Mood swings of a teenage boy

In the first of three articles we meet Shirl and Brian. Shirl and Brian are a mixed race couple who called me about their adolescent son, Austin. I requested the initial session to only include Austin’s parents. Austin, age 14, was left at home with his older sister, Elise, age 18. So, Shirl and Brian, thank you for coming this evening. Please fill me in about your concerns for Austin. Brian, have you ever had any experience with a therapist?

“No, not really.”

Brian was casually dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt. He wore his hair short and sported a James Harden-style, neatly trimmed beard.

How about you, Shirl, have you ever had any counseling experience?

“No, me neither.”

Shirl, you made this call to me. Did you, in fact, initiate counseling or was it both your ideas?

Shirl looked to Brian.

“Well, actually, Austin’s school suggested we explore family counseling.”

Shirl sat up with an air of confidence. Her hair was short, cropped, and she, too, dressed casually in a pant suit and sneakers. Both she and Brian appeared in good physical shape. Can you tell me what Austin’s school representatives said to you?

“Yes, the principal and guidance counselor called my number and requested a meeting. Brian and I came the next day to school. We met for about 45 minutes. Both spoke with us.”

What was the expressed concern?

“It seems that Austin caused quite a stir in the lunchroom. He got loud and nearly got into a physical altercation.”

A physical altercation? Please elaborate.

“Seems that Austin stood up to several students. They say that the cafeteria monitor had to hold Austin back from advancing toward several students. They were calling Austin outside to fight. I guess Austin had confronted five kids who had been tormenting this girl. We understand that Austin stood up and yelled, ‘that’s enough.’ Cut your crap out. leave her alone.'”

Whoa … Austin stood up to five students? What else did the school officials say?

“Austin was escorted to the principal’s office. We were called and had to come to the school right away. I called Brian at his work. We met at the school.”

Where was Austin?

“He was allowed to complete his classroom schedule.”

So you are here because the school suggested the idea?

“We were told to have Austin see someone to determine whether he has some type of anger problem.”

Does Austin have any history of school behavior problems — outbursts, physical altercations and the like?

“No, not really.”

Shirl looked to Brian.

“I agree. This has never happened in a school setting.”

Has it ever happened at home or elsewhere, I asked.

Brian added, “Well, kind of. You see, we were at a beach last year while on vacation. Austin and I were tossing a football when he walked by me with a look on his face I’ve never seen before. He loudly confronted two young ladies. Seems they were being rude to another girl and she was cowering and crying. The two girls cussed out Austin and walked away. Austin talked with the girl who sat down on the beach. They talked for an hour. He never met her before.”

How did you experience this, Brian? And Shirl, were you there too?

“I was in the beach house we rented. I was preparing lunch to take to the beach. I overheard some commotion and saw Brian. He looked to be in control of the situation.”

So, Brian, what followed.

“I saw our son talking softly enough so as not to overhear them. I glanced over to Austin, who for a moment looked up and gave me a look that I read as I’m OK, dad.”

“I then brought lunch to our blanket. I walked over to the children and invited them both for lunch. The girl and Austin declined. Guess they were wrapped up in their rap.”

Was that it? Did you talk about it to Austin later?

“We gave him space, saw that he was calm and let it go for the day. The girl thanked him. Oh yes, one more thing. Austin held her hands and stated, “You are just perfect the way you are.”

We scheduled a family session.

Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

Marshall Greenstein, a Cassadaga resident, holds a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling and is a licensed marriage and family counselor and a licensed mental health counselor in New York state. He has regular office hours at Hutton and Greenstein Counseling Services, 501 E. Third St., Suite 2B, Jamestown, 484-7756. For more information or to suggest topics, email