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Parenting Older Teens 17-20

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Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Parenting Older Teens 17-20


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Daughters, 19 and 23, don't seem to want to grow up

Feb 2013

I am at nearly at my wit's end with my two daughters, ages 19 and 23. They just don't seem to want to grow up. They both live with me -- I'm a single parent, and their other parent is barely involved. They have both been to therapy in the past and are not interested in going at this time. I don't think the issue is depression.

My oldest daughter takes a minimum college course load and resists getting a job. She doesn't meet expectations I set for her in regards to helping out around the house and also in generally taking care of her responsibilities.

My younger daughter is somewhat more responsive and helpful. She left college after one semester and she wants to work, and I expect her to work, but is dragging her feet. Past summers I've had to insist on an activity, like a community college class, but it took a lot of nagging and nudging on my part.

I need help knowing how to set boundaries and expectations with them in a way that will get results. I don't know why they can't find their own inner engine and motivation. My efforts seem to occasionally get brief results, then the behavior returns. Maybe I should go to a support group? Does anyone have a group to recommend? Thank you.


I really feel for you. We had some of these issues with our daughter, who needed a job during the summer before college. She would drift through the day and then get in the shower at about 5 o'clock and then say, ''oh, is it too late to drop off applications?'' Repeat, day after day. I think if you haven't experienced this yourself, it's easy to think you can ''make'' someone else do something. You really can't at any age, and especially not at 19 and 23.

But you CAN assess your points of leverage, and apply them aggressively. What are your points of leverage with your daughters? Do you pay for their cell phones, for example? Or provide a car or gas money? Your ultimate leverage is, of course, housing, but you probably have plenty of smaller things before you have to play that huge card. No job? Then no phone. No school? Then no gas money/car/etc. They need to experience that if they want things, they will have to earn them--not with chores around the house or empty promises, but with money they earn outside.

Do it cheerfully but firmly. ''Oh, you didn't get a job by the 20th? You won't have your phone anymore. That's going to be a drag.'' Make it their problem, not yours. Be consistent. You have to be willing to deal with some emotional discomfort, just like you did when they threw temper tantrums at age 5. Keep an eye on the long view: you want them to be independent adults. If they get mad and decide to move out, so be it. It's not your job to be their friend. you can do it: loving but firm


What I am about to suggest isn't easy. It is highly effective. I would suggest you may want to treat your daughters differently. Brain research has indicated that the part of the brain that is able to plan ahead doesn't develop in woman until about age 22. So I think you may decide to give your younger daughter a bit more time. We are not required to support our young adults once they reach age 18. At age 23, your older daughter is capable of being fully independent. Do you really want her in your home? If not, give her a timeline for moving out. If you are financially able to do so, consider gifting her with enough money for a deposit on a room and the first month's rent in a shared apartment or home. Make it clear that after that she is on her own. As one of the directors of Willows in the Wind, I have seen this approach work with young adults. You must be clear on your boundaries, not engage in dialogue about it, and be as neutral as you can during the discussion you have with your daughter about this plan. If you feel it is necessary, make it clear she is only welcome in your home for meals when she is invited (no sneaking in and raiding your kitchen for food). For safety reasons, some of us chose to continue paying the cell phone bill so we knew our child could contact us. Some continued to pay health insurance and car insurance. But the young adult must ''launch'' by paying for shelter, food, clothes, entertainment etc. on his/her own. With your younger daughter, you may choose to have a serious discussion about how living in your home is no longer a right but an opportunity you are giving her to prepare to launch. Make your boundaries clear, and make clear that if she can't adhere to them, she too will be asked to leave. Robin
April Wise MFT in Orinda has a support group called ''Failure to Launch'' which we attended a few years ago. It would have been helpful for us if it hadn't turned out that my young adult offspring has mental illness. But for common variety young adult inertia I believe it's a worthwhile group. It was helpful to have the feedback and experiences as well as continuity of the other members of the group and April was an informed and compassionate facilitator. The group is kept small (there were 3 other couples and one single mom). April also offers individual therapy. Here's a link to her website: http://www.aprilwisemft.com/SupportGroup.html Best wishes!

