05-19-2017 02:47 PM - last edited on 05-22-2017 10:47 AM by Ngaio-RO
I posted a few days about possibly letting our 16 year old son finish up at school. He has had mental health issues for a number of years and the formal school system is just not working for him (social anxiety, depression, mild psychosis). He's half way through Year 11. We are still making our final decision and want to talk to him more over the weekend.
He's been off school for a week and a half and there is a 90% possibility he will be leaving school. My husband and I are worried that he will fall into just lying around the house on screens eg his phone, xbox, laptop, TV etc. He does love his screens and due to social anxiety he likes to conduct his friendships via the xbox and social media. We are also worried he might just lie in bed all day and become more depressed (we know some young people with mental health issues that have fallen into this).
So in an attempt to be proactive, we tried to put some firm boundaries in place. My husband's idea was no screens until 3pm (when other children finish at school for the day). I was willing to go along with this, although I felt it was a little strict. The problem is my husband then goes to work for the day and I have to police the screens all day long. This is causing HUGE conflict between myself and my son. He isn't allowed his phone overnight, so that means that he hands his phone to me at 10pm and then isn't allowed it until 3pm the next day, after he has done some jobs, some exercise, taking his medication, walked the dog etc. BUT...I don't think it's working. I think he feels as though he is being punished and every morning that he wakes up it is like 'no screens till 3pm' as though its a punishment....so every day starts with conflict and him being in a bad mood. This morning there was huge anger from him, terrible verbal abuse to me, he took the car and went for a drive and he is only on his L plates so what he did was illegal. And I know deep down that if he was allowed his phone in the morning and maybe his xbox half way through the day things would be better. He could listen to his music, he could be in contact with friends. He's 16 and will be 17 in October, do you think we should be easing off on the control? I think we would be better saying 'You can have your screens all day, we don't mind what you do with them as long as you get these 4 jobs done....anytime, on your terms....as long as they are done'. Do you think that would be a better approach? This morning was SO horrible and I was really quite fearful that he was going to do something silly and dangerous. I've let him go on the xbox now at 1pm and he is a different kid...laughing, talking, interacting, civil, polite. Does anyone have any experience or thoughts on this issue? He is looking for a job and we are discussing part-time study through distance education but we haven't set anything in concrete yet. Thanks so much for your thoughts.
05-19-2017 05:08 PM
Hey @lucille I'm so sorry to hear what a tough spot you're in. On a number fo levels.
First I'd like to suggest ReachOut Parents Coaching again. I hate feeling or sounding like a salesperson but it seems to me that there would be some immediate improvements if you had some one to one support and guidance around communicating with your son and setting up boundaries. Both you and your husband can do it so you are on the same page. You can do as little as you need to, in terms of sessions and time commitments so you don't have to feel like you're taking on a whole big thing. Anyway, if you want to click here and check it out.
So two things strike me when I read your situation. The first is that the concern of your son sleeping all day and wasting his life, although it may be a valid concern, hasn't actually happened yet. It sounds a little bit like maybe the consequences he's experiencing now would be more aligned if he was sleeping all day. But by the sounds of things, he's mostly doing the right thing. It's possible that from his perspective he's feeling punished for what might happen rather than anything he's actually done.
The other is the impossible position it puts you in. Very few parents want to be police in their home and unfortunately, that's where this consequence puts you. And if you're seeing him start to react in a really big way, that's a clue that this is only going to get harder not easier. There's also a chance he might feel a bit humiliated by this restriction (sorry, I know that word is harsh) but for a young man to be forcibly disconnected from their online peers is a pretty big deal.
Is there any way you guys could negotiate this and come to a mutually agreeable solution. He's old enough to leave school, he's very close to being an adult. Could you acknowledge that and ask him what he thinks the best way to stop him falling into a slump is?
To clarify, I think the aim that you and your husband have is a really good one. It's beneficial to your son to not sleep all day. There's a gazillion reasons why that's bad for his mental health and physical health. But he's also very close to being an adult and the ideal situation is that he learns these life skills himself rather than they all be imposed on him. Then he can carry them into adulthood.
