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Grandson Quit School to Spite Mother

QUESTION: My husband (age 76) and I (age 65) are raising our teenage grandson. He is a handsome young man and very smart, but he has quit school because his mother made him very angry. He is 17 and would have graduated in May with a full scholarship. I tried to talk to him, but he would not listen. He wants to get his GED. I am afraid this will prevent him from being able to go to college. I am wondering if I should worry about it or just let him do this own thing. I have gotten counseling for him, but he still carries that anger with him. His mother treats him horribly. But what can I do other than be there for him and support and love him?

ANSWER: Your grandson is very angry, but it does appear that he is taking his anger out on himself. No wonder you are worried! Your love and support are crucial, and connecting him with a counselor he can trust will likely help him sort through his hurt feelings and act in his best interests over time. Meanwhile, you cannot make him return to school. But there are indeed things you can do to help!

Begin by helping him recognize that his actions are self-destructive. Specifically, since your grandson is bright and had a scholarship waiting for him, he definitely is turning his anger at his mother against himself. Let him know that you hope his self-sabotage will be brief, and that although you understand his anger, you do not accept his hurting himself because of it. After all, what does he hope to achieve? Hurting his mother by failing? How long will this work, and who will really suffer in the end? Ask him to consider channeling his anger into his own success, rather than trying to get back at his mother by failing to graduate!

There may be other reasons for his actions that he will need to discover. Self-knowledge will help him make decisions in his best interests. Rest assured that this is not a mistake he cannot rectify. Clearly, he can return to school to finish, or perhaps attend summer school to complete his high school program. Talk with him about possibilities for completion.

But do not stop there! Make an appointment with his high school academic counselor or the principal to discuss his situation and how to help him through it. It is not uncommon to create alternative plans for helping students who experience turmoil at this time in their life. School officials are often helpful at coming up with plans for completing school, especially when a student has shown such promise and performed as well as your grandson.

You may also contact the college from which he received a scholarship offer to arrange a delay for special circumstances. There will be some administrative work to do, but bringing his situation to the attention of academic personnel may yield an appeal process that can enable him to delay attendance to the following semester, while he completes his high school requirements. He may even be able to complete his high school program through a junior college. Some students in similar positions work out an alternative by attending college classes that serve as high school credits for graduation.

As a grandparent, you can help by keeping the nuts and bolts in place for him as he struggles with riding this wave of anger AND pointing it in a healthier direction! Let him know that you are not giving up on him, and ask that he do likewise. Keep him involved and informed of each possibility as you research and gather information on alternatives. Although your grandson likely could continue his education at a junior college level with a GED, it is wiser, if possible, to help him finish his high school program, rather than take a shortcut that curtails his choices unnecessarily.

There may be a time in his future that he may not have control of his destiny, and quitting may be a necessary decision. But let him know clearly that this is not one of those times, and you do not see him as a quitter!

Rest assured that with your love and help, he will find his way. Your grandson is smart, and with insight, he will be able to use his intelligence to help himself, rather than hurt himself. You are showing him that he is worth it, by researching the alternatives and insisting he consider them. Helping him through this period gives him the message that he matters, no matter what is going on with his mother!

Your grandson is in emotional pain. But his method of coping with it is dysfunctional. Taking a stand against self-destructive responses now not only can help him get back on track, but may prevent him from taking his anger out on himself in the future when feelings threaten to overwhelm him.

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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