I am a single working parent of a 16 year old boy. He is highly intellingent, well read and a social person - has good friends and hobbies. He also studies at the uni (currently doing a BA in math and CoS) so he is under a lot of stress. Ours is a democratic household, so he pretty much does what he wants (he had chosen what to study and where, and it'd be fine with me if he instead of studying would have chosen working on a farm or whatever.) Puberty hit him pretty hard and he became:

  1. antisocial, has mood swings, depression, can lock himself in his room for days,
  2. claims that his teachers at high school are incopentent and they aren't worth his attention, that he hates it there, saying that he only lectures worth his time are at the uni, and missed quite a lot of lessons at high school (and some at the uni.)
  3. had completely stopped working out, and while he participates in weekend activities with his friends (no drugs and almost no alcohol, we checked) his lifestye is pretty unhealthy,
  4. displays the classical Holden Caulfield behaviour, disillusioned with society, conformity etc.
  5. not very thrilled to spend time with family, prefers his friends (which is fine, the family members are understanding and they're ok to wait out this period)

What should i do with this almost banal and textbook case of identity crisis? I want to support him, but while in the past he shared his worries with me and if needed asked for help/advice, lately he doesn't confide in me much.

I made him promise me that he will discuss his problems with his friends, and not keep it all inside, and he agreed, but maybe he needs more than his friends' advice.

My impression is that he sometimes is almost scared by the intensity of his feelins and mood swings/depression. It seems he is also feels that he is now messed up, because he set his goals years ago to finish his B.A. at the age of 18-19, but at this time he is too distracted to study as usual and his grades arent A+ anymore. I told him that it's fine to leave the university and live as any 16 year old, and to have more free time if it's too hard on him or if he decides to continue, i can help him with the material he missed, and if he prefers someone else, we can hire a tutor... but as for now, he is now not sure what he wants except for me to leave him alone to wallow in his depression. Which I pretty much did and try not to crowd him.

But maybe let things sort out themselves is not the best idea. Sould I at this stage try to convince him to see a psychologist (he doesn't overly excited about the discipline of psychology though, thinks it's useless, and that neuroscience is the way to go to achieve real results) or just let him 'grow out of it'? He probably needs advice to sort out what he should do, but for now he is not very thrilled about trying to discuss his problems with adults.


3 Answers 3


While I appreciate a democratic household & we allow our children a lot of say so in decisions about their life, I also understand their limits as children & brain development & step in & redirect as needed. It sounds to me like your son needs more heavy handed mentoring at this point in order to make better decisions regarding some of what is going on.

As you are surely aware, his ability to make choices at 16 is cognitively simply less than the decisions you can make, not just based on life experience, but also on brain development. As a parent I feel no more guilty or controlling for assisting my 16yr old in making decisions than I do my 2yr old from staying out of the street or putting up barriers for safety. I do give them as much say so as I can, but I also am actively involved in troubleshooting & assisting them in ensuring these types of decisions are healthy, positive & achievable.

It may be useful to sit down with your child & an academic advisor & discuss all this. I can understand his feelings on high school being a waste. I was bright & struggled to maintain interest too. The problem is, it's not intelligent to let your grades slip, even if you are bored. Your academic performance is not just about intelligence, it's also about personal responsibility & maturity. He sounds like he is struggling with a maturity of sucking it up & doing what needs to be done...to get to where he wants to go.

The sulky, emotional, angry stuff sounds typical for age honestly. That doesn't seem unusual to me. If you want help on how you can better bond with him I'd suggest looking at the book Hold Onto Your Kids by Dr Gordon Neufeld. He aligns it seems with a lot of your parenting approach anyway.


I don't think this is a problem. Source: I went through something similar, as did several of my friends.

  1. This is normal.
  2. This is not unusual. Also, it is quite possible that his claims are correct. For example, where I live, there is a mandatory test, written at a 7th grade level, that is given to 10th, 11th, and 12th graders, and has a 50% pass rate. To me, that is a sign of systematic incompetence. Additionally, your son is quite bright, judging from the early enrollment in university. Even if his teachers are competent, they are teaching to an average level, which he is above.
  3. This is fairly normal. Where I am from, there is the concept of the "freshman fifteen", that is massive weight gain in the first year of studying at a university. There are multiple causes of this, not least of which are stress and reduced physical activity in favor of more studying.
  4. This is pretty normal. To the point that it has been more or less constant in recorded history since at least 2800 B.C.
  5. This is EXTREMELY normal, to the point that I would consider it the default behavior for teenagers. In fact, I don't know of a single teenager for whom this does not apply(I'm sure there are some, I've just never met them).

Honestly, I think the following are the issues that your son is facing:

1) He is very bright, and pushing himself to his limit.

2) He is set for himself very unrealistic goals(Where I am from, it is rare for anyone to get accepted to study in university before they are 18, with the notable exception of some 17 year olds who have their birthdays early in the scholastic year, although this is more an artifact of primary school age cutoffs more than anything. Additionally, the general path of study for a BA degree is 4 years, which means that his goal is to complete a BA (or possibly two! if I read your post correctly) at the time most of his "peers" would be starting their university careers)

3) He is struggling, (probably project a bit here), possibly for the first time, and is learning to deal with this.

4) He has (and this is objective, as long as your local scholastic culture is anything like mine, with mostly age-based education levels (i.e. "grades") and compulsory and universal primary and secondary education ) been a "big fish in a small pond", and is struggling with the transition. This can be two-fold. First, he is no longer "competing" amidst those of a similar age group, instead comparing himself with those who are years older than him. Secondly, he is not among the "general population" but among those who have the ability and drive to be accepted into a university.

My recommendation:

  1. Understand that this is normal.

  2. Encourage (not tell!) your son to relax his goals, or at least expand his timeline

  3. Give your son some space, and realize that this is something he needs to get through himself.

Note: Something I just thought of while writing this, is there may financial pressures involved. Where I am from, certain colleges will waive tuition fees for students currently enrolled in high school (secondary education). Is this the case for you? If so, I would see if I could assuage his financial concerns.

  • 1
    Let's not forget one important thing: He appears to be doing uni NEXT TO highschool. The sheer amount of extra work is not something most people ever deal with. Your answer works even if it were 'instead of'.
    – Weckar E.
    Jun 15, 2017 at 12:43

Talking to an expert can only help. He has to learn that our expectations are rarely fulfilled, and that we have to learn to live with life when it doesn't go as planned. With more experience, he will discover this for himself. Depression is a huge problem amongst young people and won't be fixed overnight. If he sits around feeling sorry for himself, then it can only get worse. Lots of sport and activities will take his mind off his problems and they will gradually fade into the background. But there is no timetable for this. And he has to believe in himself, he has to believe that he can get through to the other side, and then start doing it.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .