Friend's 14 yr old son acting out. What can he do?

A few days ago Jr. took his skateboard and knocked someone’s mailbox off the post, then was seen by the police doing the same thing a few minutes later.

Background: Sr. is a single father. The boy’s mother took off, whereabouts unknown. He receives no support, and her family is minimally involved. He has little family, and their involvement is also minimal

He is economically and socially challenged, and often an asshole. But I give him credit for taking care of his kid. He tries to do all the right things, but I’ve seen his relationship with his son deteriorating in recent years. He barks orders at the kid, and doesn’t listen well. I’ve tried to relate to the kid myself but he’s a typical teenage boy, shy and unresponsive, and I can tell he’s mad at the world.

So can someone explain the acting out part to me? In analogous circumstances as a teenager I wasn’t into destruction and violence, so I’m not sure what it’s all about, except for the obvious emotional release. Is there anything I can suggest to my friend? He’s a jerk a lot, but it’s mainly out of ignorance, and I think he can learn some new tricks. He doesn’t have the means for private counseling and the like, so he would have to rely on state programs, which he’s been doing for a long time, so I think that’s losing effectiveness.

Thank you all in advance for your advice, because I’m inconsiderate and may forget to do that later.

Acting out isn’t too hard to understand. Kids of that age don’t always empathize with people having to clean up after them. The equation basically works like this: “I hate my dad and he makes my life miserable now, so if I do bad things, and he punishes me, so what? I’m already miserable.”

I never destroyed property, but I suppose I was destructive in my own way – I mouthed off a lot, I challenged my father a lot and was ‘disobedient’, I had some trouble at school just due to lack of caring enough to hand in homework for awhile, drawing in class, lack of interest, etc. It really just came from my home life. My dad gave me a lot of grief over the years and was pretty callous, and eventually I just got to the point where I went “just because he’s the adult doesn’t mean that he gets to be a dick and I have to be nice”. I started treating him with as much disrespect as he did me and it absolutely enraged him, but really, what was the downside? I was already receiving regular lectures, hassles, and capricious punishments; I figured I might as well get some satisfaction by earning some of it. On a few occasions it nearly escalated towards physical abuse, but I was smart enough to tell him in no uncertain terms how I would inform on him if he tried hitting me again (he did that frequently when we were little but stopped). They tried a lot of things, lots of punishments, trying to get my pastor involved and trying a religious guilt trip, sent me to kid therapy… all in the interests of “fixing” me. Didn’t work. There’s no “trick” to fixing that – what needed to happen was my dad actually caring enough to have a real human relationship with me, and stop being a self-righteous jackass who basically only interacted with us kids to lecture and command. Never happened.

In the end I shaped up at school, mostly for mom’s sake and to get into a distant college; once at college, my parents divorced and me, my mom, and my sisters are no longer in contact with my father, and somehow our family life is great and we all get along, and see each other regularly. Funny, turns out I wasn’t the broken one after all.

My best guess is that the son is acting out a lot of anger, hurt and frustration by damaging things. It is likely an expression of his need to control something and see the result of that negative action.

If his father is not a good listener then it sounds like he has no other way to tell the world that he’s big, mean and dangerous.

I feel for the kid. And for the father. It doesn’t sound like the father has the tools to sit the boy down and tell him that he understands or help him to find more productive ways to express himself.

The only concrete suggestion I can make is to somehow channel his energy into organized sports of some type. If he could be in a team atmosphere the perhaps another man (coach) might be able to set a better example. If may also replace some of the missing family for the boy.

Skateboarding is good for testing his personal abilities, but as a (mostly) solitary sport, it pits him against others who are likely to be as good or better and keeps him a ‘lone wolf’. There is a lot of personal win/losing in that.

Is it possible to get the help of a teacher or someone in his school who could encourage him to join a team? Are there any attachments to the community (was he ever in an organized activity?).

My concern for the young man is that since he’s hit police radar already he’ll go down the path of the rebel and won’t find his way back for a long time (if ever). Are there any police run social-type activities that he could be recommended for? Some areas have such things.

If the mother’s family has little to do with him, is it because they view the father as an asshole? If so, perhaps someone of redeeming quality on that side of the family could take an interest. Is there any chance you could call and talk with them about the son?

I wish you luck with helping and I commend you for caring.

I can’t say I know what’s going on with this kid, but when I was young and lashed out violently and broke stuff, I took out my anger on things so that I wouldn’t take it out on the people I was pissed at, or I was pissed at my life in general and there was no one to take it out on, anyway. One thing that helped was to find a positive outlet for the negative energy; in my case, it was kickboxing. Is there a nice violent sport or club he could get involved in, or maybe a construction crew that would hire him to do demo?

