Advice about Parenting Older Teens

Parent Q&A

  • Desperate mom of an alienated 18yr-old computer hermit

    (10 replies)

    My son used to be a chatty and active boy, but turned into a very introverted, quiet and inactive youth during his high school years.  His PC is all his world; he doesn't talk to any of us, is alienated and isolated from me and his step-father, sits with his computer and online friends in his room 24/7. Stays awake until early morning, so misses most of his classes next day as he cannot wake up. We try to wake him up almost every day, but often can't. It looks like he will need to repeat his senior year as he missed too many classes. It's been a long time since we've had a normal conversation. I've asked if he is having any issues at this school--he said several times that there is no bullying, or any other bad stuff, just that "he is not motivated". 

    Any advise on parenting such kid? Good that he doesn't do drugs or hang out with wrong people outside of home. He doesn't seem to do much of  video games, just sits at home living inside the internet all the time. I think he is a very lonely, isolated man whose 'friends' are only strangers from different parts of the world. It seems he doesn't want us in his life. When I try to talk to him he responds with very short sentences and very little information.

    I really don't know what to do. I would like to help and am there for him always. I understand he is growing and developing his character, and at this puberty time period mom is not the one he would want to talk to. But I worry how he would deal with the real world; how he would deal with his failure to graduate from his school; how he would learn to socialize and make real friends with real people, etc. etc. His school is not much help. Please share some thoughts and advices on this. Are there any books anyone can recommend? I am just so desperate and cannot understand why and how he got so alienated from me.

    sounds like he needs to get off the pc and out into nature and the world.  Maybe get him to volunteer somewhere.  Does he like art? Maybe a private tutor? Or a therapist to help him communicate. Im sorry for your situation.  Sounds stressful not to have a happy boy in the world.  

    This sounds terribly distressing and destabilizing for your family. Here are some things I think I would try if I were in your shoes.  I would tell him what you told us and that things have to change so that he can grow into a functioning adult.

    1. Remove the computer from his room and put it in a public space in the house. 

    2. Set limits around computer time, bed time, etc.  This may sound infantile for an 18 year old but it doesn't sound like he's struggling to develop the internal regulation to go too bed, wake up, being responsive to expectations, etc. 

    3. Set expectations about school attendance, family chores, conversation.

    4. Get the help of a family therapist/professional not only for support but also to discuss need for assessment for him. Maybe there are other issues involved.

    He will likely be angry. It's possible he will say terrible things. But I'm not sure what else a parent can do but grasp hold of a sinking child and hold on and pull them up at least long enough to give them a chance to start swimming. Having expectations and setting limits with children is a loving act.

    Wishing you strength and courage. 

     

    Take the computer away and allow him to use it only during designated hours. I assume you are supporting your son financially; if so, you have the right to ask him to alter his behavior and to insist upon changes for your continued support. His behavior will not change otherwise.  Exercise your influence now while he is at home and you have leverage. You are not helpless--room and board is huge and your son needs a jolt to see the connection between his behavior and your support.  If he never has the opportunity to be alone in his own head space, he will not consider his behavior, his feelings, his life.  Do this without showing emotion or guilt because IT IS an act of parental love and support. Currently, there are no consequences for his behavior and that is a fantasy land that doesn't exist outside your household.  Best results to you!  

    Sadly I don’t have any advice, though if it’s any comfort I feel like I could have written your post almost word for word. We don’t know what happened either, we’re trying to be patient and let him have the space he seems to be wanting (by never speaking to us and spending all his home time locked away in his room hunched over his computer). I don’t know if this is depression or “normal” teen boy stuff, but there is *no* talking about it — or anything else. We took him to a therapist for several months a year ago, but he wouldn’t talk to him either! Just mystified, and trying not to take it too personally (which is hard). We’re kinda envious when we see other parents out with their teen sons being affectionate and jovial— or even just speaking to each other! All I can offer is solidarity in this tough time, and buckets of sympathy. 

    Without knowing more specifics, it's hard to speculate on why your son's behavior has changed so drastically. However, it does seem clear that he is using time on the internet as a coping skill for something. My advice would be to work on reconnecting with your son. Once he is talking with you again, then you can work to help him identify any challenges he may be struggling with, which could be anything from depression or anxiety, issues at school, feeling isolated or lonely, or even boredom. When I've wanted to connect with my son I ask him to tell me about what he's interested in. In middle school, when he was spending lots of time on his computer playing games I found the most effective way to get him to open up to me was to ask him to show me how his game worked. I asked lots of questions. Even though I honestly wasn't interested in the game, I was interested in hearing what my son liked and got excited about. I avoided saying anything negative about the game despite that it seemed really violent. I learned a lot about his world and the people he was spending time with online. I asked him what he liked about the game and learned that he liked being part of a team. I thought he had been playing alone when he was actually playing collaboratively with other players. In fact, his dedication to not wanting to let his team down was why he couldn't just stop playing when he was called to dinner. If he logged off, his team would be negatively impacted. (Before I knew that, I assumed he was just being defiant when he refused to log off). I also learned that they have video game events. I offered to take him to one, which not only got him out of his room and off the computer, but gave us time together to connect. A few years later, once he transitioned off the computer and got into rock climbing, I asked if I could go to the climbing gym with him. I couldn't believe it when he said yes! My teen showed me all about climbing and I got to see who he's spending time with at the gym. Afterwards we went out for lunch and he talked and talked with me. The next time your son mentions something about his time online, ask him more about it. Ask him to show you what he does online. When I knew my son was spending a lot of time on Reddit. I started going to Reddit to read topics that interested me. That allowed me to better understand how my son was spending his time online and the culture he was enjoying, and gave us a common topic to talk about. 

    I'm sad to say that since he is 18 he is a legal adult and you cannot compel him to do anything now. I'd say he is addicted to whatever he is doing (and if it is not video games it must be SOMETHING) - if it were me I would get him into an addiction program ASAP (if he is willing to participate, again, he is 18 so you can't make him participate) or else you will need to active some tough love to get him up moving and maybe even out. When his food, home and internet are not paid for by you anymore I'll bet he could get motivated....good luck!!!

    I am so sorry you are going through this difficult and heart-breaking time. You sound like a loving and calm parent.

    My son started alienating from my husband and I much younger, starting around 14. By his 18th birthday, he was a ghost in our home. From what you describe, our issues are more complicated. However, your situation is very serious if your son has stopped attending school to the point he may not graduate and has no hopes and dreams for his future. You might consider connecting him with a therapist well versed in working with struggling young adults. This would be a first step in understanding what may be underlying his behaviors.

    You mention your son's isolation and technology use. Technology addiction is a real issue, and can unhealthy levels of use can begin as a coping strategy for avoiding challenges or stressors in a person's life. If the therapist determines this to be the case, supportive services and programs are available. High quality services and programs will address the addiction, as well as underlying issues. One I recently learned of (yet know nothing about) is: https://netaddictionrecovery.com. You might peruse the site to see if their descriptions ring true.

    Stay strong and take care of yourself. It's a hard time to be a parent, and a very hard time to be a young adult. You're not alone.

    My 19 year old son is now also mostly playing computer games. I insist he does chores. After I ask three times and nothing happens, I turn off the modem. The modem is in my bedroom and gets turned off at bed time. Too much internet can be  awful for kids and turns kids into addicts. Next, I will take the modem to work with me, and if still no productive change happens, he will be locked out of the house.

    I would just try to re-establish a relationship with your son, and leave the step-father out of the picture for now.  I would not try to change him at this time, but offer positive interactions like bring him a hot tea (and don't criticize him when you do it), or ask him to go to breakfast just you and him (and don't nag him, just chat about other things) or see if he might want to go to a movie or play a card game.  A boy needs his mom.  I had to set aside all the worries I had about his future and efforts to improve my son's life, and just spend time with him (and not focus on "family time" with other family members).  It is really hard to be a parent.  I wish you the best.

    Sounds like there are two issues here:

    1.  Getting him off the computer and doing something--either a job or graduating.

    2.  Rebuilding your relationship

    You definitely need to do #1..  Talk to him about it first.  If he's reasonable, he'll acknowledge that he's an adult now, that he's got a problem, and that you both know he needs to get a job or a degree, and that he's got to have limits which you're happy to help impose but which he seems to have difficulty imposing on himself.  You may need to cancel your internet.    You may need to insist on a job, but don't let the status quo continue.  