Frustrated with son's job seeking efforts

Sept 2012

My 18 yr old who graduated in June 2012 has opted not to go to college and wants to work instead. He is doing some of the foot work to seek employment including going to EDD to learn how to do cover letters & resumes. I find I a getting frustrated with him, however, because I don't feel like he is trying hard enough. I know it is hard to find work for an unexperienced worker these days and he is a young 18 yr old but I find I am in this awful cycle of encouraging then nagging!! He is doing an internship twice a week to get some work experience but when it comes to job hunting he checks classifieds & craiglists daily but has a hard time going out and hitting the pavement. Does anyone have any suggestions?? (tips, books, mantra's....anything!?)


I would suggest he applies to temp agencies. My company hires a lot of people for our call center from a temp agencies and then keeps the good ones. Marina
My temptation is to say take lots (and lots and lots) of deep breaths and don't say anything, good or bad. Or at least stop nagging. If he had decided to go away to college or move out, not seeing his lack of effort in either endeavor would be a heck of a lot easier and therefore easier to not nag. This is the time that our fledging adults are learning to sink or swim on their own - develop that inner drive and motivation. To use a clumsy visualization exercise: imagine nagging as throwing sharp and painful things at him. He will therefore use a lot of energy avoiding them. Conversely, too much encouragement can be seen as him receiving rewards for nothing and might expect that when it's not deserved. If both are gone, he can focus on the task at hand. Now of course, easier said than done, and it can backfire initially. Do you have rules or deadlines? Budgets and related tasks that young adults need to learn and adapt to? Is life basically too comfortable for him? I don't know your family dynamics and atmosphere, but maybe you can have a contracts that put clear, reasonable expectations in writing (no emotion) and work on adhering to that? elena
The issue is: why do people get a job? What's the motivation? It's either: A) they enjoy the work OR B) they need the income Perhaps your son needs to have actual motivation,not just the knowing that he should work if he is not at school. That means you need to: A) help him find out what he enjoys that he can do as an occupation or career. This is really the best way to inspire the motivation that will not only help him find a job, but keep him going with the daily grind. OR B) do not pay for anything for him except the absolute essentials (food, shelter, maybe a bus pass.) Cell phone? Even my 12 year old can cover that with her babysitting money. Cable TV? Gaming? Car? Gas? Eating out with friends? To pay for these things he will need to earn income. That's what the rest of us do, right? It sounds harsh and I know teenagers today are used to being provided a lot of wonderful but nonessential perks. Working for them will help your son mature and grow. Good luck to both of you! Elizabeth
I wonder if the reality of the job market has made him reconsider his college application decision? If so, it's the perfect time to revisit that and apply this fall for next fall, or even take a course or two at a local community college. Then, this becomes a gap year and a time to not only get some job experience and money, but a period of exploration/internships/maturity, etc. That shift in perspective might help both of you right now and he certainly is not committed to go next year if he's happily working by that time. Pat
For job hunting I would recommend starting with a reasonable goal of perhaps 2-3 cold calls to businesses nearest your residence. then gradually increase the number of visits and the distance from home. make it simple. have him pick up a business card and ask for a job application. this way he can see the progress and track his progress. michael

Left college after one quarter, has little motivation

July 2012

My son starting struggling his last year of HS, having a really hard time getting things turned in, getting to class on time...etc...we dragged him to the end of the year where he graduated. We thought at the time it was senioritis and he would move on when he went to University. Well, it did not, and he left college after a quarter and retuned home to live. He had a evaluation which showed ADD with depression and anxiety, was started on 10 mg of Lexapro and seemed to do somewhat better. 6 months later, he is still spending most of his time in his room and with the exception of seeing a few friends now and then and his therapy appointments. He has trouble doing the things we ask him to do such as cook dinner weekly, take out the trash, etc. We recently asked that he either get a job or return to a local college for a few classes. He seems to have little drive or motivation to get back on any track and seems to be quite anxious still about the transition to adulthood. As a parent , I am pretty stressed by all this . Are there folks out there who have any advice? Are there parent support groups to go to for myself? anon


Your letter exactly describes my own first shot at college. I, too, had a lot of trouble finishing up high school -- I'd start off each year getting fantastic grades, and then I'd just stop going -- and then I nosedived in my first year of college, and pretty much spent the next year back home in my room.

Obviously, I can't say if this is true for your son, but for me, years of treatment for depression didn't work -- I'd feel better for a bit, but pretty soon I'd run out of energy. This would be followed by a nasty cycle, with despair about how I was possibly going to function in life when I couldn't even manage a day, leading to more anxiety, dread, and less motivation to get out and do anything (plus unpaid bills and parking tickets, unwritten thank-you notes, and all that good stuff). What HAS worked is finally treating inattentive-type ADHD as the root of my depression, rather than trying to treat the depression first. Adderall is frankly the best antidepressant I've ever taken; lexapro didn't do it. If I can organize my brain, suddenly life is manageable; otherwise, it's overwhelming and impossible.

