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Parenting a Young Adult

Advice, discussions, and reviews from the Parents of Teens weekly email newsletter.

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Teens, Preteens, & Young Adults > Parenting a Young Adult


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Now What:: Not Even Junior College is Working

May 2013

Our very articulate, cute and charming 20 y/o dd has just withdrawn from all her junior college classes rather than get Ds. This is not the first time it's happened. Yes, there are reasons: multiple documented learning disabilities (she qualifies for support), no peer support (friends have gone away to college), no specific goal or certificate in mind and trouble doing the work she considers difficult and boring. She has been working part-time since high school and has a strong work ethic and gets to work on time. She has no hobbies or passions.

Things we have considered: only paying for one class per semester or making her pay, therapy for her situational depression, the military (decided against), meeting with her teachers to find out what's up (she refused), standarized interests testing like the COPP etc., cell phone sales job.

Were any of you or have you parented someone who doesn't fit the mainstream academic path? What has been your overall strategy? Do you have a planned move-out-of-parents-house date? Looking back, what was the turning point? Anything we should consider? Concerned mom


Maybe your daughter is not ready for college yet and should work full time until she is? Sounds like she really gets the responsibility of working and it's something she's good at. Once she realizes that she has to have a college degree to succeed, hopefully she'll be ready for the demands of college. It's a risk and a gamble but the current situation is making her hate college so maybe the risk is worth it. Different drummer
Don't give up hope yet! I went through this exact same thing with my son, who is now 27. He was a poor student in high school, probably LD and/or ADD, and he dropped out after failing the CHSPE. He is smart, but he always hated school and never cared about failing classes. Between ages 18 and 24 he started community college 4 times and never made it to the end of a semester. Usually he would just stop going to class, and end up with F's. Meanwhile, he had a series of low-pay low-skilled jobs, lived with friends in a big warehouse in Oakland, and hatched plans that never panned out such as being a musician or going to bartender school. I'd help out with new shoes, cell phone, medical insurance. Mainly I just worried. Constantly.

When he turned 25, something clicked - maybe brain maturity? or he was tired of years of discouraging, boring jobs? The recession hit and he couldn't find work, couldn't pay rent, had to move back home and listen to me worry and nag. He convinced me to give him one more chance. I reluctantly agreed to pay his rent on a shared subsidized apartment in Berkeley if he would maintain a B average at Berkeley City College. He did all the paperwork for his housing, and for financial aid. He started out taking only one class a semester and gradually built up to a full load. Now, two years later, he has made an A in every single class he's taken, including challenging math and science classes. He is very fired up by his classes, and works very hard. In Fall he will apply to UCB and UCSC as a transfer student. I can see him going on to grad school just because he is so excited by learning. I'm so proud of him!

If you had told me 5 or 10 years ago that things would work out like this, I would not have believed you. There were so many disappointments with this kid, starting in middle school. He's just a late bloomer, I guess. I am thankful that I was able to help him when he finally bloomed, because it has been such a joy to see that.

Good for your daughter that she has a job. Maybe it would be a good thing for her to work for a while and gain independence and responsibility and better insight into where she wants to go as a young adult. If you can just hold on for a little while and be as supportive as possible you might get your reward down the road! local mom


I just responded to the post above from ''Frustrated with Teen...''. If you care to, read that and you may find some similarities with your daughter. My daughter is now 21 and after withdrawing from classes so that she wouldn't have a D or an incomplete on her record, I told her that I would no longer pay for her classes. When she was ready and serious about working in college, we'd revisit the issue. She actually agreed that she wasn't ready and I think she was relieved. She is also now working and through experience is realizing how important education is if she wants a fulfilling job, since she doesn't really like what she's doing and how small her paycheck is. It sounds like your daughter is very responsible in her work and that's great! Brains of kids with learning differences mature more slowly that kids without those differences and my daughter is developmentally more like an 18 year old. I'm assuming that your daughter is also immature and it just may take her more time to make the commitment to school. Regarding moving out, I had an advantage since I was moving to a smaller house and she definitely didn't want to share a room with her brother! I gave her lots of notice, however, so she had months to get used to the idea and prepare for it. I also told her how much I would pay for her rent and was clear what the limit was. Having that time helped a lot and she found a place that had 2 other girls. It wasn't ideal but she learned a lot and was much more responsible than she had been at home. You might want to start talking to your daughter about moving out and any worries that she has about it (if she'll tell you) and set a date that's several months away. You mentioned that she's depressed about what's going on and it might be a good idea to get her into therapy with someone whom she can connect with for more support. Jan

Mentor/Life Coach for Failure to Launch?

