Teenage Son Anxiety, Maybe Depression, Father Issues, Friend Issues

Updated on January 17, 2015
L.P. asks from Freeland, PA
19 answers

I am divorced and share custody of my 16-year-old son. This Summer, after several incidents with his narcissistic, belligerent, irresponsible father, he begged me not to go back. I enrolled him in counseling, which seemed to help, but the counselor insisted we get he and his father together in counseling. His father lies in counseling, and is only making my son angrier. He has lots of stressors right now. My son seems to be losing friends (to a more popular, partying group, which he does not want to do even though he loves these friends). He is a little geeky, preppy, a smart kid. He tries too hard. He has had a string of short-term girlfriends who have ALL cheated on him. He has very tough classes.

This child has always been easy, a pleasure. Sweet, helpful around the house, very open, good grades, great at soccer, and a big reader.

So, in summary, there are daddy issues, and his father continues to lie and be self-serving in counseling. He dreads spending any time with his dad in large family gatherings, which is the only way he will see him. So, he's got that. Then, he has the friend problem and the girlfriend problem.

He has IBS and recently has been prescribed Lexapro for anxiety/depression, which we have not started. I don't know if this is a temporary problem, or not. We are both afraid for him to go on it because of the suicidal thoughts risk.

I have tried to get him reconciled with his dad. His dad is not going to change, and his dad is an emotional abuser. My son isn't making new friends, can't keep a girlfriend, and is becoming paranoid about his body (he thought he had worms). He iis hypersensitive to any slight or any suggestions, and is quite angry a lot of the time. This has been going on for about 2 weeks now.

I don't know where to focus, how to help. He know longer trusts the therapist, who seems to want a professional win rather than believe his charming dad is a pro at lying and manipulation.

I am open to any suggestions. His heart is breaking, and so is mine.

What can I do next?

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answers from Columbia on

well, yuck.

Here is what I would say:

Take the Lexapro. It will take a few weeks to kick in and, although many anti-depressents have the suicidal thoughts side-effect warning, it's quite rare. It's only in about 1-2% of all the people who take them. So for every 100 people under 18 - 3 or 4 will have suicidal thoughts... but 2 of them were ALREADY suicidal, so the actual "risk" of taking the anti-despressant is no more than 2%. That is small compared to the 96 that feel better as a result of taking an anti-depressant.

That will take a few weeks to "kick in". In the mean time:

1. No more girls. Have him make a "pact" that a girl is not the answer and he will not 'date' for the remainder of the school year. This will buy him some time to re-create his behavior and look at why he is choosing lame girls who cheat on him.

2. Find an individual counselor. If he is going to family counseling then he needs his VERY OWN counselor who is in HIS corner and can advocate for HIM.

3. Get him involved in an activity. Tae Kwon Do or swimming. Something where there is an "individual" component but he has a "coach" who is giving him positive reinforcement.

4. Find an actual "mentor". Big Brothers or boystown or something. There are mentors who can spend time with him and show him what a positive role model is like to be around.

5. Friends - if you get him into an activity that he likes (or at least one he doesn't hate) he may meet a friend or two that have the same interests.

6. Does he have an outlet for his anger? If he's angry all the time.... what is he doing about it? Have you talked him through appropriate things he can do? Like exercising or boxing bag? so that he knows he can have a predictable routine when he starts to get mad?

I hope things get better. It sucks to see your kids not doing well.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

He is 16, at this point I would let him make his own choices about being around his father. If his father has legal visitation then I would see about going to court to get it changed so that it is the child's choice.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

1) Find a new counselor/therapist.
2) Don't include Dad in the sessions. At least not now.
3) Research/do your due diligence to determine if your son HAS to spend time with his father. He sounds toxic. Consult an attorney.

I would not completely rule out medication, but I would try these other things first.
Good luck.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

If he were my son, I would tell him he didn't have to spend time with his dad. At sixteen, if a kid doesn't want to go, no one can make them. You need to support your son in not having to go to his father's. It is damaging to him.

I can't blame him for not trusting the therapist, when the therapist is trying to force his father on him. Time for a new, nicer, more kid-friendly therapist.

