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Ask Amy

Parents concerned about wayward teen

Q. We are at loss as how to deal with our 17-year-old son (an only child).

He has always pushed the boundaries. Teachers have long identified him as bright but unmotivated. But recently his behavior has gotten much worse.

He usually makes it to school. He has a part-time food service job, but other than that he spends most of his time in his room with the door locked.

He frequently argues with us, refuses to help at home, and needs multiple prompts to get to school or work. He is failing all of his classes.

He is smoking marijuana at home (both in the morning and before going to work). We have tried mightily to stop this. Recently, after getting upset, he started breaking things and came very close to getting physical with his father.

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I feel like his recent behavior is because he doesn’t have a goal for his life. We talk to him about options: getting a GED, taking classes at the community college, or just working full-time.

When he won’t go to therapy, his father and I go instead.

Because he seems so unhappy at home, we have asked him to consider living elsewhere for a while (boarding school, grandparents out of state, or even a friend’s house). We have taken away privileges and even tried a few bribes. Nothing seems to work. He seems miserable, and we are too.

Where do we go from here?

Parents in Despair

A. Perhaps your therapist has mentioned the side effects of using marijuana. If not, you should find a counselor who can draw an obvious conclusion. This might not be a goal-problem, but a pot-problem.

An article in Forbes Magazine distilled recent studies on the chronic effects of smoking pot: “the drug is linked to reduced learning, memory, and attention. . . . One study found a reduction in IQ of 8 points in longtime users, the greatest decline being in people who’d started using as teenagers and continued daily into adulthood.”

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Other side effects are paranoia and an overall lack of motivation. Some users experience psychosis. Sound familiar?

Your son has pot in his system 24 hours a day. He may have started using to mitigate other problems such as anxiety or depression. But now his drug use is the primary problem. At 17, his brain is still growing. He is literally altering his brain by pumping it full of THC. Under these circumstances, how can you reasonably expect him to make healthy choices?

Don’t send your son to his grandparents. They will be even more clueless than you are.

If you are able to afford it, residential treatment where they concentrate on the “whole person” (as well as his drug use) might work for him.

You should try to communicate with him about a workable plan for when he turns 18. You should let him know that you will never give up on him, but that you won’t be housing him as long as he is using.

Q. My boyfriend and I have been together for 29 years. We get along well, and always have, although we don’t communicate very well.

Here’s my situation: Five years ago he had an affair with a girl we know. It lasted for a year.

We’re trying to get through it.

He talks to women online. Some are from other countries.

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They talk about sex, and he even sends them money.

I am devastated, but he seems to think it’s not cheating.

What do you think?

Devastated

A. It doesn’t matter if he is technically “cheating.” His actions are devastating to you. That’s what matters.

Engaging in online relationships, including sexual banter and sending people money, are all examples of ways that your guy doesn’t honor his relationship with you.

Honestly, he also doesn’t sound too bright. Does he realize that some of these people are scamming him?

You’ve been together for 29 years. I assume you have your reasons for staying with him, but I wish you believed that you deserved better.

Q. “Confused Brother” was contacted by a half-brother via DNA testing. You suggested he discretely ask his father if he had donated sperm.

Amy! Why assume that? Maybe his father had an affair. Maybe his MOTHER had an affair. Did you ever consider that?!

Upset

A. In the first line of the letter, “Confused Brother” notes that his half-brother said he never knew his father because his birth was the result of artificial insemination. That was my first clue.


Amy Dickinson can be reached at askamy@amydickinson.com.