The sun was shinning, it was Saturday, and the 14-year-old Suitland youth wanted to go out with his friends.
By 11 a.m., his mother had told him three times to clean up his room, "but he was determined to go out anyway," she recalled. As her son started to leave she grabbed him by the arm. He struck her, she said, "and then it was all over."
"Pretty soon, we were thrashing all over the bedroom floor. He kicked me in the legs . . . I had had an operation and I couldn't get any blows to my legs . . . I thought to myself, if my own son is going strike me, I had come to the end of my rope. He had already put me through enought mental abuse."
That day, the two went to the Department of Juvenile Services "intake" office in Prince George's County where his mother charged him with being "a child in need of supervision" - beyond parental control. He was taken from his home and placed in foster care under the court's supervision.
The decision to turn her son over the court's, the mother said in an interview, capped three painful years in which she watched her eldest child change from an affectionate, obedient little boy into a foul-mouthed, violent-tempered teen-ager.
What happened that day at the house was the peak of an emotional crescendo that takes place one day in a home where parent and child have become as estranged as a husband and wife on the verge of divorce.
Link, by link, the petty arguments have built up until suddenly the hurt, the tension from all the prior minor clashes seems to explode in one great battle that sends the family into juvenile court.
Parents say they bring their unruly children to the court to get help for these youths. They also know that by handing over their parential authority to the court, they are able to obtain temporary relief from the burden of raising a child they often can no longer even talk to, much less control.
About 6,000 families throughout Maryland with much the same problems turned up last year in juvenile service offices - the first stop [WORD ILLEGIBLE] a teen-ager on the way to court [WORD ILLEGIBLE] came from the most exculsive neiborhoods in wealthy Montgomery County almost as often as they came from run-down areas in Baltimore City.
Their problemsin the beginning, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] not unlike those arising in almost [WORD ILLEGIBLE] family with teen-agers. Yet the families that seek help from the juvenile court for some reason crack under the strain of these problems.
For the Suitland family as for many of the others, the problems started "with the little things."
He'd call me up at work, say around 9:30, and say he just woke up and didn't want to go to school . . . " the mother said. "I'd tell him to be home at night by 10 o'clock. He'd come in at 2 a.m."
When she tried to punish her son, "He'd absolutely defy me . . . Everything I was against, he'd do - smoking, tatooing, the earning bit. Everything. It was a nightmare."
The rental office where the family lived in Suitland began receiving complaints from tenants about noise coming from the apartments on days the boy would skip school and bring his friends home for the afternoon.
"It got to the point where I didn't know what happen next," said the mother. "Like one night I heard a knock on the door. It was an undercover policeman. He said, 'Lady, did you know your son was joyriding two miles down the road in your car?'"
The parents who turn to the courts and the juvenile justice system to manage their children are in effect throwing up their hands and saying they simply cannot cope. For some, it is an admission of failure that makes them feel some sense of guilt.
The strongest emotion, if parents are to be believe, is relief not remorse.
"Sure, it wasn't easy to turn him over to the court," said the Suitland mother. "Sure it hurts because my son isn't home with me, but I have another son to raise.I couldn't work and be responsible for my other son and have to wonder every day whether he and I were going to have a civil day, or if the police were going to knock on my door and say they found him drunk somewhere.
"For the first time in three years, I can breathe, knowing someone is watching over him, trying to put a head on his shoulders."
Another mother, from Kentland, said "it almost broke my heart" when she saw her daughter for the first time after the girl has been assigned to a youth home in Prince George's County. The mother said, however, that she felt certain she made the right decision in using the court as a means to separate her daughter, who is white, from the black the girl had been dating.
"I never thought (my daughter) was bad, but I wanted her away from that black boy. I know when she's older, she'll see my viewpoint," the woman said.
Often the youngesters also say they feel a sense of relief at being taken from their own homes to live in foster or groups homes. By the time the family winds up in court, the petty matters that have led to so many arguments have taken on monstrous proportions for the youths as well as the parents.
One Prince George's county youth's parents took him to juvenile services four months after the youth came to stay with them in Hyattsville after living most of his 16 years with his grandparents in California.
The youth said his problems at home were due to his parents, particularly his stepfather, a retired Air Force sergeant, who he says "had an attitude" toward him from the start.
"He wanted me to wear the clothes that he liked. He didn't want my pants to touch the ground . . . He used to call me and me and my brother 'Troop' all the time, you know, because he was in the (military) service. "We hated that," recalled the Hyattsville teenager.
He is a small muscular youth with shoulder-length black hair spilt in the middle to make him look like an Indian brave.
He said his mother was frequently drunk. "Then my stepfather would get down on me and say I was driving my mother to drink. He'd blame me for everything."
The youths tend to differ sharply from their parents in the way they view their problems - and the source of them.
"We bought him lots of clothes. My husband was even going to cosign for him on a car," said the Hyattsville mother. She and her husband, she said, brought the youth to juvenille services because "he ran away from home to Baltimore and was skipping school - two months at a time."
There were also constant arguments over his unwillingness to listen to his parents, she said. Then one day, they found a marijuana piece in his room.
Juvenile counselors say it is common for parents to make the child the focus of all the family's problems. Likewise, according to pyschologists, the home situation plays a vital role in shaping the youth's relationship with his parents and his ability to cope in the outside world.
In addition, many parents at middle age are "envious of their children," who treats troubled children in the Washington area. "The youths have a whole life span in front of them. The parents are looking down from the other side of the mountain. They are often frustrated and angry and can take this out on their children," she said.
Frequently, parents of youths who run away from home "don't want any part of the kid," said Don Davis, director of Montgomery County's juvenile intake office.
"I've had parents say: 'if he wants to run away, then let him. I don't want him.' I've had parents walk out of my office and just leave the kid behind."
Because a youth's problems are so often tied in with problems the family as a whole is having, Montgomery County's juvenile services division, starting this July, will refuse to send any case to court if the family has not first gone through counseling. The county has received a grant from the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration to provide more extensive counseling services to families.
Under that system, Davis said, only the hardcore cases, where counseling has failed, will be taking up time in the busy juvenile court.
Davis concedes that counseling may not repair the tense home situations in some familie, and those cases will wind up in court anyway.
Many parents have complained that counseling offered by juvenile services just aggravated their problems, and that the counselors, many of whom are young and single, could not adequately advise them.
The Hyattsville family went through counseling together, but the therapy, the mother said, seemed to cause more trouble. We'd get home and the kids would say, 'Why'd you knock on me to the doctor?' I felt I had to always stick up for the kids . . . It got to a point where we hated to go."
Her son who has lived in foster homes for the past year and has undergone hundreds of counseling sessions, said he still feels the same way about his mother and stepfather as he did when he first came to Maryland to live with them.
"I can't stand my parents," he said.
NEXT: Homes for troubled teenagers.