I know that reading this note will make you sad because I am saying goodbye to you and dad for a while. I tried to tell you so many times that I was unhappy and I needed your help but somehow I just couldn't get through to you.
You tried your best. You got me a car and promised me a college education and made sure I saw the dentist and the doctor regularly. But I feel so alone. I don't think you really understand me. I will always love you."
What in the world could bring about such a situation? How could it come to this? Why on earth would a middle class kid with a nice family and a bright future pack up and leave home?
The simple truth is this: you are not listening.
This is a frighteningly prevalent condition in families and is the absolute foundation of every traumatic and terrible outcome that ever occurred. Ironically it turns out that the fix is more simple and easy than anyone ever imagined.
You don't have to know all the answers. As a matter of fact, your child doesn't need or want you to solve his problems for him. All he needs is a few quality minutes of your time, the assurance that he will not be ridiculed or demeaned by you when he spouts naive and stupid conclusions (which he will inevitably do) and security that your response will be compassionate.
In other words, please let him speak and let him feel like you understand him a little bit. You don't have to agree, you just have to understand his point of view along with all the pressures and fears that are so real to those coming of age.
Why do kids turn to their peers instead of you when wondering what to do? Because you are not listening. Why do they assume that you don't really understand them? Because you don't listen to them. Why is it such a surprise when your children turn to drugs, experiment with sex or drop out of school? You are blindsided because you didn't see it coming. Why didn't you see it coming? Because you were not listening.
Turn the tables and see if this brings it home to you: You have a problem at work and you decide you will talk to your boss about it. First, your boss brushes you off and says he really has no time for this... you should just get back to work. Ouch. End of attempted communication, right? You leave his office vowing to never try to talk to him again.
In another scenario, let's say that your boss agrees to meet with you and you lay out a problem you have been having. Before you even finish your first sentence he goes off on how you should handle it and how did you get into this mess in the first place... OK... end of attempt to get help there too.
Third scenario: The boss listens to your problem and then scoffs at your "pathetic" attempts to solve the problem. He basically reduces you into an introverted mess and guess what? You will never go back to him again for anything. It's much too dangerous.
I have been shocked, alarmed and upset by some of the things my kids have confided in me, but I kept my cool (most of the time) and just let them talk it all the way through. About 90% of the time, they would come up with some very rational solutions.
After all, making the right choices will not be very hard for your children when they have the love, support and interest of the most influential and beloved people in their world: you.