I’d suggest your friend completely forget about trying to figure out why at first. The kid may not even know, may not be able to articulate it, or may not want to say, “It’s you, dad. You piss me off.” So at first, just approach it as, “If you want to punch/kick/break shit, be my guest. I just don’t want you to get in trouble for it, and if you break other people’s shit, you will. So why don’t we get you into [whatever legal activity], and if you get desperate, here’s a hammer and a bunch of cement blocks - and some safety goggles. Enjoy.”

If that starts working out, then maybe he can ask him sometime, “Hey - out of curiosity, what do you feel when you want to punch/kick/break shit? If there’s stuff that pisses you off, it’s good to vent that, but there also may be something we can do to fix the situation.”

I don’t know, it’s a start.

ETA: And to echo what Heckity said, it can’t hurt to try to make his life better in general, even if you don’t know what’s pissing him off in specific - especially because it sounds like it could very reasonably be a lot of things. If he doesn’t have a lot of friends, give him opportunities to join clubs or teams doing something he enjoys. And your friend should make an effort to spend time with him, even just playing video games or whatever. Let him know he likes him and values him as a person.

I’m trying to repair my own angsty little skateboarder right now. Mine’s fifteen, and recently got into some trouble (not with the law, but it could have been).

I got the same advice Heckity gave, i.e., find the boy some organized sport to get into. I didn’t find anything in my area that seemed like the right fit, so instead I got him a gym membership and we’ve been going to the gym as a family at least three days a week. I don’t know if I’m really curing any underlying problem, but at least we’re spending a lot of time together and some of his free time and energy is being channeled into something positive.

I would recommend that your friend start doing things with his son (Camping trips? Bike rides? Volunteer work?) so they can just spend some quality time with each other.

This would be a perfect time to get them to see a family counselor/therapist - first individually, then together. It’s kind of like marriage counseling, but for parent/teen. It can go a long way to getting their communication back to an effective level, rather than the detrimental patterns that are developing right now. It would not take many sessions at all, just enough to get the ball moving in the right direction, maybe a month, and then with the son perhaps continuing with the counselor if he’s finding it helpful. At this age, things will only get worse as the boy exerts more and more independence/acting out and the father reacts in the unsuccessful manner he has been; things will only escalate. Diverting this cycle to something more effective right now will be a huge help to them. We have had a great deal of success with this ourselves, and I see it working in my job in Juvenile Diversion all the time.

Everyone here has good suggestions. I’d say that in addition to finding him a sport or other outlet and spending time with his son he needs to make a point to find a reason to give him positive praise every single day. Whether it is for putting his dishes in the dishwasher without being asked or doing his homework or even just for being a good kid for a while he needs attention and he will find a way to get it. Whether that attention is for good stuff or bad stuff is completely up to your friend.

I wasn’t going around destroying property as a teen, but I was self destructive. And I did fall down that hole where you don’t care what happens because everything seems shot to hell already. Maybe acting out in a destructive manner is better than self-destructive behavior.

I’m getting the idea there’s a common theme here somewhere…

Yes, sports sounds like a great idea. He should be able to try something at school, and there’s a Boy’s and Girl’s Club nearby where they live now. I don’t if team sports would work out for him, but martial arts training would be a good alternative. I doubt he can afford the cost of martial arts, but maybe something could be worked out.

I’m afraid that most of their together time is spent when Jr. goes out on jobs with his dad, a stone mason. I can see at this point as a teenager he’s getting tired of hanging around with his dad doing heavy and usually very boring work.

I think there might be a problem because they’ve been doing these kinds of things for years. As I said, the dad here is a poor listener, and probably the reason it hasn’t been effective. My only suggestion so far was that he should change whatever he’s doing because it hasn’t been working. Maybe the kid needs more individual counseling than family counseling though. I’ll bet a lot of things work out better when his dad’s not around

So when the son gets old enough, he’ll move away and consider himself well shut of his father. If that’s what the dad wants to happen, he should continue just as he is. If he wants something different to happen, he’s going to have to make some kind of effort himself.

My uncle is kind of like this. Always making proclamations and ordering his son around, calling him ungrateful, useless,etc, and constantly dragging him to activities incredibly boring for a teenaged boy (ie, flea markets and antique shows). I won’t have my uncle in my home because of the servile way he treats my cousin; it disgusts me. By some miracle, my cousin is an exceptionally kind, smart, high acheiving individual.

I find it reassuring to see how well so many (including myself) turn out after terrible upbringings.

