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17-Year-Old Stepson Engaging in Illegal Activities


​I am the stepmother of a 17-year-old boy who has been living with my husband and I for two years. Prior to this, he lived with his mother and then his grandmother. Both women were unable to handle him, so he came to live with us.

He is not doing well in school. He often skips school and earns failing grades. He is an 11th-grader with the credits of a ninth-grader. I smell marijuana in his room, but he denies smoking it. I also find cigarette butts in his room, which he admits to smoking. 

He says he is old enough to determine what is good and bad for him. He sneaks out of his window when we tell him that he has to stay home. Friends sneak in as well. When he stays at friends’ homes, we won’t see him for a few days. He won’t text or call us during this time. We’ve almost reported him missing to the police. 

He steals money and other things from us. I don’t know what to do ​other than placing him in Boys Town. But I don’t want to do this because he has already been in and out of juvenile centers while staying at his grandmother’s home. What should we do?



Raising a young man who repeatedly makes poor choices and disobeys you is extremely frustrating. It sounds like he has been engaging in numerous illegal and dangerous activities. It is great that you have considered calling the police. This is a difficult choice for parents to make, but sometimes it is the best choice.

The important thing is that he gets on the right track with school and leads a safe and healthy life. Stealing, drug use, truancy from school, leaving without permission and smoking cigarettes are all illegal activities of which you should make the police aware. You are not calling simply to get him in ​trouble. Calling the police could provide safety for your family and stepson. Also, the police could  take legal action and put your son in drug treatment, which would benefit him.

What type of discipline have you been using at home? He needs an incentive to behave and make better choices. Taking away some of his privileges, such as limiting access to TV and the computer, is one option.

Reminding a child to make better choices often is not effective enough. Using consequences is difficult at first, and you will have resistance. But if you are consistent, you will see results over time.

When you do speak to him about his behaviors or you are disciplining him, do so CALMLY. It is easy to lose your temper, but getting upset will only make the situation worse. He is out of control, so you must stay in control. Pick a time to discuss his behaviors when he is calm as well.

Other than juvenile centers, what other services have you tried? Counseling with a trained mental health professional might benefit your stepson. Make use of all the available resources before considering out-of-home placement for your stepson.

What has his school done about his truancy? In many states, if a child is not going to school the police can get involved. In some cases, the parents can also get into trouble for their child being truant from school. You don’t want to get in trouble for the poor decisions he is making.

It is great that you are considering Boys Town placement for your stepson. The program is very effective for many young adults with behavioral issues similar to his. For more information, visit our website at or call our Hotline at 1-800-448-3000.