back to keep following our story. Thanks for reading!
Staying the course,
I am Warrior Mom. I am a self proclaimed Techy and I'm NOW calling a halt to the excess use of it! Let's put some balance back into our lives, especially our teens!