When a step son veers off the path

An angel of a step mom of two teenage kids reached out to me for help with the oldest, a boy.  She reported to me that his bio-mom's past ineffective parenting created enormous problems for the boy, and his new family.  He seems to have given up with his school work, he became addicted to entertainment media, and he doesn't care about life in general.  This step mom was also concerned that his behavior may have negative influence on his 13 year old bio sister and his new, younger, half siblings.  Here is my response to her:

First of all, keep in mind that his grades and his school performance belong to him, not you. Unfortunately, if he chooses a path of destruction in school, there is not a lot you can do about it.  Forcing him to study or punishing him won't work.  If he is getting psychotherapy treatment, then you are doing all you can for him for now. There is the risk that he will screw it all up and end up having to go the route that I have seen many go... having to get a GED later in life. It is sad for a parent or step parent to have to stand by and watch it happen, but you can't save the world. Your only responsibility in line with his schooling are these things:

- provide adquate school supplies, a place to do his homework, and a schedule to meet those needs
- limiting fun stuff and entertainment electronics (Nintendo, TV, and computer) to minimize distractions
- being ready to say NO to some (not all) of the things that we "wants" from you (rides places, friends over, $$, etc.)
- NOT with holding unconditional love (time, love, affection, listening, participation, etc.) from him because he is choosing this path

You are right to be concerned about what the other children see, but I wouldn't worry too much that they will want to take that same path. Sheild them from seeing what's going on with him as much as possible. Keep conversations with and about him, private from the other children. If they say something like "It's not fair that he doesn't have to...," redirect them to something else and do not discuss his situation with them.

I don't support grounding, but I do support limiting the stuff on the cooperation list (from the exercise I shared with you) for him through the summer. Don't stifle him, just limit the nonproductive things. You may want to make a list WITH him and your husband about what he can and cannot do over the summer, but all things will be reconsidered when the new school semester begins. Focus on the things he does like to do; read, play instruments, educational or academic types of entertainment. See if you can work with him to find a productive activity over the summer, such as taking a course or two at the local college, such as computer repair, Web site design, or music composition. Explain to him that you are limiting many things, in hopes that he will discover some new talent or interests. I know it is hard to look for positive things when he has upset you, but keep in mind that much of his situation is not his fault. He was lead down this path, thanks to his mother and other influences. Handle him as if he has a disease. We don't get me at people (at least we shouldn't) who have a disease, we free them of any fault and focus on what we can do to improve their situation. The same goes for your step son. Treat him as if he has a disease that has taken control of him and focus on what you CAN do to save him.

And as you indicated, you may have to contine more "lock down" steps to keep him safe and away from temptations; computer monitoring software, surveillance cameras in the house, baby/house sitters while you're away, and more locks and padlocks. You may have saved these two kids lives and it may be years before you ever receive your thanks. You are an angel!


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