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BEING 18 AND ALL GROWED UP

It has come to my attention that many fellow parents of newly minted 18 year olds are struggling with some serious issues involving their children’s age-related independence and sense of responsibility. There is an idiom that says, “teenagers should go out and earn a living while they still think they know everything.” There is definitely some merit to this saying. 

When children turn 18, it’s like an alien takes over their brains and convinces them that they not only know everything there is to know, but that they no longer have to clean up after themselves, and that they can take care of themselves just fine without their parents..   These teens are suddenly angry, defiant, mouthy, and disrespectful. Formerly sweet, loving, and kind, they indiscriminately use language that would make a sailor blush. They refuse to do the dishes, pick up their mess in the living room, or help with daily chores. Maybe that is the plan. Maybe these kids are supposed to become so hard to live with that parents feel justified in letting them leave home and explore the world  

As a mother and a therapist, I implore you to be firm but patient with your budding adult. My work with teenagers who have been adopted or are in foster care has brought many of these very issues to my attention. My own son is challenging some of the rules and boundaries. While he and perhaps you child is spreading his wings—trying on their new selves so to speak—they may not be doing a very good job of it. We now know that a child’s frontal lobe does not fully develop until they are 28 or so. That means your teen is trying to make adult decisions with a brain that has not yet matured.  

Certainly not all 18 year olds have difficulty with the pull of impending independence. Many get caught up in the excitement of choosing a college, graduating from high school, or starting their first full time job. These teenagers go off to college or junior college and deal with making decisions on their own just fine. If your teen is one of those, count your blessings.

However, many teenagers who have experienced foster care or adoption go through some difficulty at this stage of their lives. If your child is having trouble, here are a few guidelines that will help. 

1. A good first step is to sit down with your son or daughter and reviewing the household rules. Try and do this before things get out of hand.

 2. Review the curfew rules and adjust them to give your child more adult freedom. I removed the curfew but with the restriction that my son needs to let me know when I can expect him home, and that he will call at a reasonable hour if his plans change. On the other hand, it is expected that he take on more responsibility in caring for the house, doing his own laundry, and cleaning up after himself.  

3. Be willing to bend some rules but let your child know what you expect in return. For instance, I expect my son to be considerate, and I remind him if he forgets.  In reality, if he says “thank you” for dinner, I consider it a success. If he gets up and does the dishes, I do a victory dance in my head.

 4. Don’t be so quick to throw your child out. There are a few parents who have given their young adult a choice— follow the rules or leave the house. A cautionary note: We probably didn’t do such a great job of being 18 ourselves. We made mistakes, too.  I don’t have to remind anyone of the crazy things some of us did our senior year in high school or our first year away at college. While our own kids want to do it right, their brains may not be ready.

 5. Your teenager might decide to move out and live with a friend because the rules are just too restrictive, even though they have not changed since he or she was a child. If that happens, keep the doors open. You might say something like,” I love you enough to let you go out and do it on your own and succeed or fail on your own merit. You are the kind of person who, I believe, will learn more life lessons in this way rather than staying at home and trying to follow our rules. I know that you will learn from your own mistakes. If you need advice, don’t hesitate to call me.”  

6. Don’t offer money, just advice. It is so important that your teen knows what your rules are, when he or she can ask for financial help and when that is not an option. Don’t shut the door and turn the lock. Everyone will regret that move and opening the door again will be very hard to do. Your child is not necessarily making great choices right now but still needs your help and guidance. Be there for her.

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