April 2013

Our young adult son is STUCK. Living at home, no job or job skills, attending community college. And, as you can imagine, he feels terrible about himself. We've gone the counseling route (many times) but what he really needs is a mentor to help him 'launch'. Any recommendations? Mom


I can't offer a coach suggestion, unfortunately. But I did wonder about your diagnosis of failure to launch.

If your son is attending community college classes, he shouldn't be feeling bad about himself. He's in college! Many young adults have trouble finding work. He just needs to keep looking.

I'm not trying to minimize things; maybe you kept your post short so we're not getting the whole picture. But I was left with the feeling that everyone's shaking their head about his failings when he's attending school. I worry about a shame spiral here.

My husband didn't go to college until 24, and then spent 10 years working his way through community college and a CSU. Now he's getting his PhD at a UC. There are many paths. If your son is struggling, I salute you looking for help. But is he really struggling?


My son has been seeing Life Coach Casey McCaroll, he is just fabulous. Someone on this list recommended him before and I cannot be more grateful for the referral. http://www.caseymccarroll.com Mom of teenage boy

Dealing with a 21 year old son

Dec 2012

I'm the mother of a 21 year old boy. He is taking a '' break'' from college after not being able to decide on a major. He move back with us, his dad and I, and is seeing a therapist. He is looking for a job but it a very slowly and inefficient way ( my perception not his). We have given him all the support possible but are not willing to pay for his easy life...My son insists it is a process,he is trying, etc but what I see is a wonderful, charming and smart young man waisting his life.

He watches the sports channel, listen to podcasts and smokes pot I'm sure very often. No girlfriend, no exercise... My Mother insists, yes even and that age you can force a son to change his life, go back to school, etc. I wish I could force him to go away, to travel to leave this environment but how do I do that? Any suggestions? All parents out there know how much energy and sacrifice we invest in this kids, it is painful to see all that work did not take us anywhere... A sad Mom


Your son may be officially entitled to call himself an adult, but he's still acting like a teenager, and it sounds as if his parents have allowed him to do so, which is no favor to him. How does your husband feel about the situation? The two of you need to discuss it thoroughly, come up with some ideas for your son, and then meet with him to see what his own (concrete, detailed) ideas might be. And, yes, the meeting should include a deadline for his moving out. (The gift of first and last months' rent would kind, but you are not legally or morally obliged to support him at this point, and I hope you're not feeling guilty at the idea of pushing him out.) For a sample meeting, see this recent ''Doonesbury'' cartoon: http://doonesbury.slate.com/strip/archive/2012/12/2

I am joking, kind of, but trust me--if he realizes he can't act like a kid any more because you won't allow this, he'll either move or find a job or go back to school, or a combination of the above.

In the meantime, when I became irritated with my 20-something daughter recently, I started reading up on the subject of adult children to get some perspective. Some helpful books (in this case from Berkeley Public Library):

''When Our Grown Kids Disappoint Us,'' Jane Adams. A quick, glib read that resembles an extended magazine article, so more of an overview of the subject than a detailed analysis. Still, good for reassurance and encouragement, the way the first session with a support group might be.
''How to Raise Your (Adult) Children'' by Gail Parent & Susan Ende is much more fun and very readable. It's like Dear Abby, with letters from despairing parents about money, living arrangements, work, family rituals, marriage, divorce, etc. Nice, specific situations, and each letter receives two answers: Parent gets to be funny and pragmatic, while Ende is the therapeutic voice.
''Walking on Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationship Between Adult Children and Their Parent'' by Jane Isay I haven't started yet, but it looks informative.

Good luck. He'll relaunch himself, but it will happen much faster if you give him the shove he needs, and perhaps wants. Melanie


It's good to know that he's seeing a therapist (he sounds like he may be depressed), so that's an important step. It would also be useful to sit down with him and develop a list of possibilities for what he wants to be doing 4 months from now--is he interested in travel; there are work abroad possibilities; he could work for a few years--what type of job is he most interested in? If he truly is confused about what to major in and also about what type of work he'd like to do, then it's hard for him to plan to go back to college. So focus on the near-future. What might he possibly like to do--work in an office, sales, play music, work in retail? Any job will give him experience and help him decide what he likes and doesn't like about that type of work, so encourage him to get a job doing something so he can broaden himself. You could tell him that to live rent-free, he will need to be doing two things--looking for a job daily and starting an exercise program. By the way, it is tough finding work especially for someone who has not graduated from college (although retail is hiring at this time of year), so the slow process may reflect reality. If he can agree to work on these two goals, that will help to get him moving. And help him realize how hard it is to find a job without a college degree. Anonymous

20-year old daughter keeps dropping the ball

Dec 2012

Last year, our 20-year-old daughter left a good east college after one semester - not a good fit. She returned home, then did a 2 month stint working on organic farms in the south, took doula training to volunteer as a birth coach and found a full-time job in local health food store. All good EXCEPT for the fact that although she says she will return to school - she knows it's a likely professional dead-end without at least a BA - she's doing nothing toward that end. She loved the birth-coaching training and has sounded very enthusiastic about volunteering at SF General, but keeps dropping the ball to make it happen. In vulnerable moments she'll tell me she feels paralyzed and needs to make a change in her life, she wants to move out but then she'll just be working to pay rent which seems like it's own kind of dead-end. We just visited two college in Pacific Northwest, neither of which she loved. I don't know how to help guide her. She's such a delightful person, it's hard to see her stalled. Suggestions welcomed.


Perhaps your daughter could become a certified nurse-midwife ? The problem is that unless she's willing to work hard there's no hope of her having any sort of good job in the future. It's disturbing that there are so many parents posting similar letters, and no clear good answer. Parent of HighSchoolers.

21 year old needs to leave home

Sept 2011

I am hoping that someone in this community can give us some advice. We need our 21-year old out of our home. She is very immature for her age, but her behavior is such that we feel inadequate to help her here anymore and may even be enabling her. In other words, we need her gone. Yes she is in therapy and we are covering this with the therapist. What we are looking for, so that we feel she is safe and cared for, is something like the old-fashioned boarding house, with house rules, curfews, meals, in other words structure and accountability. Does such a thing exist anywhere? We are also looking for residential programs that are not primarily for substance abuse as we feel she could definitely benefit from more intensive therapy. Maybe there is even someone who lets out a room and would keep an eye out? Any ideas would be helpful.


There are programs exactly like you describe for young adults. There are programs that offer intensive therapy, as well as life skills classes; I have even heard about programs that offer placement in family homes, with vocational training. I suggest you talk to an educational consultant; our family has used David Heckenlively (www.integratedteen.com) and we have been very happy with him. He has a background as a therapist. He might suggest a stint at a young adult wilderness program as well. Those programs are remarkable for interrupting trouble patterns of behavior and instilling a sense of confidence. Of course, as an adult, your daughter will have to go willingly to any of these programs and then she will have the option to sign herself out, but she probably realizes she needs some help and structure and would welcome the chance to develop some independence. Good luck to you. It is very difficult to have a child who does not follow the normal developmental trajectory. But there are some wonderful professionals out there who can really help. Alice
Consider going to a Certified Family Therapist as a Family - the therapist will see the family as a whole. The therapist will decide if individual sessions are also needed. Improved communication and setting the stage to emancipate your daughter successfully would be good goals. If you do not wish to seek therapy yourself - you have to ask - why not? Your daughter will likely improve when the resposibilties for rational behavior are shared all around. If you have any health insurance there may be coverage for this, and some therapists will provide services on a sliding scale. Even a few sessions may make great positive change. supportive
Young adults not leaving home is becoming more commonplace. There are many reasons for young adults not ''launching''; sometimes, as you indicate, your child hasn't learned self-structure and motivation to be independent. Sometimes there are mental health and/or drug problems. In other cases, young people are doing what they can, but they are limited by economic realities. Whatever the problem, the solution always involves some strategic moves on the parents' part, which is difficult and warrants support from others. As others have suggested, therapy for her and for you is important, and sometimes finding the right program for her can help. But the real shift is in your being able to hold the belief that she can, and should individuate and be on her own and setting up a realistic plan for her to leave the nest - and then sticking to it.

Adult children who live at home and are dependent on their parent(s) are likely to then resent them for that dependency. The longer that dynamic persists, the more the parent-child relationship may be damaged. Good luck!


My children aren't acknowledging my birthday

April 2011

Dear Fellow Parents, Now that my kids are off at college - I'm wondering what to expect in the way of birthday acknowledgements. I spend a good amount of time asking my children what they want or need and make a point to send them a package. On my birthday they each called me, but I didn't receive anything. What's appropriate? I don't ask for much, and nothing expensive, but it feels unequal. Something personal is most appreciated (I also did see them in person following my birthday so it's not just long distance). I'm wondering how to bring up a subject such as this, without it being a guilt trip. Their dad's birthday falls around the holidays when they are home, so he tends to get more acknowledgement. I'm interested in your thoughts and experience. Thanks - Uncertain Mom


