About 6 months later, I started working with this young man. We often worked together in an area where it was just the two of us and, as we got to know each other more, he began sharing his side of what was going on at home with his parents. There was nothing too earth shattering. He had never been abused, he had been well cared for, his parents were supportive in his activities, he had nice clothes and was well fed (even for a teenager!) In fact, some would say he was a little "spoiled": he had a nice car, lots of spending money (even when he didn't have a job), and expensive sports equipment.
But he said something that I will never forget: "I just don't think they really care what happens to me."
I was shocked because after hearing his mother pour her heart out to me several months ago, I knew this wasn't the truth! So I asked him why he didn't think they cared about him. He went on to tell me about numerous times he had done things he knew were wrong, gone home expecting to be punished or at least receiving a good "chewing out", and heard...nothing. Soon he started doing things deliberately to get their attention: getting a speeding ticket, acting out in school, purchasing cigarettes and leaving them "hidden in plain sight" at home for his parents to find. His parents reactions? Nothing.
I don't know what his parents were thinking when the chose not to say anything but I know how this young man interpreted their lack of action. As rejection. His acting out was nothing but a cry for attention from a little boy who wanted to be reassured that his mom and dad still loved him. He wanted to hear them say "No, we are not going to allow this behavior because we love you. Because we know it will hurt you. Because we want better things for you."
He wanted discipline. But when he didn't receive discipline, he felt rejected and unloved.
I know that by the time I worked with him he had a serious gambling problem and was very likely an alcoholic. He had moved out of his parents home, even though he wasn't 18 yet, and was living with friends. He worked with me for a few more months and then "moved on." I don't know where this young man is now but, I can tell you, I think of him often and every time I do, my heart aches.
I know raising a teenager is one of the hardest things in the world! And as a parent it is almost impossible to not question just about everything you do. There is no perfect parent and I know that I have made a bazillion mistakes in the process of trying to raise my sons. But there are
- Never be afraid to tell them "NO."
- Always, and often, tell them how much you love them.
- You need God's help - his wisdom and direction are vital!
"Discipline your son for in that there is hope; do not be a willing party to his death."
Proverbs 19: 18
I cannot write this post and not recommend, what is to me, one of the best parenting books ever written. I wish I would have had this book 20 years ago. It's called "No: Why Kids--of All Ages--Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It" - by David Walsh. It will not only help you to be a better parent but will also give you a great understanding of why our American culture is the way it is today - which is why I recommend the book for non-parents as well, especially if you are in any field that works with children or young adults.