15 year old son with social anxiety
My 15 year old son developed social anxiety when he hit puberty. He had almost no friends in middle school. He used to participate in Boy Scouts and karate but quit both of those in seventh grade. He is now a freshman in high school and has missed several days of school because he said he was too tired to get up or he was not felling well--but yet felt fine after about 3:10 when school is normally out. Last summer I found a psychologist who specializes in anxiety disorders. My son was at first hesitant to attend counseling but did go for about six or seven sessions. During one session the therapist took my son out to a grocery store to practice what they had been working on. After that my son went back to therapy but refused to talk saying it was a waste of time and that he does not have any anxiety. The therapist said he cannot help with my son if he will not talk. There were a couple incidents when my son cut himself a few months ago but none recently. My son says all his problems are because of me, his mom, because I am too strict with him. He has taken up smoking which he says has allowed him to meet some new friends at school. He wants to hang out with these friends on the weekends but he will not provide any information as to who they are or what they will be doing when they hang out. We got into a disagreement yesterday because he wanted to meet his friends after school and I asked who he would be with, what they would be doing and what time he would be home. He left the house without my permission and came back about two hours later. I have always been the one who enforced the rules and my husband was always the "good" guy. Now he and I are working to be more together on our discipline. However, my son still harbors a great deal of anger and, in his words, hatred toward me since I was always the disciplinarian in the past. Am I being out of line in asking for some accountability in terms of his friends? Also, what can I do to help him with the anger he is holding against me? Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
Your first task is to get your son back into treatment in any way possible. Tell you son that you are sorry that you make him so crazy, but that you'd like to have a truce to talk about his anxiety. Quote me in saying that he doesn't have to live with those terrible feelings, and that there are other treatments that might work better for him than the one he tried. The fact is that we have lots of success in treating that disorder, which is likely at the root of your other concerns for him (smoking, school avoidance, scary friends, anger, and so on). Offer material/privilege incentives (bribes) if you must but get him to see a psychiatrist for an evaluation for potential meds that could help a lot (in conjunction with therapy). If he refuses, ask him what he's afraid of. When he says nothing, then say "Then just humor me and waste an hour a week and I'll give you..." But in the interim be sure that you and your husband gently insist on knowing the “who, where, and when” of his hanging out. Never negotiate that away.
Don't crowd him for an answer about getting treatment, but ask him to mull this over for awhile. Tell him that he could write me here if he wants more info.
Do not take his anger at you personally. He's just in a lot of pain and you're a handy dumping ground for his frustrations. Picture him as having a life-crippling toothache and perhaps you can sidestep his provocations.
Keep us posted.
Dr. Mike Bradley