I think you should tell them what you would like in the way of acknowledgement ''when it is my birthday I would really like it if you would...'' and if you are married to their dad (or have a good relationship with him), ask him to remind them a few days ahead of time. happy birthday!
Don't wait for them to mess up and then complain. Just tell them what you want a month or so ahead of time. I think it is really sweet that they called you; many kids do not even do that. Maybe you should just be thankful they remember you and leave it at that. Why do you want things from them anyway? anon
I think a telephone call from the kids on mom's birthday is pretty much in line with what one would expect from young people away at college. If by the time they have gone off to college they haven't developed a habit of giving a little present, I think it unlikely that they will suddenly start doing so. Maybe as they get older and have kids of their own, it might occur to them that Hey! we should celebrate mom more. But in the meantime, I would be happy with the phone calls and not take it to heart. finally sending mom flowers now
Personally, I think that they remembered your birthday and called you on your birthday is very sweet. I would be delighted with phone calls from my young adults. Don't see the need for a gift. mom of 3

Resources for Parents of Older Adolescents (20+)

Jan 2010

My 20-year-old daughter is at university overseas. This is her last year; she is writing a B.Sc. ''dissertation'' (i.e., not as demanding as a graduate dissertation), working part-time, living with her boyfriend of one year, considering careers, looking for full-time work down the road. We pay her tuition and rent, and she pays the rest. She is feeling stressed out right now, but is pretty well organized, ambitious, concerned about the economy, and wants some material security. She speaks of marrying her young man and starting a family in her mid-20s. And, of course, this is absolutely what she wants, and her desires will never change, and she KNOWS this! (Kind of like she did at age 16, although admittedly she is more objective about herself these days.)

She and I talk about once a week, e-mail, etc., and see each other a couple of times a year. When she wants advice or an opinion of her resume or whatever, she asks me and makes notes. Advice I offer on my own might be ignored, criticized, or listened to.

I don't think my daughter is immature for her age and her intelligence; probably pretty mature, although this is hard for me to judge. At this point, though, I'd like some guidance about how to be a good/better parent-consultant, as Mike Riera would say. Can anyone recommend a book, website, or support group (East Bay preferred) for parents of people in this phase of adulthood? Anonymous


One thing you might think about as you embark on your role as a parent of a young adult, is that your 20 something year old is not an adolescent. She is an adult. So, while you feel she is immature and not ready for the decisions she is considering, your time of make those decisions for her are over. With a young adult, not a teen, a parent can ask questions designed to help the young person think about choices. However, one cannot do this too much. The basic rule is comment and question when the young adult raises an opportuntity to do so. You can express your concern and why, a few times. But, I gotta tell you, that you do not have control over what your daughter does. That is the difference with a parent of a young adult. You can plant ideas. Ask a well timed question. Offer support, as I am here if you want to talk. But, your role is a lot of stepping back and stepping back again. If you are too forceful or intrusive, you might just lose the opportunity for your daughhter to want to hear you at all. As scary as it sounds, if your daughter really decides to get married, you cannot stop her from doing so. peggy

No Longer a teen, still on the couch

April 2009

So J. turns 20 in a few weeks. He dropped out of high school in Orinda his Jr. year, got a GED and is not interested in college. He's working occasionally for a construction company hauling stuff and assisting carpenters.

In the past few weeks there has been no work, so he sits on the couch all day, playing video games, watching movies, waiting for the next free meal. We have asked him to pay rent (a small amount) which he rufuses to do. He is beligerent and feeling entitled to do nothing. His step siblings, now a sophmore and Junior in high school are very busy, taking all core classes, getting great grades, involved in sports and music and slated for University. It is distracting to have a sibling that has no responsibilities and frankly it's not a great environment.

I understand this is a part of the growing. What can we do? R.


