Q: My son is 15 years old…16 this month. We have been struggling with grades and attendendance since last year. He’s been skipping classes, forging passes, today I found a note that he tried to forge with my name. I also found a pipe..which smelled like marijuana, burn marks on the inside of his window sill, burn holes in his jackets, and on his shoes. I also found pieces of a straw (I don’t know if that has any significance), condoms, two of my mothers medications…darvocet and nortriptyline. She lives 30 houses away from me and she thought she lost the darvocet before she even had the breast cancer surgery. My son didn’t go to Twilight School the day after her surgery, which I received a phone call on. It’s sort of summer school (one class) from 2:00pm – 4:00pm, Tuesdays and Thursdays. I don’t know what to do with him anymore.

Last year about this time, we went to the barber..with no warning, and got a short, short, buzz cut. He wasn’t happy, so I thought I made my point. But, obviously, that hasn’t worked either. I’ve taken all of his “hoodies” away, all of his black clothing, I even went as far as stripping his bedroom of everything but school books, bed and sheets, and clothes, I left the Bible in case he wanted to read. I am a divorced mother of two..his brother is 20 and is an absolute angel! My parents have always been a big influence in their lives, as well as my sister and brother-in-law and many male cousins. He is not allowed to receive phone calls, he can’t go out with his friends, friends can’t come over. I can’t even trust him with a house key anymore… Last year he let some friends in and they burned my rug. I also caught him in my house during school hours…with friends on another occasion. When he comes home from school, he is to go straight to his grandparents house.

Today, I found another house key that he has stolen from me. I haven’t confronted him yet today, but tomorrow he will be surprised again when his room is stripped and we go to the barber again. I hate treating him like he’s a convict, but when I give him an ounce of trust and let him have his room back, he goes back to his old ways…even worse than before! And he still had not been allowed to hear from or see his friends to this day. What do I do? Where do I go for help? Monday morning I plan on going to each and every class with him to let the teachers know who I am, where to contact me if he is missing, and give them a copy of my true signature, in case he tries forging it again. If I am unable to do this, then a visit with his administrator and/or counselor will have to do. I don’t think he’s a bad kid necessarily, but I worry that he’s headed for more trouble in the future, if he doesn’t shape up now.

A: Dear Maryland Mom,

This is a really, really tough. You must love your son a lot to work so hard. The good news in this terrible situation is that he is still listening to you and obeying you at least a little bit. He put up with getting the haircut. He hasn’t trashed the house or stolen the family jewels. He hasn’t become violent with you. But he is letting you know in no uncertain terms that your approach isn’t working. Another kid might have responded to your attempts to make an impression, but your son hasn’t. Treating him like a convict is only making him become sneakier, more defiant, and more locked into the road he’s on. Unfortunately, this means that you are losing your influence. At his age, influence is all we’ve got to work with so we have to help you get that back.

I’ve been down this road with many, many parents. Your letter inspired me to write a more general article in the hopes that things I’ve learned over the years might be helpful to you and others who read this column. Please read this article I wrote for some additional practical advice about drug abuse and teens.