What do you think?
05-21-2017 09:46 PM
Hi @lucille, that's such a tricky position for you to be in and the conflict with your son I can hear is upsetting for you.
I understand your fear of your son falling into bad habits. 16-17 is an age where they are really working out who they are, and your son may feel restricted in his ability to test the waters out. His anger might be telling you that he believes he is old enough to have a bit more input into rule making and boundary setting. It's very hard to let go and transition from parenting where we have full control, to a parent where we are there more to help make the best decisions, and support them when they don't, and help them learn from their experiences. But it is a transition we need to make.
Your son sounds very responsible and if you can work with him in setting the boundaries that will see him do his chores and exercise etc without restricting his devices, he is more likely to comply. The agreed consequence for not doing what has shaken hands on (so to speak) could be the loss of his phone or time limits on his xbox. I have found this works well with my 15 year old. And I find that there is much less conflict when carrying through with those consequences, as it was decided on together. She did try me out to see if I would hold up my end of the deal. Being consistent in following through, and knowing this agreement is ironclad, it is so rarely that I need to enforce the consequences.
You and your husband clearly are equally involved in your son's parenting which is fantastic, but with your husband at work during the day, you have to police the rules. I know it doesn't make it easier, but that is why your son is taking his frustration out on you. You and your husband both sound like such loving parents, so your son's anger aimed at you must be quite hurtful for you. It feels awful, but remember that your son loves you.
I agree with @Ngaio-RO about the parenting course. It will help and support you with setting boundaries and communicating effectively. I recommend it!
05-21-2017 09:55 PM
Thanks everyone for your replies. After a few very rocky days in our household, things have settled down a bit. We did find out that our son had not taken his medication for 3 days so I think that contributed to his downward spiral. We usually supervise his medication very well, but we had a lot of people staying with us and I would watch him get the tablets out of the box and then I would move onto the next thing...and he was slipping them into his pocket. I think this was another case of 'I'm finishing school, I'm grown up, I don't have to take my medication anymore'. As a family we have had a few quality conversations around what happened this week and we are hopeful of a more settled week to come. Thank you for your responses and support. It's been lovely to have a place to turn to when I need to unload. Hope you all have a great week.
05-21-2017 10:23 PM
I'm so glad that things have settled and you've had the chance for conversations @lucille. Missing meds! Yes, one I've been through as well. I would agree that the lack of meds would have contributed to the situation.
My daughter has been on them for years and hated it for so long. Luckily she now realises she needs her medication - still doesn't like it, but she realises she feels so much better with them.
I hope things keep improving for you! Let us know
05-22-2017 12:00 PM
That's wonderful @lucille, that you've been able to identify the issue. Just as @taokat has, it's something I've experienced with my eldest too. Although hers was from not getting the script filled in time but the result was she went from seeming ok to being suicidal. It was incredibly scary.
It is really important that they feel like they control their own bodies and minds and medication plays a part in that. The more he feels like these decisions are made by others the more likely he is to respond with subterfuge. Would you and your husband be comfortable to introduce to the conversation a 3-year plan around his meds (it can be any number)? So if your son says he wants to be off meds by that time then the plan will incorporate working with a psych and GP to step down safely. It can also incorporate education and vocation outcomes to help with your other concerns about him wasting his life. So if he says he wants to be working in a certain field then you can help him map how he'll get there.
How does that sound?
05-30-2017 04:40 PM
05-30-2017 05:12 PM
You are so right in what you say @Trapet, it's all about choosing the right battles so there's no constant conflict! With mental illness you do have to sway with the wind to a certain extent, and it sounds like you have a great understanding.
My daughter has done well with distance ed, but I do know it isn't the answer for all, and I will say it took a little while for her to settle into it as she'd missed the first 3 terms last year. I've been told that there is still a lot of resistance from kids with similar illnesses to mine. Have you found a pathway that suits your son? Mine insists she is finishing up this year.