I'm sure you will get many responses to your question, but here's my $0.02. This must be a very frustrating situation for your family. It sounds like you are a caring parent and perhaps your son has gotten used to low expectations and tolerance of beliggerent behavior. Perhaps he has an undiagnosed learning disorder, and perhaps he is depressed?. No doubt this is a tight economy, but he needs to look harder for work in other, perhaps lower-paying jobs. Perhaps this will inspire him to pursue an education. Consider having a serious conversation with him about your expectations for his behavior and consequences (if he doesn't live up to them. You might also consider seeing a psychologist or family counselor. Good Luck
I'm assuming you're the mom? You don't say. Assuming you are, your son sounds lazy and unmotivated. Why should he make a change when he's got a couch, food, and is allowed to do what he's doing? You'd hve to take a strong stance and tell him to get the lead out and get a job...or at least show that he's looking. He'll be there untill you set some firm rules. anon mom
For myself and my three siblings growing up in our house, the rule was always very clear. At 18 (i.e., done with high school), you are in college, the military or have a job and an apartment. Your son is on the couch because you are allowing him to be. You are not doing him any favors by letting him lie around all day and not contribute; what incentive does he have to change? What kind of message does this send to his better-performing siblings? Give him a reasonable time period, offer to help with the deposit on an apartment or other living situation and get him off the couch. tough love
Your message reminds me of the example described in the book, Boys Adrift. Yours is not an easy or enviable situation, but you are on the right path to take action now. Don't wait. Step one: lose the electronics. If you think it is too difficult to do, just imagine him as a man, still on your couch, ten years from now. Hang in there.
I'm not in that situation, so here is my two unproven cents! I would recommend that you ask your son to start going to a class to learn a skill! In this day and age he needs to know how to do something. Is he interested in car repair? Construction? Cooking? Computers? Maybe you can work out a plan with him about the cost for technical school and living expenses and have a plan about when he needs to have his own place (roommate situation probably) after he's finished with the program. Either that or say he needs to be paying something or contributing to the household in some way by this and this time and in that time to get any type of job he can! It sounds like he's depressed too. Maybe he could go to some therapy! I don't think it's a healthy person who sits around avoiding what they need to do. In extreme you could get rid of the games!!! or make it pay-per-view!

I'm sorry this is happening. I think it's more common then you would think. I know at least two other families with ''grown-up'' sons who are having a harder time of it and it took them a longer time to get out on their own or to find themselves. They also were not fabulous students in school. It will happen eventually. Making clear rules and expectations, might be the way to go. anon


My two sons are in their 20's, flew away, and now are back home so I can sympathize. One of them dropped out of HS and worked a few years, living on his own, and the other one was away at college and is back now. Both of them have low paying part-time jobs and can't afford their own place. Here are a few ideas for you:

1. Your son sounds like he might be depressed. Having his younger sibs around doing so well is probably pretty discouraging too.

2. I paid for career counseling for one of my sons. He was in an entrenched depressed state too. He went to Toni Littlestone in Albany. It was a GREAT experience, he really liked her, and he identified a career that he is interested in and would be good at, that he is now working toward.

3. This same son and I were sometimes having angry fights, and I told him he had to either move out (he could live with his dad) or go to therapy with me. He went to therapy with me and it was really beneficial even though we only went twice (to a couples' counselor who specializes in improving couple communications!)

4. I told my HS drop-out son that if he is living at home, he must be either in school or working. He had enrolled twice in community colleges and dropped out. He was unable to find a job for eight months. I heard an NPR show about the Mexican government paying kids to stay in school so I made that offer to him. He suggested instead that I pay for martial arts classes in exchange for his going to school, so he's back in school now, though taking only 2 classes, but is applying himself.

5. I don't give them allowance but I do pay for their cell phones and their medical insurance. The fact that they don't have any spending money is a big incentive for them to have and keep jobs.

6. We have a rule that the living room is for the whole family, and the TV can't be on in there during the day. My college grad son used to watch ESPN all day. It took a lot of yelling and bad vibes to get this rule established but now it is, we don't fight about it anymore.

7. My sons do household chores that REALLY contribute: all the garbage and recycling, daily kitchen cleanup, driving our younger child's carpool & taking him for haircuts, new shoes, to dr. appts, etc., each cooking dinner one night a week, doing the grocery shopping. Life is actually a lot easier for me with them living here. I know they want to have their own places but I will be sorry to see them go.

It is very hard to parent a 20-year-old and I wish you all the best.!


What can we do?

Go get family therapy - I would suggest a MSW therapist.

What I can say from reading your note:

This has been going on for a long time - at least since high school if not before.

Your couch son will not improve by being compared to his achievement oriented step siblings. If that were going to kick in it would have happened by now.

You son may have a variety of difficulties ranging from learning disabilities to depression to just really bad habits. The family social dynamic may not approve but so far it has accommodated what is currently going on. Having an outside trained therapist might give you some guidance in exploring further diagnoses and ultimately creating a plan for your son to lead an independent life. I have known high achievers and low achievers who never left that living room couch. Since your son is not self motivated it will take some very consistent steps to institute constructive change. If you simply put him on the street, it does not sound like he is prepared for life. Wishing You Courage to Seek Professional Help


This is not ''part of the growing.'' Tell him he has two options: pay rent and act like an adult or get treated like a child. He doesn't get the best of both worlds. If he won't pay rent, then you take away the video games (lock them up) and anything else he does instead of working or going to school (community college, adult school, whatever). Give him a list of chores. If he gets truly belligerent, then you need a family counselor. If this goes on, at some point, you'll have to kick him out. Zero Tolerance
You have probably heard this before, and it's the hardest thing you will ever have to do, but its time for your son to leave the nest and fly. My mom had to do this with my brother years ago and it was the best thing she could have ever done for him.