Is he involved in activities with similar geeky, preppy smart kids? They should be the type of kids he is hanging around with. Can't help him with the girlfriend issues -- at his age, that's normal.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Des Moines on

First, get a new therapist. In order for therapy at all to work, you have to trust and connect with your therapist.

Second, is there a reason that the dad is involved in his life? He is 16 and should be able to decide that. Of course, if courts/law is involved, that may not be an option but it sounds like a completely dysfunctional and toxic relationship that would be better off gone. Unless your son wants a relationship with him, he shouldn't have one.

I would try these two things before meds (as my son had those black box warning side effects to the meds). You really need to start asking what he needs and wants.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Albany on

My daughter was prescribed Celexa by our trusted family physician for her anxiety issues, which also comes with a "risk of suicidal thoughts" as does pretty much every psych drug, in addition to about a zillion other "possible" side effects.

After about a month of taking it (first month she was very tired), she actually became more like herself again, only better.

I don't understand why you wouldn't try the Lexapro.


4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

What a tough situation, my heart goes out to both of you! I can't write a ton now but my first instinct is saying that you should find a new therapist. When you interview new ones, let them know what the problems are with the current one. Not every therapist is a good one, and it sounds like this one doesn't have your son's trust, isn't taking him seriously, and that the relationship isn't helping your son like it should. So line up a new therapist who isn't going to try to force a relationship with a toxic parent, and fire the first one.

My oldest son and step-daughter (ages 16 & 17) both have toxic, absent parents. Their parents aren't around to participate in counseling, but I can't imagine the destruction that would come with being forced to deal with them in a setting that's supposed to be healing and beneficial to the kids. That's just counter-productive and crazy.

Who prescribed the Lexapro? Was it a pediatrician or a psychiatrist? Is it the same doctor who is providing the counseling? If the prescribing doctor is a psychiatrist who you trust, talk to him or her about your concerns. He or she should be able to either validate or alleviate your concerns. If you trust that person, ask him or her to recommend a counselor who she or he thinks would be good with your son. I have found that the meds doctors we have dealt with usually have a good network of counselors who they trust to handle their patients.

Best of luck to you and your son - hopefully with the right professional help, he'll start to feel better and get some resolution to these problems.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Listen to those below saying that you need to investigate your state's child custody laws immediately. Your son is probably more than old enough to tell a judge what HE wants regarding the amount and type of time he spends (or does not spend) with his father. That doesn't necessarily mean a court will do exactly what you son wants. But your son may have the right to say what he wants here and be listened to, so be certain that you don't overlook that right.

It will stress your son further to go in front of a judge, even if the reason is a good, so at the same time you and your attorney are investigating law and rights, you also need to get your son better, SOLO psychiatric help.

I would change therapists right away, telling your son that you understand he wants a fresh start. Find one solely for your son -- not son plus dad. No wonder your son distrusts the therapist, if your son sees these sessions as dad just giving a snow job; even if that weren't true, and dad was earnest and honest, your son still doesn't need dad there -- the boy will never be open with any therapist with his dad sitting right there. Be sure a new therapist has a specialization in teenagers. I would guess that dad might fight this and argue they should continue in joint counseling (because as you present it, this is a "show" dad gives at every session and he looks great at the end of it, so why would he stop, right?). Be prepared for dad to resist or claim you are out to "turn our son against me" and other crud. Just be ready for that.

Do not dump the Lexapro suddenly. Starting and then stopping a medication can mean you and he will never know if it would have worked, since meds can take quite a while -- weeks and weeks, even months - to work; also, stopping suddenly could cause other issues.

It is very telling that you say you and your son "both" are worried about "the suicidal thoughts risk." Virtually every such drug lists that as a possible effect; is it possible that your son has been poring over the list of side effects online or on paper in order to find something else to stress over and a reason not to take his new meds? Is it possible that your own worry and stress is being absorbed by him and this is its outlet?

Why does your son have girlfriend after girlfriend--have you thought through that? I find that teens with a ton of tough classes tend to not have a lot of time for a succession of girlfriends or boyfriends. Is there some unspoken expectation on your part (or dad's) that having a girlfriend is "normal" and will make him happier? Is your son (whom you say has no friends -- no close guy friends?) whether he realizes it or not, seeking validation as "one of the guys" or as somehow popular, by having girlfriends? Do you know for sure that these girls all truly cheated on him, or do you only know what your son tells you? It's entirely possible that in his mind they cheated when they just lost interest or were tired of the hypersensitivity or just moved on like teens do, but he interprets it all through his own lens. He needs to stop feeling like he's incomplete without a girlfriend, and again -- back to therapy for that.

The girlfriend issue is a clear example of something your son needs to work through in therapy, and something where you need to look at your own spoken or unspoken influence (possibly in solo therapy of your own, to help you parent this teen). It's just one example among several in your post.

Please update us.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Beaumont on

Love CoMoMom's answer. The only thing I would add is to find a new counselor. Does he have to see his Dad?? He seems toxic to me. I thought older teens could choose.

Teen years are so hard but even more so without a support group. We have an awesome church youth group which is like a second family to my kids. Very tight group and they do lots of things together to unify them. I would definitely see if you could find something like that near you. I have a kid that is a MAJOR rebel that has been reeled in as a result of this group. It changes everything.

Wishing you guys the best.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I love CoMoMom's suggestions as well as Kimberly F's perspective: if this is an adult you find very manipulative and difficult to deal with as a fully grown adult, it's a very tall order to expect your son to endure this, esp repeatedly in counseling.

If your son's dad insists on continuing counseling, I would agree with getting your son his own counselor to see as well. Perhaps, at some point, his own personal counselor could talk to the other one--- or not. But he'd have one outside person who was investing in helping him specifically. That could be huge for him.

Otherwise, please re-read the two responses I mentioned. Taking a break from the usual social scene and giving him time to settle himself could be really helpful. Good luck on this--- it's so hard to see our children hurting.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Please talk to a real attorney. In most states a kid age 8 and if not age 8 at the oldest age 12 can stand before a judge and say they don't want to visit their other parent.

Your child is more than old enough to have his own attorney and take his dad to court to terminate visitation. He needs this evidently.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

You couldn't reconcile with his father so why on this earth would you want a non adult to do the thing you couldn't do? Your son is 16 and deserves better. At 16, I stopped speaking to my father because of something he did to me. I didn't speak to him for an entire year. My mom tried but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

Yes I got counseling. It helped me as a person but I was never forced into counseling with the offender of my personhood.

With your son, I would strongly recommend him continue counseling but without his father in the picture. Give him time to develope skills for forgiveness and skills for speaking up for himself in a safe environment. Perhaps a new counselor would be helpful.

Get him involved in activities separate from school and his current friends. I had 3 different groups of friends which was very helpful for me. Healthy relationships are what he needs now. He needs to be affirmed and not forced into a relationship he doesn't want.

I'm grateful my mom let me work out my daddy problems in my own time at my own speed. I'm well past my teen years and visit my father every other week. It used to be every week when he lived closer. Our relationship is better but he is still the same. Sometimes it can be frustrating for me but I have to learn how to accept him for who he is while not putting up with some of the dysfunction that comes with him. LOL. It's a delicate balancing act.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

wow, that's a toughie!
i would start by getting him into individual counseling. it's one thing for the parents to be in there too if family counseling is advisable and helpful, but since your ex is lying and creating more anxiety, your son probably needs a place where he can express himself freely, and that probably means without you too.
at 16 his wishes will almost certainly be considered by the court. can you get his visitation reduced or eliminated altogether? he can always re-establish a relationship with his dad when he's older and more secure.
i see a few folks are suggesting you not allow him to have girlfriends. i don't think it's appropriate to try and manage an older teen's romantic inclinations. my older kid tended to get his heart broken a lot too. very hard to watch.
you can keep that door open and encourage more healthy relationships, but he's getting to an age where this is really not any of mom's beeswax, painful though it may be.
it's awesome that he's strong and balanced enough to resist the pressure of the party kids. make sure he knows that (but don't gush.)
get him his own therapist and broach the medication topic there. if he needs meds to relax and enjoy the magical teenage years, don't deny him. a second opinion may make you both feel more comfortable with the idea (or give you some alternative coping techniques if not.)
why reconcile him with his dad? you're not reconciled to him, and you're a lot older and wiser, right?
good luck, mama!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Wausau on

At age 16, your son is old enough to make the choices about visitation. If you have a court order, request a modification and let your son be heard by the judge.

I would have your son see a different therapist, pronto. Actually, a pediatric psychiatrist that works with teens. Some of the things you mention are beyond typical anxiety or depression.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Hold off on the meds until you can help your son with the outside stressors first. As others have said, allow him to have his own feelings about his dad. Get the book "When Panic Attacks" by David Burns and stay on him to do the actual work in the book. Find a therapist that he clicks with, for just him, no dad involved, that specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety. Encourage him to find just one really good friend and skip the girlfriends for now. He has enough challenges on his plate. He is feeling like he has no control, so do not force dad on him any more. Good luck to your sweet boy.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Side effects of these drugs can be minimized if you start on a tiny dose and increase very slowly. Start on 1 mg, then increase by 1 mg per week until full dose is reached. We did this and sleeplessness with a med was avoided which manifested when starting full dose. Also, psych drugs are best monitored by a psychiatrist not a primary care, in my opinion. I would remove all distractions and focus only on his mental health and school. No dad, no girls, one or two good friends to take into confidence, positive feedback, free time to do something he is passionate about, even if that means reading or gaming for hours. Good luck.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I would suggest the Lexapro. If he is seeing a psychologist/ psychiatrist regularly and will be monitored while on medication, I don't understand why you will not try it.

All medications have side effects. It doesn't mean they will not work.

Sometimes it's better for their to be space and separation when one parent isn't putting their child's emotional needs ahead of their own. I wouldn't push their relationship. Is focus on my son feeling better and gaining confidence in himself.

Get a therapist who will work with your sons individual needs. First your son needs to feel secure and confident and stable before putting any pressure to talk with his father. A psychotherapist might be very beneficial.

Also find out what his interests are and create an avenue for him to explore it. Gaining confidence in that will help his self esteem.

I feel for your son.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

I urge you have him take the medicine so he will be able to deal with the other issues. Yes, suicide is a possibility especially for teans, with psychotropic medicines. Possibly more so for teens. However, the percentage who feel this way is very small. Most importantly a person doesn't just one day feel this hopeless or attempt suicide. There are signs you can see before the thoughts lead to suicide. Your son will be seeing a therapist frequently. He will watch for this.

About seeing a different therapist I would not do that until you try working this out with the current one. If youhaven't talked about this with his therapist and if your son hasn't said he doesn't want to work with his dad, it's possible the the rapist doesn't know how your son feels. It's been my experience with several counselors and therapists that they only involve another person if their client agrees to have them there. If the father is.paying and chose this therapist it's possible his dad is a client.

My grandchildren see a counselor weekly. They have different therapists. They see only the child unless the child wants the parent or another person involved. We aren't told anything about what goes on in therapy. My grandson himself asked me to go in with him one time.

You can talk with the therapist if your son asks that you be involved. I suggest it may be helpful for you and your son to make an appointment without his father so to be your son's support in helping him say what he wants.

If this therapist was hired as a family therapist he still has to honor everyone's feelings. My adult daughter and I see a family counselor. We have to agree to include someone else in the family in mine or her's private sessions. She does see the whole family together.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Note: I reread my post and it sounds very accusing and I am not meaning it in that manner.

I have a few questions before I can even dare offer an opinion.

Do you talk to your son about your exhusband in the same way as you have written about him?

He is 16, why is a girlfriend important? Do you make this an issue? (From your post it appears that you might so I was wondering)

How long have you been divorced? (There seems to be a lot of anger and hostility coming from you). Have you personally thought of going to counseling? It is difficult to help others when you are struggling yourself.

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