Teenage Son Has Decided to Come Back Home - Now What?

Hi Mark, the last time I spoke with you was on the 15th of January (titled "Desperate"). At that stage my son had left home and I was frustrated. Your words were of great comfort to me and I must admit at my lowest points, I referred back to that email for strength. Thank you for that.

During my sons three months of living away from home, I have practiced your techniques whenever he was around. My son has now decided to come back home and live under our rules. I am excited about this and a little apprehensive. What I would like to know is how to slowly and inconspicuously get him away from the bad crowd he is now involved with. I do not want to scare him off as soon as he gets home and I know that I have to tread very lightly. The other area of concern is the body piercing which neither I nor my husband can stand. Should I just continue the "POKER FACE" and let him find his way or should I set the rules immediately? To date, your course has been the only sensible approach to my children and I value your words immensely. Thank you once again! With great appreciation. Sincerely, S.


Hi S.,

Re: body piercing... I think you have bigger fish to fry than worrying about "body piercings." This issue falls into the "pick your battles carefully" file. You only have a limited amount of time and energy. Plus, body piercing is a phase. Unlike tattoos, one can remove ear rings, tongue studs, etc., when one outgrows the need to "stand out from the crowd" and to "look cool."

Re: hanging with a bad crowd... Don't be sooooo glad to have him back home that you over-indulge him for fear that he'll leave again. Having said this, negative peer association is a bit like the smoking issue. If a teen wants to smoke, the only way to get it stopped is to lock him in the basement (against the law). And the more the parent makes an issue out of smoking, the more attraction smoking has for the kid. Parents have no control over it - unless it occurs on their property!

Negative peer association is no different. When he's away from home, you simply cannot monitor effectively who he is hanging around. Even if you did come up with a seemingly rock-solid method for keeping tabs on his whereabouts, he would find a flaw in your method and exploit it. Parents have little control over negative peer association - unless it occurs on their property!

There are some things you can do to minimize the problem however:

You can't make peer pressure go away, but you can teach your son how to deal with it. Although we often think of peer pressure as bad, it is very likely that your son's friends have some positive influence as well.

Develop a good relationship. The stronger your relationship is with your son, the less likely he is to follow bad examples.

Teach him to think when others try to get him to do something. All your children should ask themselves questions like: Is it wrong? Why do they want me to do it? Is it illegal? Why am I tempted to go along? Am I afraid that they will laugh at me?

Teach your children to decide for themselves whether something is right or wrong, helpful or harmful. Bring up examples of situations they may be in; then explore what might happen if they respond a certain way. Let them think about the consequences of their actions. If they have an uneasy feeling, something is probably wrong.

Also, self-disclose some examples from your history as a teenager when you made some bad choices and subsequently experienced the natural consequences of those choices. If you're uncomfortable with this self-disclosure, recruit the help of another family member that your son knows and trusts (e.g., an uncle) who will share some "life-lessons" with him.

Sometimes children just need help getting away from a bad situation. Provide yours with some responses they can use to resist peer pressure. Encourage them to avoid giving an immediate "Yes" or "No" answer when friends want them to do something questionable. They can buy time to make a good decision by saying, "Maybe later," or "I'll wait and see." Let them use you as an excuse: "I will be grounded forever if I try that."

Good luck …and stay in touch,

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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