    As for #2, it's slow going, but stay the course.   Until he tells you otherwise, assume that he would like to have you back in his life, but he's not ready to have full-on 2 hour conversations right now.  It could take a year or two or three, but if you're patient and open and supportive, hopefully you'll find that he interacts with you as a housemate (cause he's now 18, that's really what he is) and can be social enough for that to be a comfortable relationship.

    If he's 18, b

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  • Not Sure What to Do About My 19 Year Old Son

    (7 replies)

    Our son is actually very loving, bright, articulate & wonderful, but he's been so down the last several years we don't know what to do. As a kid he loved swimming, beach, cooking, biking, games etc. but now does nothing but use computer & sleep. Some years ago he was victim of violent crime and never has cried it out.  Thus he's stuck emotionally, PTSD in my opinion, and goes months without speaking to us at all. This has gone on for years.

    None of the colleges he applied for took him (grades not high enough). He was in a computer training program where he left house daily at 7am in tie & dress clothes but got kicked out due to 4 undone homework assignments.  He was told he could reapply next time. Now he's back to his shell, up all night on computer, in bed all day since January. Computer is his forte, and he's worked fixing and installing them as first job. He could easily get a high tech job, even work at the Apple Store, but won't apply or do anything but stare at the screen, eat minimally and sleep all day.  He did go off with suitcase recently.  I was up at 6am Thur. and he'd texted me "I'm out of town till Tues. evening.  Don't worry I'll be fine"  He wouldn't answer calls or texts and had me so worried.  Well he got back OK. I woke up and he was in bed Wed. am, but never did tell me where he went/what he did.  Last time he spoke to us was 1/24.

    My husband says stop babying him (cooking favorite food, buying treats like icecream, etc.) since he won't say thank you, wash dishes, clean up his mess or help in any way. I do it to show my love, since I can't hug him or have a conversation. Also he's awfully thin (malnourshed, eating hardly anything) and I want him to eat well. Ice cream has calcium, iron &protein. We both tell him to get a job, even minimum wagejob like his friend, but for what we can see he's not trying. 

    We're planning a trip we want to include him in but are sure he won't go. If he won't he'll be alone for first time 4 weeks.  We'll leave him $ but I'm worried he'll simply run out of food & not go shopping. The computer reigns supreme for him and he hates doing anything that takes him away from the screen more than 5 mintues. My husband says he has to sink or swim, this is good for him, force him out of his shell into the world.  I don't know. I guess that's true, but I'm so worried. 

    I'd like to find support group for parents of computer addicted kids. Maybe we can start it here?  Anyone interested?  I'm in Berkeley. There has to be some way to get through to him. I've seen many therapists but haven't been able to solve this. He won't see therapists for last 3 years or more.  He won't even go to the dentist. It makes me cry to write this.

    I don’t have any great answers for you, but I want to let you know that your post really touched my heart. This must be so difficult, and hugs to you as you navigate this situation with your son. Would he be willing to perhaps see a psychiatrist and see if medication might help? Best wishes to you.

    My son has very good experience with DeAnza and Foothill Colleges.  They have good computer classes and some classes are online.  Spring classes start April 9.  Perhaps, a change of environment may help your son ...

    I'm so sorry for you and your son and the rest of your family.  I went through this with my oldest son.  It's very heart wrenching.  I truly believe that if you just continue to support him and let him know that you are there for him he will eventually get better.  (It might take a few years and many ups and downs) but that is the nature of mental illness.  It's not his fault and no one wants to be alone like that.  Teenage years are so difficult and now a days with all the social media showing everyone else being happy makes things even worse for someone who doesn't feel good.  You can't force him into therapy, (and really the therapists and psychiatrists are not that great here).  I think the trip is a good idea because it will give him some independence and he won't starve even if he eats only a little.  It will also be good for you to get away for some additional perspective.  Let him know that you will continue to support him financially as long as he needs it in his life.  I think this assurance gives him a foundation that will eventually lead him to start doing things for himself.  It may take a few years but he will get there eventually.  Try to be happy in your own life even though I know it is difficult living with someone like that.  Again, please also remember that it is not his fault that he feels this way and he's not doing it on purpose.  It will get better.  P.S.  I'm saying all this as a single mother.  I did not have to deal with his father telling me otherwise.

    Please keep me posted on what you decide to do as a group.  I am in somewhat similar situation with my just turned 19 year old son.  Kimwirtz [at] comcast.net

     I logged in today after I read this article just to respond to you in case it may be helpful.  The article is about a group living home for young adults with anxiety, depression, on the spectrum etc that provides some structure and support/encouragement.  It states they are opening a second home.  Maybe they have some kind of info that would be helpful.   http://lamorindaweekly.com/archive/issue1202/Team-living-PODs-provide-yo...

    This sounds difficult. Sometimes the best way to get out of a funk is to work. He doesn't have to find a "great" job, but he needs to find a job he enjoys. Once he clears out the cobwebs, I'd encourage him to enroll in 2-3 community college classes (focusing on classes he would enjoy). Would he speak with/work with a life coach? What would happen if you turned off the internet?  

    Computer addiction often just gets worse and worse. If allowed to veg out on the computer, his depression and addiction will likely grow. A change of environment would definitely help.

    Some kids are late bloomers, and among them many boys get sucked into spending time on the computer or gaming. My gut told me that tough love would not have helped my son, that he needed support and more time to grow. So we tried to support him in our home with steadily, but gently, increasing expectations towards independence. We emphasized activities where he could experience success and enjoyment -- high interest volunteer work (starting with one, four-hour shift a week), cooking and cleaning up his mess, laundry. It worked for him. As his confidence and experience grew, he was more attracted to spending time away from the computer. By the age of 24 he was self-supporting, having moved to an area with cheaper rents than here, and by 27 he was a homeowner with a solid work history and a life outside of work. One thing we did right was to pay not only for necessities but also for him to follow some interests, such as staying in sports -- that led to a volunteer gig, which in turn gave him the background needed for his first full-time job. He knew we'd keep paying only as long as he kept up his part and showed up on time, etc. It's been a while, so I have no recommendations for a parents' support group, but I think you're on the right track with that. The advice of people who haven't been there isn't often worth much.

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  • Kid doing graffiti with new boyfriend

    (3 replies)

    My husband and I have an 18 year old who has been toying with edgier boys than her very clean-cut boyfriend of a couple years, whom she broke up with recently.  She does continue to tell me things, and I think we do enjoy open and honest communication.  Recently, she casually told me, framing it as "no big deal" that her new boyfriend engages in graffiti, and that she is experimenting with creating her own tag.  I started by telling her that defacement of public property is illegal, dangerous and disrespectful of her city, which she loves.  She shut me down, but we continued to  discuss it with her until she agreed not to do it, or go along while it's being done.  This boy wants to come over late, making me suspicious that he might take her out "tagging."  I already caught him once in the house in the middle of the night.  The boy in question is unemployed and not in school.  I'm having trouble getting them to hew to some basic rules about how often he can come over, and my husband and I are both afraid to confront him directly, though my daughter has made him aware that there are rules.  The question is, should we confront him about the graffiti (my daughter will likely bolt and can't support herself yet) and isn't it reasonable to set a limit on his time spent in my home?

    Hi there!

    I don't think I have a ton of solutions for you but wanted to mention some graffiti specific stuff.

    I grew up in love with hiphop culture of which--you may know--there are four "elements":

    • DJing
    • MCing (Rapping)
    • BBoying (Breakdancing)
    • Graffiti

    I played around with all four. As a kid with a guilty conscience and generally law abiding, I never did any public tagging, but did get pretty heavily into doing pieces on paper, playing with tags, on various media. I know that it's tempting to see graffiti as a kind of counter cultural, illicit activity--and often it is. You can have conversations with your daughter about the legality of it all, but maybe also share with her that you understand and appreciate its value as an art form (if, in fact, you do). This sets a common framework that you both agree on its artistic value (some of the skill required to get certain effects with a spray can is really impressive). Then your discussion becomes about your concern with her getting into trouble.