Obviously, stimulants don't work for everyone, but based on my experience, I'd recommend finding a doctor who knows a lot about the ADHD/depression/anxiety complex -- preferably one who will do medication management and therapy together -- and to aggressively go after the ADHD.

Your son is lucky to have such supportive parents! He needs you right now, and it sounds like you're doing all the right things.

Afraid I don't have experience yet from the parents' side (though I suspect it's coming soon), but from the kid's side, I can tell you that after flailing for a while as a teenager, convinced there was no way I could make it into adulthood, I went back to college as an older, much more motivated student. I ended up with perfect grades and a graduate degree. Still terrible balancing a checkbook, but working on it. More importantly, I have a great relationship now with my parents, and I'm awed and grateful that they were so supportive during the hard times. As with so many things - it can get better! -did that


Parenting a 20-year-old - guidelines?

August 2011

Does anyone with a 20yo son or daughter read this? If so, do you know of any good books, magazine articles written to give me some guidelines/clearer understanding of the developmental issues for this age (particularly male)? There were so many resources for the younger years and now I guess I am supposed to have it all together!!! But I have never parented a child this age before and I am still parenting! BTW the issues that arise when a 20 yo decides he wants his driver's license are not all the same ones that arise when a 16 yo gets his! Grateful for Resource Info
Mother of Emerging Male Adult


Parenting your young adult requires less parenting and more coaching and a different set of boundaries. It's launching time. ''Ready or Not, Here Life Comes'' by Mel Levine is an outstanding read! Jan

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, priviliges 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

Just Kicked Out My Teen

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...


18-yr-old son on pot won't move forward

Oct 2010

Our son, just turned 18, did not finish his senior year in high school, claims to want to find work, get driver's license, share an apartment, ultimately take necessary classes to get into college. However, he has a serious pot addiction, as well as an on-line gaming addiction. We provide home and food, began by giving him weekly allowance. We don't give him cash any more, in an effort to induce him to earn his own. He has a friend, 19, in the same boat, they smoke weed constantly, and we are afraid they will resort to dealing, if they haven't already. He claims to be looking for work, but we see no evidence of this and can no longer believe what he tells us. Most of the time he is in his disheveled room, sleeping, or on his computer. Since he is 18, he cannot be forced into re-hab, therapy, or anything else. Any suggestions very welcome.


I would stop subsidizing his behavhior.

He is an adult now, there is no reason why you have to provide him with a computer, cell phone, or anything else. The first step would be to cut those off if he doesn't shape up.

If he is living in your house he has to abide by your rules. That should mean no drugs, finishing his schoolwork, job search every day, etc.

If he can't abide by those rules, then there is only one choice; you have to set him free. Parent of Teens


1. Act as though you have the strength to kick him out (give fair warning).

2. Act as though you are giving him the opportunity to have a meaningful life (kick him out).

3. Act as though you have a life (exercise, have lunch with friends, work hard, make love, watch comedies on TV, go to museums, redecorate, read novels and junk magazines, go shopping, etc.)

4. Wait for progress (you will grow stronger and so will he!). From one who knows the ropes


That was sage advice posted last week. I had to do just that with my 19 year old, kick him out. He is now living in Tahoe and working. His boss and coworkers say he is a motivated worker. I still think he smokes too much weed, but he is supporting himself now and learning how to be a young man, so I really can't say much about it. Hopefully they get better as they grow up. He is a great person and I have my fingers crossed.

