Q: I have a concern regarding our youngest son. In the past he has been an exceptional student! Currently he has two D's and an F. Now he is in four AP classes, so I am pulling him out of one. It's not that he can't do the work, he's just not. He has also been busted smoking weed, twice. He quit basketball, but told us that it was to focus on his grades. But I was told, and it was confirmed, that he simply didn't want to run. I am at my wit's end! I am going to do whatever it takes to get my son back on track! Can you advise me!?
A: You and your husband need to find out if there's something going on with him. The surfacing of multiple behavioral problems and/or changes may not be the actual problem; but rather, symptoms of an underlying problem. In treatment we call this Adjustment Disorder, with Disturbance of Conduct. Kids don't adjust to problems well, so they oftentimes filter their anxieties through their behavior and it presents as negative, disruptive, maladaptive behaviors. So, I recommend that you take him to therapy. Individual therapy might allow him to feel comfortable talking about whatever it is going on in his world right now that he's not handling well. And then the therapist will hopefully invite you and your husband in for family therapy so that you may become abreast of what is truly going on and how you two might best support him in coping with it. This process should result in him returning to his previous level of functioning. Adjustment disorders are not permanent.
It is important that you seek professional help for him as soon as possible so as to prevent these negative behaviors from going from adjustment behaviors to becoming a part of who he is. Oftentimes, adjustment difficulties continue for so long that the maladaptive behaviors become habitual. This is frequently the case when it involves drug usage, as kids oftentimes begin to use drugs to cope with life's difficulties or to escape negative aspects of their life, but then they continue to use the drugs, even after the initial problems are resolved, because they enjoy them and are on the path to addiction. So although Adjustment Disorder is not a permanent diagnosis, when it is not appropriately resolved, it can morph into more severe diagnoses, such as Conduct Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder (i.e. depression), one of the anxiety disorders or an addiction disorder (e.g. Cannabis Dependence). So please don't hesitate to seek professional help to deal with this situation.
Thank you for your question and do take care.