She gave him 60 days notice to find a full time job and a place to rent. He was living in Marin and working part time. He found a house to share with 3 other guys, and asked for more hours at work.

A friend recently did something similar with her 20 y.o. son (a high school classmate of my daughter). He wasn't even working. He stayed with a friend until they got sick of him, then his aunt, and they were ready to kick him out. Only then did he get a job at Walmart, and rent a room from some people who were sharing a house. Right now he's pretty angry at his mom, but I'm sure as he matures, he'll realize it was the best thing for him.

The other thing you can do is to see if he is interested in some kind of post-high school vocational training program, like they have at Wyotech or Everest. HVAC is highly needed and a big paycheck too.

BTW, all this comes from experience. Last Sept. my 20 y.o. moved to Sacto., got a job, shares a house with 3 other young women, and is doing OK. She's not ready to go to college yet, but she knows its a necessary part of her future. mama bird


Before there is a tragedy here, please give your son 30 days notice to vacate your home. If he has not vacated by the 31st day, please call the Sheriff and have him removed. I don't mean to be unkind, but you have enabled and contributed to his irresponsible behavior for I'm not certain how many years. You are doing him no favors by providing food and shelter for him. I am very certain your son is a good person, and for years you have not allowed him the opportunity to be a responsible person, demonstrate this goodness, and blossom into all he can be. Please stop strangling him and let him go. He will achieve his goals and dreams when he is independent of your control. Anon Mother of 3 Sons
I know lots of people have advised giving your son 30 days notice to help him move on with his life. I just wanted to say that in this economic climate that might be dangerous. There are very few jobs out there and housing is at a premium. Also, he might be suffering from a psychiatric condition and the last thing that you want is for him to go homeless.

Needless to say, I would advise that you tell him he has to get job training. Also, he needs to volunteer somewhere like at a nonprofit or soup kitchen. Tell him that's what he has to do if he's going to keep living with you. Also, make it clear that when the economy picks up again, you want him to move out. Work out a plan so that when it does pick up, even if it's not for a year or two, he'll be on his way to being independent.

Also, having him see a counselor or psychiatrist might not be a bad idea if there is something going on there. If he won't get training or volunteer, I would definitely have him looked at. Anon


I've been very reluctant to respond to this posting because my only experience with a similar situation turned out so tragically that I hesitate to bring it up. So many people have suggested a Tough Love approach -- and that may indeed be the best thing. This young man may be a bum-in-training who just needs some motivation to get his act together. But he could also be a young man in unspeakble pain on the brink of disaster. My friend found herself in a similar situation -- to all appearances her son was surly, lazy, and parasitic. He certainly inspired no sympathy in anyone. He was legally an adult, but he was still her beloved son. No one seemed to be able to reach this kid. Professionals finally convinced her that Tough Love was the only option that would force him to take care of himself. So, although it broke her heart, she threw him out. After some time, the young man committed suicide. I don't need to tell you what this did to my friend. I have no idea what should have been done, or what could have been done -- perhaps nothing was possible. Not every problem has a solution... I'm sure this was a very rare situation, but I just thought I should mention it. anonymous
This sounds like a big challenge. And I think there are many steps that a concerned parent or adult can take in response without ''throwing them out on the street''.

I would encourage you to look for a class in The Parent Project. Their curriculum is specifically designed to address difficult parenting situations. This national program has helped hundreds of thousands of families, some of them in much more dangerous situations than your own (gang involvement, heroin addiction, etc.) You can find out more about them at www.parentproject.com.

I would also encourage you to contact a mental health professional to assess your son for depression or other conditions. This is a situation that can be positively, firmly and lovingly addressed. No doubt at some level he's not feeling good about it either. Best of luck, Dave


''Training'' programs for immature 20 year old?