Anxious, pot smoking 18 year old needs direction

Sept 2009

My 18 year old son just graduated from high school (grades in the C and B range) and is really struggling. He has agreed he will probably go to community college in January but for now he is drifting-- anxious, (He has social anxiety disorder-- tried cognitive therapy briefly but wasn't fully involved), possibly depressed, and using too much pot. He spends his days playing video games, watching television, reading, and playing basketball. My husband committed suicide when he was younger and he has had lots of therapy but stopped about a year ago. He's tried two antidepressants but quit without-- I think-- really giving them a chance to work. He feels strongly that medical marijuana (He has a license.) is the best way to deal with his anxiety. I disagree, but can't force medication. I've been a loving mother but made big mistakes by doing too much for him and not setting limits. He has little ability to cope with frustrations. He hoped to find a job and applied to only four jobs and then got discouraged. When I tell him about the tough job market that makes him more anxious and he either blames me for not helping him or says he's a failure. He's also quite passive. We get along fine when I back off and focus on my job, my friends,or his older sister who really excels.(I'm careful to not compare them.) And he does have things going for him-- he's smart, has a great sense of humor, is a good basketball player, plays music, hangs out with friends--sometimes. But I need to do something! He does not want to be back in therapy but has agreed to career or life counseling. Can anyone recommend someone he might meet with who can offer some combination of therapy/life/career planning? He has a dream of playing major league basketball which I know is unrealistic, but maybe there are rec teams out there he could play on. Also, do you have ideas about the limits/consequences I should be setting? He is not interested in volunteer work and I've seen him have anxiety attacks in the past, so I'm reluctant to force a particular thing on him. But clearly I need help. Thank you for any suggestions you can offer. Worried mom


Look, first of all, B's and C's are not bad grades, so handling basic community college work from an academic perspective is probably not a problem. It's his confidence that's the problem.

Perhaps he should try some ''hands-on'' courses at community college, like shop (automotive, metal, wood, electronics), art (drawing, painting), even music (learning guitar or MIDI). Community colleges also offer great selections of PE courses ranging from weight room to baseball to martial arts.

Point out that there are many degrees possible - including phys ed. If he loves baseball, that's a start. Get him into working out with the great people who run the PE department. Let him speak to a community college guidance councilor ASAP and start developing a curriculum he *wants* to do with people his own age.

As to the pot, perhaps as he gains confidence and control over his body, this issue will resolve itself because he will not feel he needs it as much. Good luck Lynne


I strongly recommend the One Stop Job center at Rubicon. 1918 Bonita Ave., one block north of University and one block east of MLK. www.rubiconprograms.org. I have been an underemployed adult and I wish I had started with them over a year ago. They offer a full suite of career assistance. He first will need to get an East Bay Works card at the EDD office on Hegenberger in Oakland. Rubicon will put him through an orientation, and workshops on job search, resume writing and interviewing. There is a job club every Thursday from 930a-11a were we try to help each other on getting jobs. I have seen young people there trying to get jobs and yes, most of them do not have a clue as to what it takes to get a job these days. The most useful things for him will probably be that it takes work and persistance to get a job and that there are people out there much worse off than he is. I have met perfectly nice competent people there who are living in homeless shelters, being evicted from their housing, their job has gone offshore, etc. Another suggestion, while he is job searching, see if he can volunteer at an afterschool program helping kids with basketball. It would be a structured self esteem builder and good for the community. kl
It strikes me that you have been a real trooper in this situation, and you don't give yourself enough credit; in fact, you are very willing to accept blame for what is happening with your son (you were too permissive, too supportive, enabling, whatever). Maybe you could have been tougher -- but your husband committed suicide! When are YOU going to get a break, help, and assistance? I think your son is old enough for you to have a heart-to-heart with him in which you explain that you have carried the burden of supporting him and his siblings and that it is your most ardent wish that he be able to take care of himself in this world; not that you are not going to continue to love him and give him support, but every human being needs to do his or her utmost to learn to live independently and then, in turn, take care of others -- children, elders. At one point you will grow older, and you may need his help! Perhaps if you appeal to his sense of empathy and strength (rather than worry about his weakness), he will feel called upon to be his better self. You can offer a career/guidance counselor chosen for him, someone who will help him define REALISTIC goals (not fantasies -- playing pro ball is a fantasy and should be labeled as such) and help him figure out how to map out the path to attain them. School counselors may be too overburdened in your district to do this; probably finding an independent, private counselor would work best, or an adult he admires and trusts who has knowledge and good sense.

I should add as a personal note that I was married for a long time to a man who lived in a fantasy world (he was a ''great writer'' who never published anything rather than a pro ball-player), and I was a total enabler in that relationship. It is very destructive for all involved. You are more awake now than I was -- you should give yourself a lot of credit for what you have managed to do. earth-bound


I don't really have any advice, but I am going through something similar with my 18 yr old son, and if you want to talk, ask the moderator for my email. hang in there
It's hard -- but he's still young and you can start pushing him toward a better life. In order to stop the drifting I pay my son $300 per month if he keeps a 3.0 average at the community college. Pot kills motivation so your son really should stop smoking pot. Small improvements

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


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