    You can go even further to show your support for the art form itself. Sign her up for a class at First Amendment. They teach a variety of classes on graffiti both from a historical and practical perspective. Maybe this is even something you could do together. (1amsf.com)

    I guess my point here is that it can be tempting to get into a battle with a rebellious teen. And finding ways that you can find common ground helps to keep dialogue open and allows you to continue to do the parenting part as well. My son is only 14 months, so you can take a lot of the parenting stuff I have to offer with a grain of salt. I did, however, want to point out some context and resources for you to engage with your daughter if she is serious about graffiti as a creative outlet.

    Good luck!

    Yeahhhhh, the kids are going to see each other whether it's in your house or elsewhere, though of course you can set rules on how often and when he can stay over. The graffiti I'm less sure about. And of course forbidding her from seeing him most often backfires. I'd just suggest continued communication, as often as she allows it. Best of luck. 

    This seems more like a boyfriend problem than a graffiti problem. If I were you I would drop the graffiti issue and not bring it up again, and instead focus on the relationship. As for the relationship, there is not a lot you can do about an 18-year-old's choice in the boyfriend department. I know, because I've raised two teenagers. Criticizing the boyfriend is going to backfire (and criticizing the graffiti is the same as criticizing the boyfriend.)  She is considered an adult now.  

    Is she still in high school?  If so, I think it is reasonable to have rules about how often the BF comes over and how late he stays. But otherwise, you are entering a new territory where you have an adult living at your house who really is entitled to her own ideas about who she sees, and when and how often. Not to say you can't have house rules - you can and you should.  But the rules should be more like roommate rules than the parent-child rules of high school, in my opinion.  If she were away at college now instead of at home, she would be doing as she pleases.

    It sounds like your daughter is being responsible in terms of explaining the rules to the boyfriend.  I think you should have a calm discussion with her about revising the house rules now that she is 18. When my kids were this age, my rules were that they needed to let me know if they were going to be out past midnight so I wouldn't worry.  I did not have any rules about who could come over or how often or for how long, but I was not comfortable letting their girlfriends sleep over and I told them that and they honored that. However I had to relax this rule later, when they brought the GF home from college, and as they entered their 20's.

    The years of 18 to 21 are tricky if they are living at home. In some sense you have to wing it and hope for the best. You are right about keeping the communication channels open. That's the most important thing. Your daughter sounds like a good kid and now you have to let her make adult-level decisions for herself, even when you think they are bad decisions. That's how they learn and grow into responsible adults!

    Good luck!

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  • Program/service for young adult son (19 y.o )

    (1 reply)

    hi there- my 19 y.o. high school graduate son is floundering. super bright, adhd, executive function challenged,  not academically oriented but creative, and has much to offer-- just doesn't know how to harness his strengths and is fighting against a low stamina for boredom and trouble motivating. However, he is willing to have some help (other than parents) to figure out what he could be doing that is more meaningful and enduring than babysitting. So we are looking for a hands on coach, program or anything that can help him head in a meaningful direction at this juncture. Not looking for a traditional therapist or a college counselor (especially because college may be off the table anyway) but a dynamic person that can help him figure out what he wants to and realistically can do. we are in san francisco but are willing to travel to a really good person.. any advice/ referrals are welcome!

    Your son is perfect for community college.  Have him take classes to figure out what he likes and doesn't like.  Our education system is so messed-up it's taking bright smart kids and turning them into zombies.  This is what happened to my son and daughter.  After one semester of college both of their attitudes changed completely.  They now see a future and look back at 6-12 as a horrible time in their life.

    You could try a coach, but instead of having someone tell your son what to do, why not let him find out what he's interested in and what he likes. 

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  • Feeling Estranged from 18 yo Daughter

    (4 replies)

    I have an 18 year old daughter who lives with me. Her father and I are divorced and she does not want contact with him. Although she is intelligent, she dropped out of high school. She does not want to go to college and has not taken the GED test yet but I think she can pass it. When she turned 18 she inherited 20 thousand dollars. She has tried to get a job without any success. She spends money on clothes and buys marijuana. She has lost a few important people in her life and she now seems unhappy. We were once close but now she leaves me messes talks back to me and will not talk to me about anything. I feel like the daughter I raised is gone and this horrible changling has taken her place. If I tell her to move I am afraid she will end up living with some awful abusive guy in an unsafe neighborhood. She goes out at night coming home very late or not until the next day. I want her to follow my rules but she does not and I don't know what consequences to impose. We don't have much and anything she owns she has paid for so I have nothing to take away. I feel helpless and a bit stupid for not knowing what to do. I am afraid she is going down the wrong path and is going to have a tough life and that makes me so sad. I cannot find a teen parent support group that is affordable but I need support. Help?

    You can't control her, so don't try. Don't expect her to follow your rules. Don't expect her to clean up her messes. Fighting with her about those things is destroying your relationship. At this point is more important to be loving and understanding. Try to find out what is troubling her so you can help her figure things out. You say she tried to get a job. Did you help? She probably needs help with her resume, her interviewing skills, her wardrobe. Ask her how you can help her, instead of trying to get her to bend to your needs. 

    It is OK to have rules for anyone living in your house (I know many people will make this point). Consider AlAnon or NarAnon for emotional support and knowledge about addiction. Good luck to you and your daughter.

    I can imagine this can be very difficult.  I have an 18 year old daughter too who was home all summer and doing a lot of things I wasn't happy about.  I decided that my biggest goal was to improve my relationship with her.  I don't think imposing consequences will have any impact except to alienate and shut down your communication further.  Probably trying to have calm talks, empathy about what she is going through, and communicating as parent who wants to know what her perspective is would get her attention.  After you develop a better communication style you can start to tell her what your hopes and dreams are for her and what you are worried about in a way that says "It's because I love you and want you to have a good life, I am concerned about what you are doing" and "I want you to know how this impacts me".  A really good book to read is "Unconditional Parenting" by Alfie Cohn.  While it may be more geared toward parents of younger children, it really emphasizes that the relationship building, talking about how their behavior affect themselves and others, rather than trying to "do something" like impose consequences to get compliance will have more impact in the long run.  Parenting is hard, and you do have to set limits, but you also need a lot of skill to make sure that the lines of communication are open. Also, if you can get family counseling, that would be a great help.

    One thing my daughter (20 and usually on track) told me was that when I tried to give her advice or caution after something that had gone wrong, she had already figured out it was a mistake, and my saying something made her less likely to change. So, what I'm trying to do now is to be a consultant as much as possible, and give less advice -- which isn't easy :)   Also, I think after 18, rules are pretty useless, though you can ask her to be a good "roommate." Over time my daughter has become better about this, though the house is much more of a mess when she is home. I think you are right in letting her stay home, and not doing that "tough love" thing because you are holding space for her to grow into the next phase of her life. I agree about working on the relationship, because they are at the stage when they can decide whether or not they want us in their lives.

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  • Floating 19 yr old, jr. college

    (7 replies)

    Dear All:   My oldest grandson (soon to be 19) is in his 1st semester at a jr. college taking 3 courses--all math based.  He flounders.  He lives at home with my son, wife & his brother who just turned 15. (Younger brother wins trophies in whatever sport he chooses to play, makes super grades, is artistic, well -liked by 'everyone' PLUS he's about 3" taller than his older brother & already has hairy legs & a deep voice. ) Our 19 yr old plays poker with his friends and/or spends time with his girlfriend- he changes girlfriends every few months.  He also smokes marijuana.   He didn't get into a 4 year college (failing to send in required registration materials, such as simply forwarding his SAT scores.) Did he really want to go off to college?) 

        He's musically inclined, likes poetry, philosophy, writes and is quite good in math.  He's a caring & loving person whom we enjoy being around--- until he feels the need to go off & play poker at which point he'll cover up what he's really going off to do.  (For him, poker-- which I'm told he excels in-- isn't an addiction; it's a game strategy like chess.) 

       I write because his father/my son requests husband & I talk with this grandson.   A couple of nights ago he told his parents that his friends have moved on, but he's on a "a splintered path".  My son told him it didn't matter what he chose to do-- mechanic, store employee, etc.--but make it something he really wanted to do. (We all have advanced college degrees, except his mom & heretofore it's been mistakenly assumed this19 yr old was college bound too.)

