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Out Of Control 16 Year Old Nephew

Question:

Hello. I am the aunt. My brother seems to look up to me for advice (I am the oldest) and I feel like I am in over my head. My nephew has been in trouble since I can remeber. His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother and two sisters. His youngest sister is disabled and his mom works 10 hour days six days a week. My brother lives close, but has so many of his own mental issues with depression and anxiety. My nephew first started stealing when he was 12 (or that’s when he got caught). He claimed his friends made him do it. He got caught twice. This year he has been kicked out of two schools at least 6 times for various reasons: disrespection teacher, marijuana (but it wasn’t his), stayed home sick but went to hang out at school and got caught. His latest, last night he and his friends were out at 4:00 am and stole his sister car (he didn’t drive) and wrecked it. No one is hurt. They are trying to find the kid who drove. The other kid is threatening suicide if we tell his mom, because he is on probation. What a mess! Your urgent advice is appreciated. Tracy

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Answer:

Dear Tracy,

Your nephew appears to showing symptoms of a conduct disorder. He has been engaging in illegal or anti social behaviors since he was twelve years old and maybe even when he was younger. He gets into trouble in school and has been suspended from school a number of times for marijuana use and for defiant behavior towards teachers. He has been involved in stealing including the latest which is car theft. The car theft included serious property damage. At no time does he appear to take responsibility for his actions. Instead, he blames others and claims to be an "innocent bystander."

Many of the children who develop conduct disorders come from homes beset by the kinds of problems you describe. You describe both your brother (his father) your ex sister-in-law (his mother) as being overwhelmed by their problems. This had to result in some neglect not by deliberate fault but by virtue of the serious issues faced by the parents. To repeat, I am not implying that there was ever any deliberate neglect but that the family was (and is) in such serious trouble that your nephew was overlooked. Even now, his father appears to have too many emotional problems to give his son the attention he needs.

Time is getting late for your nephew but I hope that it’s not too late. The family, meaning his mother and father, sisters and your nephew need to attend family therapy sessions so that everyone can learn how to cope with his issues and help him adjust to living a normal life. These family sessions should include individual sessions for him. I understand that your sister works a lot and that your brother has emotional problems. However, if they do not take the time to help their son now my fear is that he will find himself in a detention center for teens who have committed crimes. Before that happens a family court judge could end up mandating the type of treatment I am recommending. Once the case comes under a judge’s authority things could be even worse than they are now. There are resources in the community that can provide the types of mental help evaluation and counseling needed by this boy and his family.

Best of Luck

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