Anna and Bob are the parents of a 16-year-old daughter, Angela. Angela attends their neighborhood high school and has historically been a good student. Unfortunately, Angela recently started skipping classes to see her boyfriend and her grades are slipping.
Angela is also disengaged at home; she disregards curfew and refuses to eat meals with her parents, isolates herself in her room and refuses to attend church.
As a consequence for skipping school and violating curfew, Anna and Bob have grounded Angela and taken away her car and telephone.
Angela continues to skip school and to break curfew and she sneaks out of the house.
Anna and Bob consulted with a therapist who told them Angela’s behavior is typical for an adolescent and suggested making an appointment for Angela to meet with him. Angela refused to meet with the therapist, because she “is not crazy.”
After considering their alternatives, Anna and Bob decided to see if Angela would sit down with them in mediation to have a conversation. To their surprise, Angela agreed.
I met with Anna, Bob and Angela in their home.
Bob started by describing his frustration with Angela. Bob feels like Angela has removed herself from their family, that she no longer shares their values; she does not respect him or her mother. Bob says he cannot understand how this has happened.
Anna says nothing because she is crying.
Angela states: “I’m not going to church!”
Anna tells Angela that she misses their family dinners, that she loved it when Angela would help her prepare dinner and set the table so they could sit down as a family and share their day.
Angela tells her mother that she doesn’t want to share her day because she would be talking about her boyfriend who “she knows her parents hate.”
Bob tells Angela that he is very disappointed about Angela’s school performance. He is worried that she will jeopardize her chances of getting into college.
Anna tells Angela that she worries about Angela’s safety when she skips school, sneaks out of the house and breaks curfew. The disputes are over family values, respect, dinners, church, boyfriend, school and safety.
I decide we should talk about Angela’s boyfriend because it appears Angela’s change in behavior is linked to him.
I ask Anna why she thinks Angela said Anna “hates” her boyfriend. Anna said she and Bob don’t know Angela’s boyfriend, not even his name. They don’t know his family or where he goes to school, his religion or if he has a job.
Anna says his name is Blake, he comes from a big family, his mother is a nurse and his father is disabled and uses a wheelchair. Blake is the youngest of five children and the only one still at home. Blake was not raised in any religion. Blake studies nursing at the community college and works the night shift as an orderly from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. After work Blake sleeps for a few hours and then helps out with his dad until about 1 p.m.
Some days the only time Blake can spend time with Angela is between 1:30 and 3 p.m. Those are the days that Angela skips class. When Angela breaks curfew it is also to be with Blake.
I ask Anna and Bob if they have any questions about Blake. Bob wanted to know Blake’s age and address. Angela gave the general location of Blake’s home and said he is 18.
I ask Anna about her safety concerns. Anna says she worries the worst has happened when Angela isn’t where she is supposed to be.
I ask Bob to tell us why he thinks Angela does not want to go to church anymore. Bob says Angela may feel it is too restrictive and that she may want to consider other ways of thinking and being. Before Bob and Anna were married, Anna was not a churchgoer; they agreed once they were married their family would attend church. Bob and Anna like the structure church gives to their lives.
Angela was shocked to learn that her mother had not always attended church and the reasons her parents attend now.
Bob and Anna lift all restrictions off of Angela. Angela’s parents invite Blake to dinner so they can get to know him. Angela agrees she should not miss school or break curfew; if she does she will text or call her mother and let her know where she is and when she will be home. Angela agrees her grades need to be her priority and will work hard to catch up. Angela will eat dinner with her parents, but will not go to church.
When we started this mediation I was not too hopeful of a resolution. I thought the church and boyfriend issues would get in the way of an agreement. As it turned out when everyone had all of the information, their fears were put to rest and they could reconcile.