About to call it quits with my teenage son

Modern Parent


I am just about at the end of my rope with my 13-year-old son.

Let me preface this by saying that he has been diagnosed with ADHD by 2 different ADHD specialists, but my husband (his stepdad) and I feel strongly that while he may have it, there's very likely something different going on as well.

Starting in 3rd grade, he began stealing trinkets from his classmates. Mostly little knickknacks, sometimes coins or dollar bills. We didn’t catch on at first because sometimes he would show us things and tell us that he found them on the playground and we had no reason to doubt that. However, once we figured it out, we made him take everything we suspected was not his back and apologize. Unfortunately, this did not curtail the behavior. It continued to get worse.

Cut to his 5th grade, where he was caught repeatedly stealing from classmates and teachers to the point that he was no longer allowed a backpack and he had to do coat/pocket checks upon arriving and leaving the school. They kept a log of everything he had on him in a notebook. This was humiliating to me and should have been to him as well, but he seemed totally unphased. Eventually, he stole a box of fundraiser chocolates from the band room and the school pressed charges. We ended up in court and the case was thrown out due to an error on the officer's part. I believe this was unfortunate because I think he just learned that he could get away without any serious repercussions.

He has now developed quite a binge eating problem as well. He will binge on whatever he can get his hands on. Snack foods like goldfish, any treats left in his reach, cheese sticks, on two occasions even eating a tube of fondant and coffee creamer.

This behavior has continued. He has repeatedly stolen from friends, his siblings, school, our parents, my husband and I, and really anyone and anywhere he thinks he can get away with it. We have to lock our room if we leave and he’s going to be home from school before we get back or if we have to go outside to do chores or leave him unattended at all. Yesterday, we finally realized that he has learned how to break into our locked room and he stole from us yesterday. He was allowed to go on a sleepover and ended up stealing from his friend. His friend figured it out, and now he’s ostracized from his friend group. It’s unfortunate, but a natural consequence of those actions.

This stealing behavior is combined with an intense temper and some bullying behavior. He especially targets his younger sisters and has to be separated from them frequently. However, he never sees it as his fault. If he pushes them, they shouldn’t have annoyed them. If he says hateful things to my 7-year-old, she should have left him alone. He also frequently starts arguments over the smallest things and becomes explosive. However, in his eyes, he is always the victim. There is no personal responsibility on his part. When we discipline him for these acts, we are called “monsters, evil, hateful, despicable people” etc and he begins saying things like “you only punish me because you hate me” or “I wish God would just strike me dead so I don’t have to be around you” or “I wish we lived near the grand canyon so I could throw myself off of it” over something as simple as being given extra chores as punishment at times. We made him load the dishwasher once and he talked about stabbing himself in the face so he could get out of doing it. 

We never use physical punishments for him, and frequently use the removal of privileges (ie no phone, tablet, game consoles, etc), extra chores, community service, or some kind of volunteering that we do together, we have made him apologize to those he has wronged when we can and perform some sort of restitution act when possible. We make him do kind things for his siblings when he mistreats them (at the direction of his therapist).

He has seen 3 different counselors, one of which he still sees. We have gone to multiple specialists and primary care doctors. His counselor tries to introduce him to other options of behavior and while he’s in his session, he’s very “oh yes, I can’t wait to try this!” but then there’s no actual effort that we see after that. His counselor is aware of the self-harm talk that he does and the entirety of his behavior. His doctors are also aware of all of this behavior and their solution has been to change his ADHD medication 3 times. His focus is fine, his grades are now great, but these other issues are not getting better.

It’s incredibly stressful to be on edge all the time. To constantly have to be aware of where your belongings are for fear they will go missing, to constantly have to guard over a teenager like a small child because he might steal or mistreat his siblings or just break something for no obvious reason. To constantly doubt everything he says to you (*3yearold* fell on accident mom, I didn’t push her!) Etc. To be afraid to let him go to his friend’s homes because he steals from them. The constant attitude. The fact that small requests like “Hey, it’s your turn to knock out the dishes” are met with rampant tantrums, for lack of a better word. To have a week’s worth of after-school snacks disappear in a couple of days. Having to hide foods in our closet to prevent him from binging.

I am sure that one solution is going to be “try to give him more one on one attention” so I just want to say now that every week, we let the kids pick an activity they want to do with a parent of their choice solo. So he definitely gets one-on-one time. We also do either family movie nights, family game nights, or outdoor activity days with soccer, croquet, volleyball, frisbee, etc. We garden together as a family as well. We live in the country on a couple of acres, so we have lots of space for outdoor things and specifically asked for these family activities for gifts to encourage family time.

We are at the end of our rope and not sure what else to do. We are requesting a new mental health assessment from his counseling service and trying to hope that will help us get to the bottom of it. We just don’t know what else to do anymore. I guess I hoped someone here might have any ideas.

Thank you to anyone who has made it through this post.

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