Dear Dr. Respler,
I have just discovered that my 17-year-old son forged my name on a check for $500 and cashed it. I am in total shock and not sure how to proceed. My son is generally a very good boy and before all the classes on Zoom, he was an excellent student.
I am divorced and my ex is remarried. We share custody of our 3 children. My son is the oldest. When I confronted him about this theft, he first denied it and then cried and practically swore that it never happened before and would never happen again. I like his friends and he has been getting together with them on a limited basis during the summer.
Should I just rely on his word and forget about this or do you think this calls for therapy? I have not discussed this with my ex-husband as we are not really in agreement about most things.
How serious should I consider this and what do you advise?
A Very Concerned Mother
Dear A Very Concerned Mother,
My first question to you is what did he spend the money on? The answer will guide you as to how serious this issue is. Thus, your first step is to see if you can find out why he needed this money. I would approach your son when you have the privacy you need and when you are both calm and in a good mood. Ask your son to please sit down and talk with you for a few minutes. Tell him how much you love him and how proud you are of him and then explain to him how surprised you were by this behavior because it is so out of character for him. Then ask your son what it is he needed the $500 for. Hopefully he will be honest with you and will fill you in as to what it going on. If he does not respond or you feel he is not being honest, you may have to do some investigating. I am not a proponent of snooping through your children’s things as having an honest and open relationship is ideal; however if you suspect your son may be in danger, you may have to check his room to see if you can find anything that can help you understand what is going on.
If the money was used for drugs or any other addiction such as alcohol or gambling etc., it is imperative that you seek help for your son before things get worse. Perhaps you can try to go with him to a 12 step program geared towards people his age. Therapy will also be helpful; however you need to ascertain the problem, and then find an honest therapist who deals with his specific issue. Is there anyone in his life whom he trusts as a mentor? (Preferably not a friend.) This person may be helpful as well in figuring out what is going on. If your son will not share with you what is happening, perhaps a mentor of his may be more successful in understanding the situation at hand.
At this point, you may want to first find out what is going on before you involve your ex-husband. Perhaps your son may have actually done this extreme behavior to get you to speak to your ex-husband. Children often have the fantasy of reuniting their parents even if it means getting themselves in trouble. Although your ex remarried, your son may still have the fantasy of reuniting his parents. This may not be the case at all, but it is important to realize there can be many reasons why your son took the money and it is imperative that you assess why he did so. Is he being bullied? Is someone extorting him? Did he fall in with a bad crowd that you aren’t aware of? Did he need money for school and didn’t want to ask you? Did he make a stupid one time mistake? Once you find out what is going on, this will guide you to finding the right help to assist your son in growing and maturing into a healthy adult. Hatzlocha!