Mark Spencer is a White, 16-year-old sophomore at a suburban public school. He lives with his mother, father, and older brother in a middle-class community. Mark has attended the local public schools since kindergarten, and until 8th grade he was an above-average student who frequently made honor roll. Mark’s father Doug commutes to his job at an insurance company and in recent years has increased his hours at the office as his company has downsized and shifted responsibilities to remaining employees. His mother Joanne works as a secretary at a local real estate agency. Mark’s brother Dave is a senior who is also an above-average student and who has been very active in intermural sports, especially soccer and baseball.
During middle school, Mark had a strong interest in scouting and was particularly involved in camping and developing survival skills. Several of Mark’s friends in the scout troop left scouting in the 7th grade and began spending more time hanging out with girlfriends and playing sports. Mark continued scouting until 8th grade, but teasing from his friends became unbearable, and he finally gave up. Mark was shy with girls and not particularly interested in sports, so he was left with little in common with his middle school friends. At the same time, his grades began to slip.
When Mark’s parents expressed concern about his poor grades, he told them that his teachers were jerks and his classes were boring. Although Doug and Joanne tried to encourage him to study more and to continue scouting or to try sports, Mark would generally react angrily, and his parents would back off to not upset him further. By 9th grade he was spending more and more time alone, playing video games and watching television in his room. When Mark turned 16, he begged for a car, and his parents agreed. Because they were so busy, Doug and Joanne felt it would be helpful to give Mark more independence, and they hoped it would increase his social acceptance. Mark was one of the first students in the sophomore class to turn 16, and he found that his old friends’ interest in him was piqued when he began driving his new car to school.
Mark began to hang out with his old friends, and began smoking, drinking, and experimenting with drugs. His grades slipped further, although with almost no effort he was able to maintain a C average. Once again his parents became concerned about his grades, particularly because college loomed. They even threatened to remove the television from his room, but, as usual, they backed down when confronted by his anger. Doug and Joanne were also loath to rock the boat when Mark finally seemed to be enjoying his social life. He was no longer moping around the house, watching TV, and worrying his parents.
When Mark asked to be allowed to drive his friends to a concert in a nearby city, with plans to spend the weekend at the home of a friend’s uncle, his parents disagreed about how to handle his request. Joanne was afraid of giving him so much freedom and worried about the safety of the group. Doug, remembering how restrictive his own parents were, argued that “you’re only young once” and that “you have to hope that what you’ve taught them up to now will stick, because that’s all you can do. At 16, kids are really on their own.”
The weekend trip was a disaster. After the concert, the group partied at the uncle’s home, without adult supervision. Neighbors called the police about the noise. Parents were notified after the police found evidence of underage drinking. Mark persuaded his parents that he did not know the uncle would be away and that he had no control over his friends’ drinking. Doug and Joanne gave Mark the benefit of the doubt, but a month later, Joanne found a bottle of vodka hidden in Mark’s room. Both parents realized that they needed to seek help.