I am worried about my 15-year-old son. He seems to have lost his way. His old friends dropped him when they got into girls and sports, and his newer friends just sit around playing video games. What can we do to help him from going wrong? Should we refuse to let him hang out with these boys who don't care about school?
Forbidding a youngster from spending time with friends we don't approve of often makes them more appealing; your son may find it tantalizing to sneak around to be with his buddies rather than abide by your wishes. In addition, kids who are already struggling socially often drop into depression when they become disconnected from others, numbing out by spending even more time playing video games--alone.
Still, I appreciate your dilemma. High school can be hellish on kids who don't fit in. Add to that the academic stresses and pressure from parents and teachers, and many kids lose their momentum.
Your best option is to help inspire and invigorate him to be more engaged with the 3D world by being encouraging and supportive. This cannot be accomplished by judging or controlling him. Human beings reflexively put up walls of resistance when people come AT us with advice we haven't asked for.
Instead, let your son know what you love, like, and admire about him--just as he is, right now. On my website I have a free video called the Love Flooding exercise which may help you create a list of his qualities that thrill and delight you. These should not be about his accomplishments and achievements; rather, include things about him that warm your heart or inspire you in some way.
Your list may include things like, "I love how you always notice a beautiful sunset--and you make sure I see it, too!" Or, "You are so patient with Grandma; it reminds me to slow down and enjoy things at her speed."
Comments like these are priceless for kids who may see themselves through the eyes of their peers who often cruelly point out their flaws and deficiencies.
You'll notice that I am not suggesting you bolster your teen with comments like, "You're better than those boys who play video games all day. Why are you wasting your time with them?" Or, "You used to be so serious about your grades. What's happened to you?" Criticizing your son or his friends will not accomplish much of anything other than creating more distance between the two of you.
Instead, spend time with him in a way that does not emphasize where he is "going wrong". Help him find his way back to the young man he wants to be. Ask him for his opinions about politics or animal rights or the environment, and then listen with true curiosity.
The more you help him feel your love and respect, the more likely he'll find his way to greater self-love and self-respect.
This is the circuitous way we can help our teens become sturdier. It isn't as simple as saying, "You're a great kid!" Our actions and heartfelt appreciations need to speak for themselves.
Still, your son may take some time to find his way. Be kind to his friends, who may also benefit when you demonstrate genuine interest in who they are. Kids are so tuned in to the adults around them; if your attitude toward them screams. "Loser!" they will feel it.
You can certainly set guidelines for your son regarding video game use; you don't have to go along with unlimited access. But at fifteen, you'll get further by having a dialogue about healthy digital media habits than by trying to prevent him from playing his games.
Strengthen the connection you have with your son so you can influence his choices, and he should find his way. You're in one of the most challenging times of parenting. Focus on what delights you about your son, rather than what disappoints you.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.