How often does this happen? Does Junior get paid for his work? And if he doesn’t like it, why isn’t quitting an option? His job should be getting good grades and making friends, not helping Dad pay the bills. I can see a lot of resentment building up when he sees his classmates’ parents going out of their way to do things for their kids, instead of the other way around.

He does get paid, and he usually doesn’t have to do any work if he doesn’t want to. But often he has to go along because he’d be home alone for a long time otherwise. I think there is resentment at the obvious difference in family life from most of his peers.

I’m sure there is also some resentment because kids around here are infected with materialism. You’re either poor or rich in this town. My kids fell into this in high school and I was caught off guard by their desire to acquire status possessions. The materialistic attitude seems to be growing where I live, and I’m sure the kids pick it up from their parents. You know the old saying, “The dumbass doesn’t fall far from the tree”.

I’m not saying the materialism isn’t a factor, but he’s 14. That is old enough for anyone of that age (except a mentally challenged [or seriously, criminally destructive] teen) to stay home alone. Perhaps he’s angry about the lack of trust his father is displaying by refusing to let him stay home while dad brings home the bacon? My mom didn’t have a job where I could tag along, thankfully, but I know if she had kept trying to shuttle me between babysitters and the YMCA after-school program after age 12, I’d have been pretty freakin’ steamed.

Shoot the kid’s laptop.

I wanted to follow up on this. I didn’t have much contact with my friend at the end of this thread until about a month and a half ago. When I did see him he wasn’t talking much. Turns out he was kind of falling apart. He’d had minimal work, lost the apartment he was in, and he and his son ended up living in an RV in a quarry. He works for the quarry owner to pay rent. His son, I’ll start calling him Eli, is getting himself into a mess. He kept failing drug tests and got kicked out of drug intervention. He was suspended several times at school before the year was out. Now the family court is dealing with him. He’s supposed to be on a 7:00PM curfew, but his father can’t keep him in when he’s working, and when Eli goes out he comes home when he feels like it. He doesn’t realize, or care what could end up happening to him. I need help around the house so I’ve hired Eli to do the yard work. He wants the money (to buy weed I’m sure), he works hard, and he’s not as stupid as the average 15 year old (I had him a little young before, he’s about 15 1/2 now). My wife and I are checking the contacts we have at private school to see if he’s eligible for a scholarship, he likely is as a day student. He really needs to board there, but they only cover board in extreme cases, otherwise boarding there is for the very wealthy. Hopefully we can find some way to get him enrolled there, and for him to get back and forth to school. That may be doable. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. This kid isn’t bad, he’s been cursed with shitty parents and lacks skills to deal with the situation. I don’t usually say things like the following on the Dope: I hope you all can throw some positive vibes in Eli’s direction. He’s on the edge here and he needs the universe to smile on him once and a while.

I’ll be thinking of him. That’s a shitty hand to get dealt at such a young age, and he’s right on the border of pulling through or fucking himself up royally.

I was reminded by another thread to mention something here. In the intervening time, I learned something about Eli’s dad. Let’s call him Rick. When Rick was 10 his father comitted suicide. His mother was a basket case after that. I think it explains a lot. He doesn’t have parenting skills because he missed a lot of that as a child. There’s something odd about both him and his brother that may relate to this, but I can’t exactly describe it. It is a mess.

ETA: Thanks Ferret Herder

If you can afford to, hire the kid to take care of your yard and maybe do some odd jobs around the house. Do some of the work with him (pulling weeds, hedge trimming, raking, etc.) and spend time showing him how to do things he hasn’t done before (painting, oil change?). Treat him as if he were an a adult and before long you may become fast friends. The benefits from this approach are too many to mention. I speak from my own adolescent experience.

Thanks. That’s just the approach I’m taking. I have to work on his father too. Dad was taking away some scrap metal I had out in the yard and Eli drove the tractor over to bring it out. His dad kept saying the stuff wouldn’t fit in the trailer. I pulled him aside and explained his son was trying to show him he had learned to drive a tractor. He got the idea, they worked together, he held on to the big pieces of metal that hung out the back while his son drove the tractor. But it will take time.

Ugh. We were just interacting in my thread about my son. This does sound like a mess. I would have suggested sports or some other group activity but it looks like things are past that point. I think it’s great that you and your wife are looking into this school for this kid. And he may be an extreme enough case that they will give him a scholarship for boarding - dad can’t enforce the curfew and the alternative is some sort of court institutionalization (juvie?).

Good luck to you and Eli and Rick and I hope the school thing really works out for Eli. :frowning: Poor thing.