June 2008

My daughter will turn 21 in August. She has always lived at home, and schooling has always been difficult for her. In school, she has tested too high to qualify for special ed assistance but eventually qualified under ''other health impaired'' because of problems with depression. Since graduating from highschool, she has been attending a few classes at community college and working parttime in the retail sector. She seems to enjoy the day to day aspects of working, but she is very worried that she cannot earn a living wage. She has failed or withdrawn from almost all of the academic college classes she has attempted. The only academic classes she has passed are 1st semester Japanese and 2 semesters of intro Japanese conversation. We charge her ''rent'' (which we are putting in a separate bank account for her possible use if she decides to move out, wants to try an expensive program, etc). (Also, by the way, she has never learned to drive). It is probably time for her to try an alternative route, other than college. Any suggestions? In particular, I would love to find a program that mimics some of the social aspects of college--living away from home, for example, while adding some training in being an adult--how to manage financial matters, how to build a career, how to look for a job. If I can't find a program where she can live independently from us, I'm wondering if there are any local programs that offer the ''training to be an adult'' approach. I'm also interested in suggestions further afield on how to help this fledgling leave the nest and launch herself. Need a new approach


Check out College Living Experience. There is one in Monterey. I am hoping to enroll my son. They were recommended by an educational consultant. I feel your trepidation. East Bay Mom
You might look into two transition programs that have started up locally: College Internship Program in Berkeley and College Living Experience in Monterey. Both offer supported, independent living and academic support while students attend a few classes at a local college. Unfortunately, they're quite expensive. There are many other programs around the state and nationally, but the only website I knew of which collected their names seems to have gone offline. If you're interested in knowing more, I could put you in contact with a fabulous group of parents of teens and young adults with transition challenges who will know much more than I. E-mail me if you're interested. mnl

Depressed 20-year-old needs help finding a job

April 2008

Hi, I would like recommendations for a career counselor for a young adult (20). We need someone that has lots of resources, not just suggestions. My son has suffered from major depression since he was about 15. He is finally working with a psychiatrist that seems to be getting him on the right track. My son took the CHSPE to get out of high school and has worked some minimum wage jobs. The longest he held a job was about 14 months. This was a major achievement for him especially since he found the job on his own. However, he is now unemployed and somewhat lost as what to do with his life. He has an interest in cars and DJing. We would love to find someone that is good working with this population and is not outrageously expensive. Thanks, never stop being a parent


Don't waste your time and money with a career counselor/coach. No matter how well meaning they are, they have zero training dealing with depression and psychological issues. It wouldn't help your son, and in fact, might hurt him. It's good you have his depression under control with his psychiatrist monitoring his meds. It sounds like the next step is to find him a good psychotherapist. In due time, as your son works through his issues and starts to feel better, he will be able to make the career decisions that he can't make now. Anon
Look into WorkLink in San Francisco, http://www.transcen.org/worklink/. They provide an employment service for people with all sorts of disabilities, and I'm guessing your son would fit within the population they serve. Their services include career counseling, job placement, and working on the transition into adulthood. They start from a positive view of the client's talents and interests, and help identify jobs and careers where the client can be happy and successful, taking into consideration their dislikes and challenges. Best of luck to you and your son. Mother of another late bloomer

How to best help struggling college grad?

Feb 2008

Son, graduated college last May, living with a bunch of guys in a very large city elsewhere, working for the last 6 months for an international retailer making $9.50/hr and feeling taken advantage of (sounds like it to me but I donít say so out loud). Heís also trying to get his music career going which is very difficult in itself. City is very expensive and heís having a hard time getting by. On top of it, he had a DUI while here (thank God no one was hurt), spent some time in jail, and has a warrant now for unpaid fine. Husband sent him money (as loan) to pay fine and he spent it elsewhere. Heís alternately feeling optimistic or demoralized about his life (mentioning suicide several times since the DUI). I believe his drinking is under control. Iím glad that he can call me when heís feeling down (he did so a couple of days ago and we talked for a long time). It does seem somewhat manipulative in that Iím suspecting heís wanting me to offer to send him money, which I canít afford to do. He wonít ask me directly, because he knows the answer is no - I'm firm about him standing on his own financially. And we're also firm that he's now on his own regarding the DUI, since we've helped to our limit.

I listen when he calls with his woes, I try to offer moral support and suggestions without explicitly telling him what to do because I want him to stand on his own two feet and figure it out for himself since itís his life after all that heís living. I believe on one level that the struggles will make him a stronger person, but on the other hand Iím riddled with guilt about the many ways I let him down when he was young, Iím worried about his suicide talk, Iím worried about his struggles, Iím worried about a downward spiral. I try not to let him know that Iím worried about him, because I donít think this serves him in any way. Any suggestions as to the best way to deal with this and at the same time to maintain my own sanity and not to have sleepless nights about it?

Obviously Anon


Your son needs help. The good news is that he has a job. The bad news you may already know: he sounds like an alcoholic.

First, ask him to go to a 12-step meeting with AA. You can locate his closest one on the web, and give him the time and directions. (If he does attend, ask him if he raised his hand.)

