Should We Let Our Son Return Home for his Senior Year?

Reader’s Question

I have a few questions about my son, and what we should do. We moved this past August to Colorado from Vermont. My son is 17 years old and lived in Vermont his whole life. He grew up in the public school system and made extremely good friends. He did football, wrestling and lacrosse. He also had a job in Vermont, and a girlfriend, whom he had very strong feelings for; he was active in his church, was part of the boy scouts, on a improv team, and had growing interests. Overall he was doing very very well in Vermont, and he was a good kid. He was extremely against the move too. And his friends offered to take him in and have him live with them for his final years in high school (junior and senior year). However, I am very much a family oriented person and was against it. I thought my son was going to excel even more after the move.

Now it is 6 months into this move. He is severely depressed. We had to send him to a Catholic private school which is all boys because the public school system here is poor. He dropped all his sports and hobbies. His grades have slipped greatly, he cries almost every night, he can’t seem to get a job, and he still has made no real “good” friends. He has also been very angry and mad, he takes it out on his sister (who is a freshman this year and is doing fine) and he is cursing a lot, and disobeying us. He is starting to hang out with the “drug crowd” now too. For the last 5 months he has been seeing a counselor. For about 3 months he was on 40 mg of Prozac. However we took him off that because no progress was being made.

We try to encourage him to do sports and get out more. But, he refuses and just sits at home in his room on his computer spending time talking to people back in Vermont. We started to get frustrated with him and we are being pretty hard on him. He has been cruel to his family lately. As of now he wants to move out on May 29th (end of the school year) and go back to Vermont and attend his senior year there. We don’t know what we should do. Should we make him stay here, in Colorado with us? However, he is always miserable, depressed, and we don’t see much promise in him turning it around. Or should we allow him to go back to Vermont and finish his senior year? But then it will break up our immediate family although the rest of our extended family lives in New York. But we won’t know what hes doing there and he won’t have us to support him.

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As you can see we are in a predicament and are wondering if you could give us some guidance, or input or suggest something? It would be greatly appreciated.

He will also be 18 this summer, so there is also a possibility for him to live in an apartment on his own, with our financial help, because I don’t really like the idea of him living with another family, because of inconsistency in teaching values and moral things to him… what are your thoughts on that, the living alone part?

Thank you so much for your time and for having this service open to people!

Psychologist’s Reply

While your son is physically located in Colorado…he “lives” in Vermont. His friends, his identity, and his dreams are still in Vermont. While this reaction is common when families relocate, he has not recovered as we find in his sister. He is showing signs of being severely depressed and more importantly, self-destructive. Severe depression always has some element of self-destructive thought or behavior. Your son has become self-destructive and is allowing his life to rapidly go downhill. This situation can get worse so it’s important to put the brakes on as soon as possible.

For my vote, I would consider allowing him to return to Vermont for his senior year. Considering the severity of his situation — severe depression, hanging with the drug crowd, loss of interests, etc. — we may need to make a difficult decision. While we weigh issues such as family unity, consistent values/morals, the need for parental guidance, etc., the major issue must be “How do we save our son?”

Despite his age of 18 this summer, I would also suggest that he pay “room and board” with a family well-known to you rather than live independently. While there may be some variation in values and moral ideas, you are paying room and board with competent parental concern and monitoring. If he’s now turning to the drug crowd, a slightly different values in a set of good parents is a minor issue. He has always had those good values/morals in Vermont and they are likely to return when he returns.

I would also propose that you develop an agreement with him. If you elect to let him return, he must:

  1. detach from the drug crowd,
  2. improve his grades now so he may return to Vermont in good grade standing,
  3. explore options for living arrangements in Vermont,
  4. work out details with the Vermont high school regarding legal or educational issues such as parent signatures that may be required for reenrollment, and
  5. develop a “proposal” of the arrangements he’s made and how he plans to improve his life and emotional health by this move.

Keep in mind that if he had maintained his Vermont direction, he would be heading to college following his Senior Year anyway. He would just be moving out early (although still 18) and hopefully maintaining his grades and emotional health.

As a father of two daughters, two almost-adopted daughters lived with my family for several months — one while their parents worked out a divorce and another when their parents moved…she wanted to finish out her Senior year without changing schools. Both were very positive experiences for my family and for the two teenagers as well.

You’re going to hear a lot of opinions. This one is mine.

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