Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: My 15-year-old teenage son had numerous friends, but in the past year all of them have taken to drinking (vodka) and smoking pot. My son went from being very popular to being somewhat of an outcast. Any thoughts on how to help him gain his confidence back? He really is not interested in drinking or smoking pot.
DEAR CONCERNED: You should spend lots of time with your son. Include him in your activities and look for activities he might enjoy that you can do together. Can you two work on a long-term project like building something, hiking, camping, training for a 5K race, etc.?
The relationship with you will be very important as your son works through this period — because the summer and the new school year will bring new opportunities. Does he have a job/plans for the summer? Work with him to find a good plan, whether it is a camp or volunteering or trying an Outward Bound course. Make sure he is busy and engaged over the summer. Whatever his outside interests are: robotics, theater, sports, music, etc., make sure he has opportunities to be himself around people who won’t pressure him to be otherwise.
This is a transition time as some of the kids who are drinking/smoking pot will coalesce into a different group, and the students who don’t do this will hopefully find one another in the new school year.
It is so hard to be a 15-year-old boy. Stay close and understanding, and do your best to help him to foster healthy peer relationships.
DEAR AMY: I’m a senior in high school. Graduation is coming up, but it seems like the longest two months of my life. Lately I have just felt disconnected. It feels like I’ve faked being happy for so long that I don’t know if I’m in a good mood or not anymore. I’m worried that I won’t be able to handle the emotional stress of college and being away from my family since I’m traveling to my dream school hundreds of miles away. This is a school that I don’t even know how to pay for. On top of all this, the one person who could make it better is also hundreds of miles away. Being limited to Skype interactions with my long distance boyfriend is taking a huge toll. It’s hard to focus on school work. I just feel so numb. Am I depressed? How do I brighten myself up and get this cloud out of my head?
DEAR SENIOR: Your experience is common — and familiar. There is nothing quite so forced as the “Yippee — we’re seniors” experience at the end of high school.
You sound smart and aware enough to realize that this is pretty hollow. This is a time of tremendous uncertainty for most seniors, as you start the transition toward adulthood.
Please — give yourself a break. Find one close-by friend or family member who will hear your anxieties and respond with compassion.
Life unfolds in discreet moments, but this time of life is a rare one — where you see all of these huge life-changing events in your future all tumbling toward you at once. Be gentle toward yourself and find positive ways to ease the pressure.
The best way to cope with anxiety is to break down your challenges and make choices concerning each one. Your school financing, for instance — you will feel much better if you find a workable plan now.
Definitely see a counselor, if you continue to suspect you are depressed, and continue counseling in college. I did this during my bumpy freshman year, and it really helped.
DEAR AMY: Regarding the letter from “Lost in California,” the gay teenager who worried about coming out to her family, I am the mother of three daughters, the oldest one a lesbian. Our oldest went through some terrible times from about the age of 9 when she finally realized that she was attracted to girls. She seemed depressed, so we went to some family counseling in our small town. Finally in graduate school she came out to her sisters, and I finally figured it out. PFLAG is a wonderful, supportive organization for family, friends and GLBT people, so please suggest it for teens and others who are trying to come out, and their families and friends. The people you meet there let you know that you and your family are, indeed, “normal.”
Mom in California
DEAR MOM: I am a huge supporter of PFLAG and the important work they do. Check PFLAG.org for a local meeting.