What to do with a teenager who wants to move away

buffy1 asks: I have a 16-year-old son who seems to have lost his mind with his first girlfriend. He is terribly aggressive, he has failed 2 schools in one year after being a 70% average student, he won’t listen to reason, he ran away from home a few weeks ago, and now he wants to move 750 km away just to be with his new girlfriend. How do I deal with this?

Hi buffy1 –

I don’t know where you live, but the first question I have is about laws.  (For example, if I run away from home, I’m just going to get picked up by dog-catchers, regardless of my reasons!)

Does your son have the right to move away without your permission?  Was he legally allowed to run away from home?  I don’t know those things, and of course those are huge elements of any good answer for you.

But not knowing those, I have one really strong reaction to your question:  Is That All?  I know that first loves have a really powerful impact on teens, but this behavior doesn’t sound like the usual romantic issues.  And while all you describe sounds really tough for you to live with, they alone don’t scare me as much as what they might imply.  For example, do you know if he’s starting to use drugs, or if he’s getting involved in some really shady groups of people?  A kid’s grades falling one term because they fell in love sounds really normal.  Failing two schools… that’s something else.

Now, the hard part is that it’s clear he is in a really independent, rebellious, stage, so I don’t know how much power you have over him.  But would it be possible to, for example, ask him to do a drug test before you allow him to move?  If he comes up clean, then my fears are unfounded, and maybe he’s just an “early bloomer” who needed to get more independence from you and his school at an earlier age than most kids.  And if so, fantastic; he’ll be right on schedule to be a mature, responsible, adult at 18, when all the other teens are running around crazy!

But my guess is that he’d refuse that test.  And if so, I think a much bigger question arises for you.

Again, buffy1, I don’t know where you live.  But if there’s a way to keep him from doing really destructive stuff to himself, this might be your last chance.  If he is doing some bad substances, could you make a deal with him that he go into a rehab, and if he comes out of it okay, you’ll allow him to do that move?  (Though there’s a really good chance that, if he is abusing drugs, the girl is too)

I don’t mean to cause false alarms.  I really try hard not to be the dog who wakes up the whole neighborhood barking full-voice because I heard a rustle in a tree that turns out to be a mouse.  But the stuff you describe about your son really does lead my curiosity into this direction.  So I’d love it if you could check that out.

But again, I keep coming back to my original point, buffy1.  My problem isn’t what you should do, but what you can do.  Whether legally or in terms of what your son will allow.  If there’s anything else I can do to help you with these so-difficult questions, I’d be glad to.  But you might want to check with some experts on these issues closer to home, who know more about your abilities.


All my best wishes,



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