Second, arrange to pay for a qualified therapist, with the money not passing through your son's hands. He needs professional evaluation and help. Note that many experienced therapists will not touch an alcoholic, if he is not in a 12-step program.

While this expenditure may be financially painful to you, consider it money that would eventually spent for his funeral. Travel for two to Boston/NY ($2k); funeral costs ($5-10K). Your son well and alive (priceless).

Good luck. You have my sympathies. Friend of a friend of Bill Wilson


Listening to your son's very real problems and offering moral support and suggestions are all very beneficial to him. However, I think that now may be a time to help him more directly, if you can. It's all very well and good to want your son to stand on his own two feet and figure things out for himself, but as a mother I would be very, very concerned about the fact that he has a warrant out for his arrest for his unpaid DUI fine. If he is now out of state, I'm not sure if he can be picked up by the police on the warrant in a different state, but it certainly is a possibility. And what if he comes back to California for a visit? So as a mother, I would focus on this problem first and put some effort into helping him figure out how to solve it. If you can help him sort out the next steps, that may allow some of the depression to lift and help him move forward.

Try to help your son devise a plan to pay the fine and get rid of the warrant. He may need to take on a second job on the weekend. Help him figure out what type of second job he could get (waiter, warehouse, sales?). Maybe put his music career on hold until the fine is paid off. Tough, but that's life. Whatever way, he needs to earn extra money to pay the fine and clear his records. Lay it out to him in words--that you see this as a top priority. Also get him to be sure that he has fulfilled the other elements of the DUI (such as DUI classes) so he can clear his records completely.

The sad thing about getting a DUI is that most young people don't realize that it comes with a host of other costly items and problems. Definitely adds to the depression. He needs to get out from under it all.

He is also facing many problematic practical and existential issues. It is tough for young folks today, starting out. And always has been tough for people who want to enter creative artistic fields. Many live in poverty for years while trying to get a break. It is a struggle, but he can give it a fair shot and try to accomplish his goals.

Help him see that because of the trouble with the DUI and owing money, he may need to consider other alternatives for the moment. Alternatives such as working more hours, applying for a higher-paying job, putting his music career on hold, coming home to cut costs and save some money. Laying out alternatives may help him get a broader perspective and realize that it doesn't all have to happen now and that he can get back on his feet. This might give him some hope and help alleviate some of the depression or motivate him to work harder to stay where he is.

Good luck! Anonymous


Thank you to the two replies to my questions. To the Friend of a Friend of Bill, your reply definitely got my attention and gave me food for thought. To the mom who wrote the second one, I really appreciate the time you took to think about and respond so kindly and offer me a different perspective!! A Mom
I was hoping that more people would respond to the issue of how much to do for this son. We also have an adult son, 18ys, with a history of drug abuse and ADD. He still lives at home. He is taking one class at the local JC and has a part-time job and has no outstanding warrants, so I guess he's in a better place than ''young adult son''. However, we are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. He has a history of making risky choices, frequently overdraws his bank account and doesn't want advice from us. We want him to get to a place where he can survive on his own but don't know how to get there. Like ''adult son'''s mom we struggle with guilt for not doing enough and irritation at being asked to do too much and also never really knowing when we are being realistic about his capabilities and when we are being co-dependents. Anyone with useful hindsight about walking this line? uncertain

Rent for young adult living at home

Aug 2003

My 20 year-old has held an above-average paying job for over one year now and I was hoping that he would have socked away some of the money in a savings account. However, he spends his paycheck as soon as he gets it on car parts. I would like to help him become more responsible and start charging him rent, placing the money in an account for a later date. What would be the going rate these days? Anonymous


In most places rent is supposed to be one fourth of a person's income, although I think that in the bay area it is often one half (or more, especially for young people).

Although I don't know your personal situation, here are some ideas that I had. I think that if your son is making an income that would give him sufficient funds to pay for his essentials plus enough to feel rewarded for working hard, then you should charge him whatever would be left over.

You could use this all as a positive learning experience for him by including him in your plans to save his rent money. Perhaps say to him that you are really happy for him that he is doing so well in his work and it seems like he's at a point in his life in which he is capable (in the sense that he is making enough money to save, at least) of starting to make wise financial choices for the future. Then you could say that you would like for him to start paying rent, and in helping him to be able to prepare for his future you will assist him in choosing an avenue in which to save/invest his rent money. You could help him come up with a budget by having him first budget the way he has already been spending his money and then looking at how he might alter his budget to allow for the cost of rent without feeling resentful about paying rent, but happy about the future gains of saving money.

I think it is really commendable that you want to save the money that your son will pay in rent. Anon


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