Dear Son -- A Message for Your At-Risk Teen

We know that this is an extremely complex issue and by no means think that simple solutions can adequately address such complex problems. If you have a son or daughter who is struggling, isolated and angry, here are some words that you might consider writing or saying.
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Co-written by Steve Legallet, LMFT

After the recent, horrific event in Connecticut we read a blog titled, "I am Adam Lanza's Mother." Within minutes there were thousands of responses to this mother's plea for help. Her son, much like Adam Lanza and millions of others, is disturbed, angry and violent. Needless to say this woman struck a chord with many.

There are numerous complex factors that can contribute to the development of a mass murderer: mental illness, bullying, intense isolation, constant violent images, limited affordable resources for disturbed children and of course easy access to semi-automatic weapons, just to name a few.

As therapists who treat many young people in varying degrees of anguish, we wanted to add our thoughts to the discussion. We continue to hold the victims of Newtown (and too many towns) in our hearts and minds and we write this in the hopes that we might help parents and others to prevent yet another unthinkable act.

We know that this is an extremely complex issue and by no means think that simple solutions can adequately address such complex problems. But for the millions of other young boys and men who are addicted to computer games, isolation and/or substances, we hope to help perhaps a few. It is much easier to put out a fire when it is a spark or a small flame before it becomes a blazing inferno. And we know that sadly, there are some that will act out in destructive ways no matter what means of support or medications are offered.

If you have a son or daughter who is struggling, isolated, angry and shut down, here are some words that you might consider writing or saying:

My Dear Son (or Daughter),

We see that you are struggling and suffering. We imagine that there are many feelings that underlie your anger including confusion, overwhelm, fear, hopelessness, and pain.

We understand that you are going through a very difficult time in your life, and that coping with your emotions can be very challenging but we need to be very clear that is not okay for you express those feelings with anger and violence. We will continue to set clear limits if you threaten us or anyone else and the police may need to become involved. But know that what we really want more than anything else is to help you find ways to let people into your life and for you to stop pushing us all away. What we want is for us to talk more and spend more time together, which may involve talking or being quiet. We would like to know more about you and your world, too. Maybe you could tell us more about your interests, including some of the computer games you play. Will you consider this?

Will you consider spending time with us, and the rest of the family? Will you consider having at least a day or two a week where we do something together? Bike, walk, a movie, a game? Will you consider for a moment that your life can improve if we work at this together?

It is important you know that even though you feel bad and even though at times your behavior has been bad, we know that you are not a bad person, and that you have a good heart. Good people can make bad decisions and good people can make mistakes. The question is, do you have what it takes to learn from those mistakes and become a better person for it? Are you willing to learn how to manage your emotions without lashing out on others or imploding with self-hate? We hope you will give yourself a chance to have a good life, which means being willing to change and improve your behavior. It takes maturity and strength to be open and willing to accept help from others. We hope you will choose that.

We know that many times we have reacted to your anger by acting out our own anger in ways that have not been helpful. We know there are so many times when we went on talking when we should have just listened. These are the things that we will continue to work on.

What we are asking for you to do is to trust in our love for you and the loving intentions behind our efforts to help you. We ask that you trust us by letting down your wall just enough to see the love we have for you. Again, remember that it is a sign of strength, not weakness, to let others help you through the dark times and to help you to see a glimmer of light.

Will you consider that things can change and improve, even if you don't believe it now? Will you consider the possibility that you are lovable and valuable and that your life can have meaning and purpose?

Mom and Dad (or other caregivers and loved ones)

Andrea Wachter, LMFT is a family therapist and writer with a private practice in Northern California. She also she also offers a low-cost teleconference for anyone worldwide, who is suffering from stress, anxiety, depression or addictions. For more information on her book or her Stress Less Teleconference, please visit

Steve Legallet, LMFT is a family therapist in Northern California. Among many issues that he treats, he specializes in helping young boys and men who are struggling with depression, social anxiety and chemical dependency.

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