My son will be 18 this month. He failed high school by one credit and is not going to college or university. He will be working full time, but the problem is he is really into the party scene - drinking, smoking pot, etc. He has also stolen money from his sister and me. It seems nothing is more important to him than partying with his friends. Everyone tells me this is a phase and it will pass. I'm not so sure. I've considered asking him to move out. What do you think?
- Stressed Out Mom
Dear Stressed Out Mom,
It is definitely a new ballgame.
"Listen, Mister, if you know what's good for you, you better straighten up."
"Oh, what are you going to do? Ground me? Take away my cellphone?"
Your control is no longer what it used to be. His view is, "I'm 18. I'm now an adult. What I do with my life is now up to me. Thank you very much. You've been a great mom. But get off my back."
He has a point.
At this stage in his life, you're not going to change him. What you want to focus on is what goes on when he is in your home.
Until their high-school class graduates - with or without them - children expect to be sheltered and supported by their parents, regardless of how they behave. In other words: "I can act like a total jerk, but you still have to take care of me."
But with the graduation of their high-school class, the deal changes. Most parents say, "So long as you continue your education or are working full-time, my home will continue to be your home." Many add that if a child is working, he or she should contribute some money toward household upkeep.
But I'd take it one step further: "That is, so long as your living here does not make my life too much of a hell."
"Come on, Mom. I want to have a good time. I want to party. Is that bad?"
You can say you don't want him drinking, smoking marijuana or simply being too unpleasant in the house - and, of course, the stealing must stop. If he wants to live in the house, that is what you expect. He will know those are reasonable demands, though he still may not follow them.
Getting him to leave is a last resort. If the stealing continues, you need to act. But will kicking him out make him grow up? Will he finally see the light? Don't count on it. One school of thought says forcing children out of the house is for their own good. Maybe. But I'm wary of anyone who predicts that kicking children out is for their best interest. It's for your survival, not their benefit.
The truth is that your relationship with your son, now that he is a young adult, is still evolving. You are at the beginning of a process. Your demands will have an effect, but probably not to the degree you would like. Is it going to be an ongoing nightmare or a workable truce? The answer to that question still needs to be played out.
Just don't try too hard to change him. You can't.
And here's the thing: You don't need to. Powerful forces are entering his life. Your son is now out in the working world and seeing where he stands. He may be getting a glimpse of how that will work out in the future. Gradually, his friends will move forward with their lives, and that will put a lot of pressure on him to move along as well.
"You're saying that what once made me a cool dude will make me look like a loser when I get older?"
In the meantime, the bottom line is that his behaviour in the home needs to be within tolerable limits. But if you don't like what he is doing with his life, that's really his problem, not yours.
"Son, what's the rule?"
"Absolutely no parties at the house on Tuesday or Thursday nights, and if there's vomit, I have to take full responsibility for cleaning it up."
"That's my good boy. I knew this would work out."
Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books, including Get out of my life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall?: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager.