Beyond Teen Angst

I hate people, my [almost] 14 yr old son said to me, sitting at the top of the stairs this morning.

Felt like he hit me in the head with a brick.

Don't say that. It's not true (though it probably was for him right then).

You do, he sniped back at my offhanded dismissal of his feelings.

No. I don't. I don't hate anyone. Hell, I hardly know anyone. I don't try to make friends because I'm into creating. I'm self-absorbed, honey. Most creatives are. I don't have time to hang out, and be a mom, and wife, and create. So I choose to hang with just our family, and create.

Well, I don't like people, he said softly. But I knew what he meant was, they don't like me.

Sadness and concern that's been keeping me up at nights over my beautiful son's lack of friends consumed me. Again, my brain began racing, searching for ways to help him, methodology for him to actualize friendships.

At the beginning of this school year, his two closest friends since kindergarten gravitated to other groups. I never understood the friendships he had with these boys. They were both devout, practicing Christians, from very conservative families. My son is a self-proclaimed Atheist. He shared few common interests with either kid, except video games, which is what they did when they were together. And while our son was perfectly happy with this, I think the boys grew out of gaming, and with no other interests to connect them, they drifted to kids with more in common this year, leaving our son behind.

DH and I have enrolled him in music jams (he plays electric guitar since 7), robotics classes, kung fu three times a week, even Boy Scouts when he was growing up, in hopes he'd integrate, but he never really has. He relied on the two boys all these years, and since they've moved on, now finds himself very lonely.

And it breaks my heart.

Of course, we talk about things he can do, daily, to spark friendships. To his credit, he's tried several, but is consistently rejected, or ignored, or worse, bullied, especially now that he's on his own at school—an easy mark. Afraid of getting hurt, again, he shuts himself inside his head and avoids interacting, except at home, where he feels safe.

How do you know when I'm depressed? I asked him casually. You always know, even on the phone, right away, like you're plugged into me, know what I'm feeling.

I do. I hear it in your voice, see it on your face, even when you try and hide it, pretend everything's okey-dokey.

I love that you're plugged into me. It makes me feel valuable, important to you, but overall, too. You caring what I think, what I feel, validates me, empowers me. Do you understand?

Yeah. Like how you make me feel.

Yeah. He gets it. I smile. He does too.

I just don't care what most people think.

Again, it felt like he slugged me. And I knew it a lie. Why?

Well, no one outside this family cares what I think. So why should I care about them?

We sat next to each other, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip (we have a small staircase). His anger and sadness oozed off him like molasses. Rat in a maze, my mind desperately searched for ways to help my kid.

Honey, why do you live?

He looked at me quizzically.

And I don't mean because I gave birth to you. You can off yourself anytime. Living is a choice. So, why do you choose to live?

He eyed me suspiciously, looking for my angle. To experience living...

I shake my head. What does that mean?

Well...I get to taste great stuff, and feel nice stuff, like how nice your hugs feel; and do fun stuff sometimes, like play video, or cook, or when we all go into the city for Dim Sum.

But what about the not fun parts of living, and there are many, as you know, the things we all have to do, from mundane tasks to getting an education, and then a job. What justifies living through the hard times?

His eyes drifted from mine as he considered my question.

Well, dead I wouldn't be able to feel the good stuff. I wouldn't feel anything at all.

So, why do you live?

To feel.

Bingo. You are here because your dad and I gifted you life, so you'd get the experience, the opportunity to feel. But you wouldn't be here, getting to experience the magnificent gift of feeling, if not for my mother and father, and dad's mom and dad, and so on, and on, back through the generations of our families, and humanity. So, why care about people you don't know, have yet to engage with? Because you are here because of them.

Micheal (a bully at school) didn't have anything to do with me being born, mom.

Sweetie, acknowledge it or not, all of us are intricately connected. We've evolved because we've worked together, as a collective. And if we hope to gift the next generation this spectacular experience of being human, and the one after that, we're going to have to continue to care what each other thinks and feels, way beyond our own families. Know what I mean?

He grinned at me sardonically. Shook his head with a scoff.

Do yourself a favor, and do something different today. Talk to the kids at the lunch table you sit at. Or sit at a different lunch table, maybe with some kids you'd like to get to know. Then ask three questions, and engage someone at the table in dialog. And care what they answer, what they think. Question anyone's answers who seem interested in talking. Plug in, like you do to me. Empower the people around you with genuine interest, and you'll make friends.

He stared down at his hands.

I love you, baby. And I know caring beyond me, your dad, sister, gram, is scary, risky, but you gotta choose to care. The best times of your life will be remembered with people—celebrating; sharing, creating; teaching; learning; and loving...ahh, love, the most powerfully wonderful feeling of all! I threw my arm over his shoulder and he leaned into me, so I wouldn't see him crying. It took all my will not to crumble, holding him there at the top of the stairs.

Promise me you'll do something, today, to get on the path to changing your sitch.

He straightened, wiped his nose on his hoodie sleeve. Just three questions?

Yup. Start with that for today.

OK. I promise.

And with that, we began our day.


Sally_K said...

Thank you for this post. I have been in your exact same situation before with young and old people in my life.

You gave your son great advice. My mom gave me similar advice when I was young and starting a big, new public high school. She told me to look for someone who looked lonely or wasn't talking to anyone and go up to that person and start a conversation. Thanks to my mom's advice I had a friend for life that I met that first day of high school.

Anonymous said...

Great post: care about yourself, and reach out to others!!

Pam said...

I agree with Sally. My teenage son is going through the same thing. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

Anonymous said...

Hi aunt jerry, its me ariel.
I went through this as well and it sucks but now im so happy and would love to help e.
Much love to everyone