         Sticking with anything has been an issue since he was a toddler. There's enough $ in the family that he doesn't HAVE to work. (As a single mother I had to raise his father differently--so my son needed a job to pay for his 1st car.)  Grandson has wrecked 3 cars in 2 years. When he worked this summer,--at local Y-- he quit after 3 weeks.   For several summers he's worked part time--- at local club teaching sailing.  His dad gives him gas money & a weekly allowance.  

        I suggested seeing a therapist-- but am told he's against therapy.  Maybe because older, half sister--- who has organic mental issues-- was in therapy for years with a charlatan who took the whole family for an expen$ive ride.)  Before beginning his senior year he wanted to change schools, from expensive private one to local high school, "to save money" (Dad's business was failing at the time).

        Would a life coach help?  I have no idea.  If you know of one in East Bay area will they work with someone out of town---via Skype? Would they know how to approach someone who doesn't like therapy?    

         I look forward to receiving insights/suggestions based on your experience---even book titles.    Thanks so much for your time.

    This sounds so typical of post high school to late 20 year olds.  You obviously care which is why you made the post.  But could it be you are trying to impose your values of what's successful and important in life on him?  Not sure if you are aware but thanks to the world of tech and the way MBA's are running businesses now a college degree which was once important for earning a good living is no longer important.  I have many friends who are making well over $100K now who never attended college and just barely finished high school.  At the same time I have many more friends who graduated from college and can't find a job.  Many of the "homeless" actually have jobs in Oakland and San Francisco and choose to live under a freeway overpass.  It's a different world and "kids" today have feel differently about the world today.

    Poker is a strategy game a lot like chess but adds a few more dimensions such as being able to read someone's expressions, being able to deceive, and the element of gambling.  (Not that one can't bet on chess games or chess moves.)

    Not sure he needs therapy or a life coach.  If he like gambling, then it sounds like adventure is something he likes.  Send him on a trip.  Have him crew on a sail boat to South Pacific Islands, or to Europe, Africa, Vietnam, China, Central of South America.  (Stimulate him.)  Or maybe send him on an eco-vacation to save whales, archaeological dig, save the rain forest, or teach English.  What you need to do is stimulate him  and give him ideas and possibilities instead of sending to a therapist (to tell him he has problems) or to a life coach (to say this is how you should live your life.)

    Hope this helps.  An just know you are not alone.  Many parents/grandparents feel exactly like you do.  Looking back on life we know what we did to be successful.  Your grandson is 19 looking forward and has probably been board with school for the past 15 years.  Let him explore the world.  Seems to me you grandson needs an Auntie Mame.  Remember the musical...  "Life is a banquet and most poor sons of bitches are starving to death." 

    Hope this helps.

    Hi, I may be way off base here, but some of what you describe sounds like characteristics of our child (age 19) who has ADHD. Has he ever been tested?  But to your question, it sounds like what he needs is motivation, which for whatever reasons can take longertodevelop thanks it did for kids in our generation, and especially in generations before that (yours?)

    not really something you can "coach" into a kid, but important I'd say to just continually let him know when he's making good choices (and gently reminding him of the consequences of poor choices). When he does become motivated, as I believe they all do though not necessarily on our timing, he's pretty well set up to have a pretty great career, what with his mad math skills and gaming inclinations. With the right degree, he's pretty set up to end up with one of those jobs where's they pretty much throw money (and lots of other benefits) at their employees. 

    My own one word of advice for him would be not to do all math classes at once. Sounds like he may not haves good counselor at the junior college?  The Jr. College to 4 year transfer path is increasingly common, and there should be counsellors at his school who can guide his coursework and planning. I know some of the nearby (e.g.could live at home) JC's are just not the beet CA has to offer; since it sounds like money isn't a big factor, might he look into some of the better community colleges that would entail tail living in an apartment (& thereby taking more responsibility for his life/possibly encouraging the maturity). There are lots of good ones, all are set up with the guaranteed admission to certain UC's as well as other 4-years. 

    Best of luck, my bet is a change of scenery & more appropriate class selection (plus TIME) will do well for him. 

    Have you considered having him join the military or a similar program? Our son has some of the same issues, and we have looked into him joining the California Conservation Corps; he himself said he is interested in joining the Navy. He knows that he is difficulty finding motivation, and is himself concerned about it. We think that without a very strong structure around him that sets goals and imposes consequences for failure to follow through, our son will continue to founder. Where we live joining the military is very un-PC, but I grew up in a country where military service is mandatory for both men and women, and so don't have that "shocked" reaction. I know that many young people benefit enormously from the imposed discipline, and mature and learn from the experience. 

    believe that he has to learn 

    I don't agree with the previous reply that suggested sending the 19yo on a vacation and letting him keep drifting with poker. It sounds as if the parents and grandparents are very concerned about him, so their view (up close over many years) should be taken seriously.

    While certainly a college degree is not what it used to be, a case could be made that it's now a necessary entry ticket for many even lower-level jobs, so it shouldn't be discounted. OTOH, giving the 19yo some time to figure out his passion in life might help, and I like that his family has been suggesting also non-college paths for him. I would encourage them and him to keep looking for some skills and interest that will enable him to lead an independent (and addiction-free) life - primarily for his own sake and, as you mentioned, since his parents' fortunes also have been subject to change...

    Could he build on his interest in math and turn the strategic aspect of poker into something like e.g. game theory?

    Could he use a "gap year" with lots of hands-on volunteering (to realize how fortunate he has been so far) or shadowing different jobs?

    I don't have a patent answer, but do applaud his family for considering various options. Hope BPN can help with more ideas. It seems a life coach could help involve the young man himself more in the process - as always, "the lightbulb has to want to change" ;-)

    I really hope that you get some good responses as it seems like so many people I know are worrying about similar things. I agree with your son that he doesn't have to go to college but that he needs to do something. Everyone should be able to support themselves without taking charity from their parents. 19 year olds should be in a transition period between having parents meet their needs and meeting their own. For many kids that's college. But it's not the thing for everyone and it's silly to make a child feel like a failure for pursuing an alternate path. The fact that he's never needed to work because the family has plenty of money obviously hasn't done him any favors. Kids are motivated by different things. Some will always be overachievers regardless of how easy their parents make things for them. But way too many others are not and will happily live in their parents' basements and play video games and take no responsibility for their lives. Parents who let that happen are failures, in my opinion.

    I think that it's time to make a plan with your grandson. Tell him that he has x amount of time to live at home and be supported while he figures out how he's going to prepare himself for a job to support himself. Let him know that the price of living at home is doing decently at school or in his vocational program. If he flunks out, do the hard thing and kick him off the dole. Let him have first hand experience with how hard life is with just a high school degree and no ambition. And, please, stop supplying him with luxury items like video games, cars, iPhones, etc. Provide for the basic necessities of life like food, clothing, shelter but let him get a job to supply himself with everything else. Kids who learn this lesson in high school do much better than those who don't. You can see the difference between your son (a success who wasn't handed everything going up) and your grandson. 

    I grew up with trust funders and not one of them was a truly happy person. There's a real psychological impact to knowing that, if everything was taken away, they wouldn't be able to recover. People with degrees who support themselves don't have this same fear as they know that it would suck but they can rebuild. Definitely do everything in your power to ensure that he has a trade that he can rely upon to pay his bills, regardless of how generous his parents are feeling.

    Check out the Wingate Wilderness Therapy program for young adults. He would learn what he is capable of, the emotional self-regulation skills that solid adults need, and develop a tremendous sense of self-esteem and confidence in his own uniqueness, and abilities. Best of luck

    My son is not interested in continuing traditional schooling after high school (at least, not right now), and so I sent him off on a gap year with Carpe Diem, an organization that works with Portland State University (carpediemeducation.org).  The first semester (about four months) he traveled through northern India with a group of five other young people and two leaders. They volunteered at various organizations (an orphanage, a drug treatment center, an organic farm, etc), had home-stays (his most memorable was three weeks with a Tibetan family in exile), took classes (he had sitar lessons and Hindi lessons, as well as courses on religion and learning to meditate), and learned travel skills in a challenging environment. The second semester he was a volunteer at an ecotourist lodge in Uganda, making videos to promote tourism.  There he was the only American working on the site -- the other employees were Ugandans. No electricity in his dorm (limited electricity in the lodge), no running water, very limited access to the internet.  He loved both experiences.  Really loved them.  Came back with a fervent interest in Buddhism (nurtured among the Tibetans), a strong sense of global economy and politics, a strong work ethic, real confidence and self-reliance... It was a great experience.  He also earned about twenty-four units of college credit from Portland State, probably all electives, but still.  He is about to turn twenty, still not ready to go to college, but deeply engaged with life. I can't recommend the program enough. 

