Advice columnist

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: Our hilarious, old soul, bit-of-a-character adolescent son hit puberty and went into a cone of silence, withdrew, now (10th grade) tanks schoolwork to the point he lost athletic eligibility. Tutor believes we should have him assessed: emotional, cognitive, neuropsychological, academic. There's some pot use but not daily, he denies being depressed, he actually appears to work relatively hard, but has no follow-through, organizational skills, focus.

The testing is not inexpensive. Should we take the plunge? Is there a book/article you recommend? It's difficult to understand kids' attitude that it is okay to not perform their best in school and extracurriculars.

— Did We Spoil the Kid?

Did We Spoil the Kid?: Take the plunge, trust the tutor, check the school’s policies and your insurance — some plans will cover neuropsych testing — and now, now, now talk to his pediatrician about the drug use, silence and school-tanking. Rally the troops.

And, humbly suggested: What your son might need to hear most is that you hear him. As adults, we fan out into a universe of interests and lifestyles, and in fact if someone so much as speculates about taking some aspect of that lifestyle away, we go bananas. Yet we funnel our kids through this chute of desks and books and X hours a day for Y days a year for Z years over which they have little to no say, and expect them to give every ounce of themselves to being the best through-chute-goers they can be. If anything, it’s a miracle the buy-in is as high as it is.


(Nick Galifianakis/for The Washington Post)

Broaden your idea of sensible attitudes accordingly.

You can understand (and tell him) that a successful run through the chute makes life easier; that work drudgery is not exactly optional for those requiring income; and that he’s going to have to negotiate his own strengths and weaknesses to do his job, be it the job of studying or waiting tables or producing art or widgets — and still be sympathetic about his struggles in school.

And, circling back so it doesn’t get lost: Call his doctor. I focused on your son getting heard, because that’s more complicated, but getting help is more urgent given the combination of marijuana and an adolescent brain.

Reader suggestions:

●Request an evaluation by the school. You must do this in writing.

●I can’t recommend enough going through with the testing. I felt such a sense of relief with having a learning disability diagnosis.

●Is it possible the child had an experience, such as an assault, they’re not telling the parents about? I went from an “old soul” (in my case, a kid who had seen too much) to someone who couldn’t function at all, because of PTSD from early abuse.

●Do the testing yesterday, even if you have to sell your house. My daughter always had issues, but no one ever recommended we test her. We just essentially withdrew her from college yesterday, and life is hell right now. I wish we’d pushed for extensive testing back in middle school.

●There are options other than the traditional high school experience that still allow kids to go on to college: home schooling or eclectic charter schools or alternative private schools or online public school. If the chute is bad for him he can skip it.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.