Dear Straight Talk: I separated from my wife last year after much unhappiness. Our youngest, “Jon,” 16, is living with his mother because she allows a no-rules environment — plus, he blames me for the divorce. Last year his grades sank. He got a minor-in-possession ticket for pot. He was involved in petty theft, and without asking, “borrowed” a family friend’s car for the night. I am worried sick. My ex obstructs me at every turn in providing him guidance and I’m the bad guy for being upset. What do you and your panelists suggest? — “Richard,” Sacramento.
Colin, 19, Los Angeles: Battling with your ex just means Jon suffers. Work around her. You can find ways to be with your son. Put him on the spot and ask him what kind of person he wants to be. Pose this same question to your wife. Best way to get them both to listen: admit your past mistakes.
Gregg, 21, Los Angeles: Best thing that helped me with my father was going to counseling. Getting in a room and talking with him (with the help of the counselor, after individual sessions) made me able to live with him. Push for and create as much time with your son as possible. Time with you is less time for trouble. Find out what positive activities he likes and treat him to them.
Christina, 20, Marysville: I have seen these situations. He needs a parent who will discipline him, teach him morals, and prove that you care.
Dear Richard: You son is in huge trouble. He needs to become your top priority — not just in hand-wringing. It’s man-up time. Consider his meltdown your opportunity for finding your male power.
Colin is correct that apologizing/admitting mistakes is the No. 1 way to open doors to communication and respect. Drop any need to be “right” and focus on action. Gregg is correct that family counseling can help you get there. Don’t rag your son about it yet. Find a good one and go first. (I suggest a rehab counselor; they work with families, divorce being when many kids start using.) Christina’s point about proving that you care is huge. He needs proof in action that you didn’t divorce him. Kids really do want that faithful sternness to lean on — many enter the military for this reason.
Get your backbone on and barge into your son’s life. Flood him with text, email, phone, and face-to-face time. Be tireless in your devotion to straightening him out and he will respond. — Lauren
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