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Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions

Tough love for 19yo college dropout?

Dec 2013

Our 19 year-old-old son is a brilliant underachiever who has the intellect (but not the grades) to have attended just about any college he chose. He just completed Fall semester at DVC. He announced last week that he needs ''a break'' and did not register for Spring semester.

He has a part time job bagging groceries and spends the rest of his time playing video games. We believe he has given little time to attending class or doing homework. (Grades don't come out until January.) We've always insisted that if school isn't for him, that's fine, but then he needs to fly out of the nest and both experience real life and earn his own way. We just don't think he will appreciate school until he has a taste of how difficult life will be without an education.

We are considering charging him $500 a month for room and board as long as he's not in school. We would give him six months to save enough money to move out would insist he do so. He's immature, isolated from us and from friends (except for all of his ''friends'' online, whom he's never met) and extremely passive. ADD makes school challenging for him, but he refuses to take advantage of the learning support he has in place at college. (He has a 504.) This was a pattern all through high school.

He's a sweet young man, incredibly well read and computer smart, yet he can't appreciate the consequences of his actions.

What does the enlightened BPN community think? We'd appreciate hearing from parents and I'm sure there are many who've confronted this challenge.

Worried for my geeky guy.


I think your plan of charging rent and asking your son to move out after six months of not attending school makes sense. I encourage you to be kind, loving, supportive and firm. Let him know that if he needs any assistance such as help connecting with needed resources, you'll be happy to lend a hand. But he's an adult now and you will treat him like one. good luck and keep us posted


Sounds like you are spot on! I wish more parents were as thoughtful about a plan as you are. Your son clearly is not ready to continue a formal education. He is an adult. He is living in ''your'' home and this is a privilege not a right. Charging him rent and requiring him to work ''full'' time while he lives with you is quite appropriate. Many young people need the experience of working at something that might not be very enjoyable or financially lucrative before they decide that continuing their education might be a good idea. I applaude your perceptiveness. Good luck. Jan


Our son decided he didn't want to go to even community college. My husband and I told him we'd give him a place to sleep and feed him (at our house). After a couple of years, he informed us he was going to start Merritt. That took 4 years but he took only the two years he was supposed to to finish UC Santa Cruz. He now has a Masters Degree and has a good job. Anon


Hello,

I think it's fine to charge rent to an adult who is living under your roof, and $500/month sounds very reasonable for a 19 year-old who isn't going to school. I am not sure about insisting he move out, however, until you are all sure his ADD is under control and he's pointed in the right direction.

ADD is likely complicating your son's life to a much greater degree than any of you are aware of at this time. You didn't mention whether he has medication and proper support for his ADD, but if he doesn't, I'd start there. When grades come out, You may very well see low ones, and they may very well be due to his ADD issues, along with some other general immaturity.

ADD is a serious disorder and is hugely comorbid with depression, drug/alcohol abuse, and general underachievement. My recommendation would be to do everything possible to help him succeed at his life, whether he is in school or working, by supporting any efforts he makes toward being organized, reliable, and successful at whatever he decides to do.

He may be too immature/''young'' to succeed at school, but there's no reason why he can't work for awhile. My concern would be to help him succeed at that so he feels good about himself, rather than watching him struggle and fail, and ultimately feel poorly about himself.

Best of luck to all of you. anon.


I have been through this twice, and I want to give you a different perspective from the 'tough love' advice a lot of people gave me. My older sons are now in their late 20's/early 30's, out on their own, happy and productive. But I spent years in your position, and it often seemed as if there was no light at the end of the tunnel. My best advice is to be patient, especially with an ADD kid. Many kids don't really mature until 25 or so, and a kid with ADD is even more impulsive and disorganized than usual. It is very hard for them to see the big picture and plan for the future until they get the brain maturity and the experience. The Bay Area is also a very tough area for kids just starting out, and unemployment is so high in this age group. It is very discouraging to finally be done with school, and to want to work and be independent, but the jobs are not there.

Although I got advice to the contrary, I always provided housing and other stuff as I could afford it, for my kids whenever they needed it, and I'm glad I did. They needed my support while they floundered around, building up life experience and growing brain cells. There were some years when they were out on their own, working at low-paid jobs, but the work would fall through and they'd be back. I did try charging them rent, at the urging of certain disapproving relatives, but in retrospect this had little effect on their ability to become independent. They always wanted to be independent, it just took them a few years to figure out how to do it (go back to school, or take a starter job that isn't perfect, and so on.)

You probably have friends whose 19 year olds are enthusiastic college students who will get their degrees on time, and continue on to interesting and brilliant career paths while their parents look admiringly on! Not every kid is like this. It can be really hard to have a kid who needs more time and patience and support. I nagged and I pestered and I lost a lot of sleep worrying about what was to become of them, but in the end, it really was just a matter of time. I am so proud of how hard my kids have worked to accomplish things that were so much easier for their friends, and I am so grateful that, unlike my own parents, I was able to give them help when they needed it. Mom of 3 awesome sons


We've had three sons live with us after college/dropping out for various reasons. We charged all of them modest rent--around what you're proposing--but put it in savings for them so that when they moved out they had a sum useful for apartment deposits, etc.

We started doing this after seeing job money spent on sneakers etc--to help with the concept of budget planning. We have also been flexible--if getting a job has been difficult, we've set up an expected number of hours of chores (beyond routine participation in household dailies) that could be used to ''pay'' rent. Also taking a reasonable class load counted as student status, no rent... Two well launched, the youngest (with ADD) a work in progress...

figuring it out as we go along


18yo, about to start college, is not a good family member

June 2011

My oldest son just graduated from high school and is basically a great kid - good grades, self-motivated, going off to college in the fall, no drugs, little alchohol, etc. He has not been a very good family member the last year or so to his siblings or parents and we have worked to make him improve in that department. Now that he is on the brink of leaving, he is telling us less and less of what he is doing, where he is going, etc. He stays up very late and sleeps in very late and has little interaction with us when he is home. My concern is his complete lack of any sense of courtesy as a member of our family. I know he needs to assert his independence, but does anyone have any tips on dealing with good young adults while they still live at home? Any advice about how to get through these early years of young adulthood are much appreciated! New territory


I hear you, MOM!!! As our son went through high school he became more distant as a family member. He and his brother (4 y younger) fought a lot, and while I''m pretty sure my son wasn't drinking or doing drugs, he was hardly home and I knew very little about what he did w hen he was out. He was a little closer to my husband (his dad). Still, we demanded that he be respectful, and if he wanted to use the car (eventually) he needed to follow our very reasonable curfew times....He now just finished his 2nd year of college in NY. I was a wreck when he left for college (my 1st baby) and also he never communicated with me and couldn't wait to go....Well....time heals, and also time matures the young. He's now a LOVELY person to be around and while he's not the most communicative about his life,he shares more then he used to and he's more of a mature young man and less of an arrogant know it all teen.

I remember the same thing happened when my brother left home. It took a few years, but my parents were wise enough to give him space and trust, and eventually they became very close. I respected my sons need for independance, though it was hard. As parents we have to let them make their own decisions and mistakes (hopefully not too damaging) and learn from their mistakes. If it's bad enough they'll come calling. I really sympathize w/ what you're going through. Trust that it will get better, but might just take a little time. Good luck. mom of ''fine young man''


You're going through that awkward transition from parenting a child to being the parent of an adult. Since you describe him as a good kid in general, I think you're going to have to back off a bit. At this age, you can't enforce him being friendly, spending his time the way you want him to, being chatty with you...you can't make him back into that little kid you were once in charge of. You're going to need to decide what really matters, and enforce that and let the rest go.

