First of all, I really like giving advice and helping others just like you. There are a few things that leave me at a dead end though and this is why I decided to visit your column for advice on how to approach this troublesome boy I know.
I've known this teenager (16 or 17) for a year now and for sure I can safely say that he is of the destructive sort. In the short span I've known him and met his mom, he has ran away at least twice, flunked a whole year of college, wrecked a lot of friendships he had and would escape problems when faced by them.
He rarely talks about his problems and when he does, he always thinks negatively, like "I'll never be good at anything..." or "I'm fated to be alone..."
He's constantly depressed and often, he channels his angst and depression out of him with sexual reliefs and favors from random strangers. I've heard that during his flunked year, he has had at least 20+ partners at a young age..
I'm worried for this boy, Papabear. I really DO want to help. I really pity his mom. But he just won't crack nor accept help from anyone.
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In my travels I have met a lot of very depressed and negative people like this acquaintance of yours. Unless they suffer from an unhappy medical condition that causes depression (severe hormonal imbalances, brain defects) then it is likely the depression is caused by early life experiences. You mention only his mom, so I’m wondering what happened to his dad? This bear suspects his depression and self-doubt may be linked to something that happened with his father.
It’s great that you want to help, but this kid sounds very troubled and, if possible, would benefit from some professional counseling and perhaps group therapy. If you don’t know what you’re doing, there is a risk you can cause more harm than good.
In the meantime, you can be supportive. Without lecturing to him or talking to him about serious stuff, do things that will help prove him wrong about his assertions. Spend time with him and help him discover things he is good at, and when he indulges in them, praise him for what he has done. Reinforce him with praise when he shows a positive attitude about something (anything), but do not reinforce self-deprecating behavior, even with sympathy or criticism. You see, often we say bad things about ourselves as a way to get attention, even bad attention, because we feel ignored and rejected (again, am suspecting he is having abandonment issues about his father, but I don’t know that). This explains his sexual promiscuity because by giving his body to people he is being validated by others, recognized that he exists, even if they screw him and then leave—which is why he finds a lot of partners. Of course, when you are an easy lay, people don’t respect you as much, which then contributes to his problem of not attracting someone who loves him.
Try to get him to socialize and be with decent people who won’t take advantage of his fragile state. He needs to develop a cadre of good furiends who will help him find his way toward doing something positive in his life like a group of soldiers making their way through the enemy lines of depression. He needs to feel like he is a worthwhile person.
This letter is a good complement to the column I wrote yesterday about supporting someone through actions and not words. Hopefully it will help this furiend of yours. Let me know how it works out.
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