Some reasonable goals (to me) would be that he text you if he's not going to be home by a certain time so you know he's okay, and that he speak kindly to his younger siblings and politely to you. To enforce this, tie the behavior to his privileges. What leverage do you have? Do you pay for gas, cell phone, etc.? Discuss how if he wants to be treated more as a roommate than a child, he'll have to be a good roommate. If he's not, you'll remove some privileges. If he fails to text that he's going to be late, don't pay for his cell phone or remove texting for a month. Make the rules clear (even write them down and tape them to the wall) and make them fairly automatic so there's no discussion about them.

The hardest part is changing your expectations. It's sad when the whole family is up on Sunday and ready to go out to a fun breakfast...and your older teen just snarls and goes back to sleep. You'll just have to go without him. Soon he will be off to college. And one day, when this prickly period is over, you may find him a lot nicer and more interested in connecting.


It's a bittersweet time when your child turns 18, and graduates high school. It's great watching them evolve into independent humans, but it's sad because they aren't in the nuclear family anymore. My two oldest kids are now 25 and 28 - they have gone away, come back, moved out, moved back in, multiple times! It really was hard at the time to see what a big transition it was - for ALL of us. It took years of re-formulating our relationship to figure out the terms going forward.

From now on, when he's at home, your son will be more like a visiting close relative than a member of the household. So you really can't expect the same level of household solidarity you've been used to up to now. But you'll still need rules. They just will be different rules. There are no more regular chores, and the old curfew rules don't really work for a kid in college who can go where he wants, when he wants. But I still needed to know what time they'd be home so I wouldn't worry, and I still needed them to pitch in on family meal prep and clean-up. (And I needed to know IF they would be home for dinner! This took years but we finally have it sorted out now with a regular weekly dinner and Thank Goodness For Texting.) There were new issues that needed new rules: Money being lent and not paid back. Enormous bank fees on reckless ATM use. Girlfriends from college staying at our house. Out of town sofa surfers at our house. Hoards of hungry 20-somethings cleaning out our fridge. Can he borrow the family car? Is he required to attend family events? Do you need a weekly check-in when he's away at college? etc. etc.

So my main advice is: it's time to step back and let him detach from the family. It's a big change, it's sad, but there are new benefits for you down the road. I'm happy to say that there were some immediate benefits when the oldest went away for college. Right away he appreciated my cooking and the regular family meals. They both began to see home as a ''safe'' place, not just a place where they had a lot of rules and chores. They both became more responsible as they made adult-level mistakes, and started to see for themselves what's important and what isn't. Now we all really enjoy the time we spend together, and I can count on them for help and companionship, but I had to learn not to ask more of them than I would ask of a close friend, as opposed to your kid. They even ask me for advice sometimes! On the whole, the 20's are a big improvement on the teens. But there were a few bumps to get there. You'll get there too! mom of boys


Senior in Highschool: Big dreams No effort

April 2011

My son is a wonderful, WONDERFUL 18 y/o high school senior, he is calm, loving, fun, very well adjusted socially, has lots of friends, is friendly at home, loves and appreciates me, has a shine in his eyes that I love to see always... and yet... he is failing his own dreams... he claims he wants to go to the Cal State university he has been accepted into, which has a rigorous math program, he has barely held grades above C over his entire high school career with lots of coaxing, supervising, monitoring, contacts with the teachers, summer catch ups, private tutoring, on-line grade recovery courses, privileges removed, etc, etc, etc...and now on his very last semester when his grades will make it or brake it, he is failing... both my husband and I talk to him extensively about taking responsibility in his choices, and truly gave him the opportunity to think if college is where he really sees himself at, we are not forcing him to do anything, except we have stated clearly that if college is not the choice he will have to get a job and will have to pay rent in the house and carry his own weight. He insists on going to college, but we don't see it happening not because he is not smart, but because he has not shown that he has what it takes to succeed in college, i.e. focus and drive. I also found some recent videos of him smoking marihuana in the house. We had many conversations about drugs over the years, since I found out he was experimenting with some in the past and continues to do it. I specifically told him no drugs in the house. Because of his failing grades I have told him he has lost his privacy rights in the house so I went in his room and removed all kinds of marihuana paraphernalia, hooka ! (sp?), and other contraptions, I removed his computer and he will have no internet access till the end of the school year, and no outings. I told him he has a few months to figure out what he is going to do. But I feel that none of this punishment/reward system matters any more. He has to take charge of his life without me being there to tell him what is right and wrong... and is not happening... I understand he is a teenager and I understand the psychology of teenage boys but what angers me most is that he is not fulfilling his part of the deal, which is to succeed in school and prepare himself to be independent. And I am painfully determined to push my baby out the door the moment he fails high school... Please advise, I'm lost... Frustrated with Lovely Teen


You seem to have done all the right things so far. I would tell him his option is community college. Don't pay for a Cal State if he hasn't shown he is adult enough to take on the responsibility. While he is at community college, he can also be working. If he rejects the community college idea, tell him he has to get a job and pay rent and if he wants to continue the pot-smoking life-style he has to get his own place. He will quickly see that it takes money to have internet, cable, a phone and all the things to which he is accustomed. He doesn't seem very academic orientted - there are a lot of programs at the community colleges for non-academic kids. Maybe one of those would catch his eye. It sounds like he needs to grow up some more. He could be like my husband who decided after 3-4 years of playing around to go back to school and study, starting with the community college and transferring to Cal. He did poorly in high school too but excelled in college. Tough Love


Bright kid but unmotivated, talking big dreams but no performance, and parents at their wits end. What to do?

Likely the ''big dreams'' are a smoke screen for telling mom and dad what they want to hear and not what the kid is really feeling. There is a basic disconnect here. More talk isn't helping either - it just makes everyone feel worse.

You're right about college and motivation though. Nobody will be checking on whether he attends class or not, or is tardy or not, or putting his grades online so you can look at them, or calling you up to have a parent-teacher conference.

Here's the plus side: he's not an angry brooding monster hating you all the time. Think about your blessings here - he's ''calm, loving, fun, very well adjusted socially, has lots of friends, is friendly at home, loves and appreciates me, has a shine in his eyes that I love to see always''. This really matters.

What you don't have is an academically-inclined son who takes scholarship seriously. This doesn't mean he's stupid - it means he's immature in some basic way and has to grow up.

So why college? Maybe he thinks it's what he should do - what would please you and dad. But it sure sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Many universities offer ''deferred admission'' where the student enters at a later semester / quarter (usually a year out). The CSU admissions adviser can work with the student to develop an action plan to enter later with no penalty.

Frankly, a lot of admissions advisers would prefer that immature students with potential take some time to live life, work and experience the ''real'' world. Scholarship takes dedication and motivation, and it has to come from the student - not the parents.

The drug issue is a separate one you must work out with him. A counselor or mediator here would be valuable, but separate the school issues from the drug issues, because high school is ending soon but drug use in your house isn't. Focus on one issue at a time.

One final thought: your student has been in the K-12 grind for 13 years straight - even summers have become one long chore of rehashed catch-up.

Maybe he needs a change? He may find he likes to work and have some spending money and a social life, and you may find you like *not* having to nag him about school and homework. Spending a year on redefining your relationship from parent-child to mature adults might be worth the year out of school for all concerned. Good Luck


I noticed that your post stated that your son is not allowed to use drugs at home. Is it okay with you if he uses to drugs outside of the home? Is it okay with you if he uses marijuna? I am asking because you seem to have found evidence of possible heavy use of this drug. One of the side effects of regular, significant use of marijuana is reduced motivation. Marijuana can also act as a gateway drug for some individuals. My advice is to seek a substance abuse evaluation for your son to determine what effect if any his drug use is having on the choices he is making now and if he is addicted to marijuana (yes, it can happen)or any other drug. Peggy


I felt sympathetic to your posting on a number of levels, one of which has to do with the big dreams and little effort of my own 14-yr-old son. But your son is in a different position, on the threshold of entering adulthood, and he requires a different kind of guidance, so I am thinking about this problem from the perspective of my profession, the perspective of a professor. In my experience, it is a mistake to launch young students as freshmen when they do not exhibit an understanding of what it will take for them to succeed. ''Going to college'' simply to be going to college can be in some cases a financial and personal disaster deluxe. It is a huge financial investment to pay for even relatively low-cost higher ed, and when the evidence is there that the student is both academically and emotionally ill-prepared, there is a risk that the money and the time and the student's sense of self-worth might go down the tubes. Math is a subject (like foreign language) that builds on foundational knowledge. If the foundation is not firm, failure is a strong likelihood.

So what to do? Explain to your son that you want very much for him to succeed, and that college is a serious investment that he and his family can't afford to lose to failure. So far he has shown you that he is not ready for college; his grades are simply not where they need to be, and they reveal a lack of academic preparation. So you want to help him bridge the gap academically and psychologically by supporting himself to take courses at a community college. Explain as well that drug and alcohol use in college is one of the primary contributing factors to failure, and as long as you see that he puts getting high over doing his work, it's not time for full-time college. Perhaps get him a counselor who can help him locate a job he would like to do; in my opinion, a job that serves others (working at a senior center or daycare center or home for mentally challenged people etc.) can be an eye-opener and will keep him away from workplace environments where drinking or smoking will be the norm. Even if he works at IKEA or Target, he could volunteer a little in social service.

Ask him to pay room and board; when he succeeds at his community college courses, you can renew support for a college application and education.

It's a tough row to hoe -- good luck in helping your son find his way! professor and mom


Okay, so he's not going to college next fall. When he realizes that, sit him down and say, ''This is your life. What are you going to do?'' Your son sounds like a nice person, lacking in focus and drive, as you said. Sounds pretty typical for marijuana use.

I strongly recommend that you write out a list of rewards/privileges for what he must do if he wishes to remain at home. Something like:

Get a job [at least 20 hr/wk] by August = Gets to continue to sleep/eat/do laundry at home Pay for gas and insurance= Get car privileges (car should have midnight curfew and strict no drinking/smoking policy) Pay [specific amount] rent= get computer privileges Pay [specific amount] of phone bill] = get cell phone back

If he doesn't have a job by fall, put his stuff in boxes on the front porch and tell him to deal with it. Tough love


18-year-old daughter is directionless and uncommunicative

Dec 2010

I'm sure there must be support groups or programs for parents of difficult 18 year old, post high school daughters. IF you know of any such thing please let us know. Our daughter is an only child who is impatient, uncommunicative, directionless, probably overwhelmed and depressed and we're concerned about her heading in a ''wrong'' direction.

She wants to be independent but is not showing an appropriate maturity. There is no criminal or violent behavior but she keeps to herself or with friends, some also not apparently going anywhere. She works part time but not ready to support herself.

While we are pretty supportive of what ever she may want to do, she refuses to talk with us about any college or educational plans. She holds a dim view of getting any counseling for herself. (but I'd welcome any suggestions of effective counselors for this kind of issue) Some say it will pass by the time she's 24, how could we possibly survive such an ordeal? We don't want her to fall through the cracks or waste such a valuable part of her life. We didn't think it would be like this. a struggling mom and dad


How would it be to set her up with a college counselor who would really listen, help her identify strengths and interests, and establish a strategy and schedule for next steps? The right neutral third party might be able to establish an important connection with your daughter and help her develop the sense of agency and mature support not always possible with parents at this point. If she's resistant, perhaps set her up with more than one and suggest she choose the one she feels is the most sympatico? A hard time for parents, clearly. Best of luck. - Quinn


High School senior is mean, disrespectful, and lies about everything

Oct 2010

Over the last 5 years i've watched my son turn from sweet, helpful, considerate to mean, nasty, selfish and disrespectful. He went from 'A' student freshmen year at BHS to D's and F's on his latest progress report. It is clear he wont graduate this year. He recently started smoking weed and actually showed up at my job site stoned. He will not follow simple rules of the house, ie, calling and checking in after school, or being honest. He continually lies about anything from the most trivial to the most important. I reached my limit yesterday and told him to not return home until weds. night. Thursday morning we are going to JobCorp and he is also applying for IS. I cried all night. I feel responsible for the person he has become but for the life of me, i can't figure out what i did to him to make him the person he is now. Any thoughts? Please. Thanks


I'm sorry for you. It is very hard when your child expresses contempt in his words and actions. Very hard. And that's why you are so sad.

When our children face personal or physical setbacks or unfairness, and we try to help them, we expect them to understand that we are doing so because we love them and it is the right thing to do. And as human beings we expect love and gratitude in return.

So you have tried to show him love and consideration and received in return increasing levels of contempt. And you are very hurt.

It is a very difficult thing to do, but sometimes a parent has to admit he/she has very little influence over a child if the child makes a conscious choice to ignore/belittle that parent. And usually that choice in hinged into a world view that is based on short-term gratification of needs over longer-term goals and relationships.

Contempt is a carefully cultivated habit. His disdain for you even extends to showing your coworkers how little he regards you.

His pot smoking allows him to freely express his contempt, probably because he has been excused in his behavior when under the influence.

But the contempt is there. Did you do something to deserve this level of contempt? Probably not.

Could you have headed this off? Who knows? Frankly, it doesn't matter because we cannot change the past. And we can't change what anyone thinks inside his/her mind.

Let your son go. Tell him you love him, but as a human being you cannot and will not be his doormat. Tell him when he figures out what he wants out of life, you'll be there. And then immerse yourself in your work.

It's really a horrible feeling to lose your son to bad choices. I know how it feels myself. But the relief I felt when my daughter went out that door was immense. I started to feel myself again instead of always feeling sad. Life got better.

In my daughter's case, she went on to graduate from college and get a job. It isn't perfect yet, but she's OK. And so am I. I hope it will work out for you and your son. Good Luck


Go have a martini.

You are doing the right thing. Dont lose your cool. You can say, ''Im so sad, dissapointed, frightened'' but dont tell him what he is. Seems like he feels lost and needs some firm guidance.

He'll come out the other side in three years. I hope you have a good partner. My heart is with you.... RR


Mommy!! Free me from my freedom! Mommy!! Put some chains back on me!

That's all I can think of....

Remember when they were small and impossible? And you had to force the car seat? The seat belt?

Nothing personal because how can I possibly know what you are going through, still, show up! Nothing cool about Mommy in the room right? Yeah, well that doesn't matter now. You need to save him from himself. You might save some of his friends at the same time.

The kids whose parents were always screwing up our plans? SAINTED right? 'tho not at the time...


Hostile, unmotivated 17-y-o refuses therapy. Help for parents?

Dec 2005

I've been over the prior recommendations in detail, and don't really see our situation reflected. We (parents) would like to see a therapist to talk about our issues with our son. We have a 17-1/2 year old boy who: has had similar difficult issues since he was very young (didn't start as a teen) We have set limits 15-25 times a day since he was a year old; he has steadfastly refused to talk with and/or see a therapist, and no, there is no way we can make him, we've tried very hard over the years--we have seen several in the past overselves re addressing his issues; is adopted; blames everyone but himself for every aspect of what doesn't work for him; insists he has ''no interests'' other than video games, hanging with friends, his girlfriend; has never seemed to want to grow up to the next stage of life, and doesn't now (in any manner other than sex, alcohol and drugs); alcohol and drugs are not the problem, all the issues were already there before he ever had any--but they don't make it any easier to fix; ''shuts down'' bigtime when almost anyone tries to talk with him about problems; attends school sporadically and is nowhere near a high school degree (has failed the CHSPE 5 times); says he'd get up on time for a paying job in an instant-- but has never applied for one, recently agreed to get tested for learning issues after fighting it for years, but is only sporadically showing up for testing appointments and is leaving before the tests are done, etc. etc.

A couple of years ago, we concluded that we were devoting most of the family's time and emotional resources on a daily basis just to ''control'' him--and decided to back off, set boundaries that could protect the rest of the family, and put our time elsewhere--such as into our other child and into our own lives, and hope that maturity would click in at some point. We also concluded that--even if it would not bankrupt us and take the $ needed by our other child (who has lots of learning issues)--that an involuntary residential placement would probably not ''work,'' and have not changed our minds about this--again, these are lifelong issues, and his strongest defense mechanism is to totally and hostilely shut down--it was not just an issue of getting him away from ''bad friends''--in fact, his current friends aren't bad at all, he watches one after another go off to art college, get straight As, get a half time job at a lab and start college at 15, etc.--they hang out with him AND get other things done--he just plays video games when none of them are around.

Over the past several years, we have wished many times that there was a community-based solution (vs. kidnapping to Utah)that might take him out of our home for a few months and give him the beginning of the therapy he clearly needs, but every time we have looked into the foster-care alternatives, we've shuddered and discarded this.

So--we are looking for a therapist that will help us set better boundaries--we are really struggling with the balance between setting acceptable ones for us and being overwhelmed by the level of enforcement needed--with his level of hostility (his very expressive and enthusiastic level of affection until age 13 or so really kept us going despite everything), with our level of frustration--with the fact that he is getting older and things are not seeming to get better......

Our insurance is Kaiser, and we are going to be considering going to the Child and Family Psychiatry Department, but we will pay privately for someone who has experience with these issues and might be able to help us better! Thanks for any suggestions.


My husband and I, and eventually our daughter, went through therapy at Kaiser Oakland and I truly don't know how we would have gotten through otherwise. They were an incredible support and went out of the way to support us in every way.

My heart goes out to you and your family, as I read through your concerns I couldn't help but relate. You have 6 months before he turns 18 and, at least theoretically, can do whatever he wants then. So you might be feeling like there's nothing more you can do for him. I know you said he refuses therapy, but he did finally agree to testing, so that's something. Kaiser has a teen group that meets, maybe he would find that more acceptable? anon


I read your message and wish that I had some therapists to refer you to, however I am not from around here. Actually, I was a therapist for adolescent boys for 3 years on the East Coast. These boys were emotionally and behaviorally disturbed, most coming from homes rampant with mental and physical abuse. It sounds like your teen doesn't appreciate all that you've done for him, or how bad his life COULD HAVE BEEN had he not been adopted by loving parents. Currently I work at a Group Home for boys in Hercules. I am no longer in the therapy field, but rather managing this home currently.

My only suggestion, short of insisting that he attend family therapy, get a job or move out, would be to send him to ''BRAT CAMP.'' But since this has fallen off of your list, and you are aware that you can't make him see a therapist, it sounds like he's got all of the balls in his court and you've got none. It may be time for Tough love.

When I was doing my graduate studies, I had a friend who was in undergrad who was adopted from an early age. She began to rebel from the time she was 10, which was when she was told she had been adopted. She did everything that her holy rolling parents told her not to. At first, I could not be sure if she had just been told too early or too late, and figured out that it was in fact, too late. She was just figuring out who she wanted to be, how she fit in with friends and then was hit with the idea that she -in her mind- did not belong. If told too late in life, children start to feel as if they have been lied to their whole lives, not only up to the time you inform them, but every piece of advice or statement of care and concern can also be viewed as a lie... you ''lied'' before, what makes them think you aren't lying now.

My advice, with some professional assistance, would be to sit him down - if he has plans with friends/girl friend, call them or get on the phone when he is on it to let them know that he will be a little late due to a family meeting. Inform him of your plight to want to be able to hug him and tell him how much you love him, or simply want to talk to him and have him talk to you. State that you think you have tried everything short of sending him away and can't think of anything more to do except to let him go, if that is what he wants. Have some information about his bio-parents handy and inform him that you have found their info in the event that he feels these other people can get him to care more about the rest of his life.

Reiterate, again and again how much you love and care for him and want to see his succeed in life, but also let him know that you feel as if you have done all that you can. State that, if he feels like he no longer wants to be a part of your family -informing of what being a part means to you, talking, spending time, going on vacations, getting a job if he is not going to try harder in school - then infrom him that you are ready to let him go. This could mean, asking him move out when he turns 18, if he is not enrolled in college or some Community college courses, and/or working a full time job, giving back the car (if you gave him one) unless he can pay insurance and car note. He must be told that you are doing this because you love him and want to do what is best for him, but can't do what he feels is best without his input, and if he won't talk to the people who loved and raised him, and won't talk to a professional, then this is all that is left to do. Since he most likely will not want to be in that room for too long, set down the information about his bio-parents if you have any, along with the classifies ads for housing and employment, tell him you love him and leave the room. You don't want to give him a chance to explode so be brief. Apparently, he feels like he doesn't belong, or just doesn't want to, because he feels rejected by his bio- parents. It is tantamount that you let him know that he not being rejected, rather, loved and cared about.

So, with the list of what he would need to do when he turned 18, let him know what the alternatives are: continuing to live there with you, working harder in school, completing testing for LD's, getting a part time job, going to therapy either by him self or with you all, and abiding by your house rules, oh, and getting/giving lots of love. Always end with the option you want him to choose or the one that will be more positive. Tough love is always hard. Just think about what you would have to do if he were an addict. His behavior effects you all and in his mind, he is just doing what he feels he needs to, to survive. Push every adult away, because he feels he's not good enough. One set of adults didn't want him, it's up to you to reiterate that you do want him and love him, because although not related by blood, he is your son and always will be. Well that's my advice. Good Luck. Stay strong. Xandrea


Dear Anonymous-- We don't have exactly the same issues with our 15-year-old as you do, but we definitely have been dealing with parenting issues like teen hostility, reasonable boundaries, appropriate behavior, bad teen judgment, and protecting/nurturing a younger sibling. All I can say is, we've seen Larry Liebman at Kaiser Oakland over the past year, and we'd recommend him as a family therapist in general. I value his perception and his willingness to be in touch by phone as well as in person. We've been able to work on and move on various issues partly because of his ability to re-frame how we look at them and each other, which was helpful for us when we were stuck. His style is very open and chatty, which works for us.

When we had an 8-year-old frightening us with suicide threats, we saw Kate Mountain at Kaiser -- she is more low key, more of a traditional listening therapist. We liked her as well, and got what we needed out of our sessions, but she was out on maternity leave when we wanted to come back with a teen. I believe she's back now.


my very best wishes to you in finding someone to help you. I don't have any specific advice for you, but wanted to let you know that I know of many people, including myself, who have had very positive experiences with Kaiser Oakland and Richmond mental health clinicians with regard to parent/child/adolescent issues. they have some really excellent clinicians, and should be at least a good first step for you. anonymous


We were having some problems with our teenager daughter a year and a half ago when she was on 7th grade & went to Kaiser to meet w/ a therapist. Our daughter starting meeting w/ her own therapist 2 times per month, and going to a teen group once a week. We ended up going in to an 8 week group class @ Kaiser Richmond, that they hold for parents of strong willed adolescents. In the first week of this class, we learned some valuable tools for setting boundaries & consequences for our daughter that we all discussed in detail. We set up a contract between ourselves and our daughter that went over as many possible issues as we could come up with and decided ahead of time what the consequences would be for each item. We also discussed rewards & privileges for good behavior.

The main premise of the consequences in this program is what they call a T.E.A.S.P.O.T. (which stands for: Take Everything Away for a Short Period Of Time). So instead of being on phone restriction, or having to go to bed early, we would take EVERYTHING away for a 1/2 hour, or an hour, or a day or two days for something extreme. She put this to the test the first weekend after we went to the class, (ran away from her friends house when she was having a sleep over!!). We put her on a TEASPOT for 2 days, and the impact of those two days doing NOTHING (we took almost everything out of her room) had more impact then having the phone taken away for a whole month, or being on house restriction for 2 weeks had done in the past.

I highly recommend this class. There were quite a few parents who were having extreme issues w/ their kids, and being able to share w/ others and get feedback from other parents gave us a lot of support & perspective on what we were going through. Once you determine the things that your kids are attached to, CD players, TV's, cell phones, going out etc... and take it all away, they really do start to get it... If you live in my house, these are the rules and these are the consequences. Takes a lot of the drama away when you have it all written down and talked about in advance.

The material they presented in the class and the teacher were all very helpful. We are still using the TEASPOT when we need to, but don't have to hardly ever these days. Our daughter is now in 9th grade and is doing great. She still has a smart mouth, and pushes the limits on some stuff, but so far this year, things have been going really great. Best of luck to you & your family!!! Gina