Many parents struggle with their just-turned-18, newly-minted adult children refusing to follow house rules and waving the, “I’m an adult. You can’t tell me what to do,” banner every time the parent confronts an issue of broken rules or disrespect.

For many families, the transition from adolescence into adulthood is one of the more difficult ones for both parent and child. Why is this so?

Part of the reason is that older teens often seem to have one foot planted firmly in the adult world while still keeping a toehold in their childhood.  They want to be adults when it suits them. In other words, they want autonomy and the ability to make grown-up decisions—but they can quickly revert back to the “child” role when they want or need something from the parent, such as use of the car or continued financial support.

It’s important to know that this isn’t all due to manipulation on their part. Some of it is the fear of being completely on their own, along with everything that entails.

If you’re having a hard time with your young adult right now, you are not alone. Many of the parents we speak to through our parent coaching service say that the time right after high school graduation is especially challenging. It’s hard to know how to respond to your child when they break house rules or act out—if your child is going to college, you probably don’t want to rock the boat this close to your child leaving. You might fear your relationship may be forever tainted or that there will be irreversible damage to their child’s future.

I talk to many parents who put up with behavior they wouldn’t have tolerated when their child was still 17 because they’re anxious about the possible long term effects of any consequences they may implement and want to “end on a good note” before their child launches. 

It’s an understandable viewpoint, since the consequence that is most often suggested by friends and family is to “toss the kid out.” As a result, oftentimes parents are simply left feeling powerless.

So, what can a parent do in this situation?  Here are three ways you can “right size” the issue and regain parental authority in a calm and positive way.

Recognize Your Child is an Adult — With Everything That Entails

It’s important to in fact recognize that your child is an adult now. With that shift come certain freedoms, but also certain responsibilities.

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As an adult, your child is allowed to make whatever choices he or she chooses, even if those choices are bad, or not ones you would necessarily agree with. You can’t control the choices your child makes, now or at any other time, but you can control how you choose to respond to those choices.

There are natural consequences that go along with certain choices that tend to be more severe when you become an adult. As an adult, if you break the law for example, you may be looking at steeper fines or jail time as opposed to having the charges filed or being put on probation if you’re a juvenile.  Your consequences can also be firmer, because, after all, everything you give or provide for your child after he turns 18 is a privilege, including the roof over his head.

Use What You Provide for Your Child as a Consequence/Motivator

I’m not saying you have to throw your now-adult child out when he breaks rules or doesn’t meet expectations. But, it is possible to continue using what you provide for your child as a consequence or motivator.

Let’s take not following curfew as an example. First, it’s okay to have a curfew even if your child is over the age of 18. As James Lehman explains in the article Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part I, it can be helpful to think more in terms of “house guest” than “family.” If you had a house guest who stayed out to all hours of the night, how long would you allow him to stay with you? Most people who took advantage of a situation this way would wear out their welcome pretty quickly.

It doesn’t have to be any different because it’s your child. So, maybe you let him know you’re going to be locking the front door by a certain time. If he’s not home by that time, he’ll need to find another place to sleep that night. (This is always left up to the parent’s discretion. You know your child best.) 

You can also set it up so the expectation is that if he’s going to be in after curfew or staying the night somewhere else, he needs to call you by a certain time. If he doesn’t, then maybe he loses his driving privileges or cell phone for a certain amount of time.

Your Parenting Role Should Evolve From Manager to Consultant

When your child is young, you can think of yourself as a manager. You are involved in her day-to-day life in a very ‘hands–on’ kind of way. But as your child grows and becomes an adult, you’re really more of a consultant, explains Debbie Pincus in her article, Adult Child Living at Home? How to Manage without Going Crazy. That means you talk to your child about what’s going on like a consultant for a business might. As a parent, you need to step back more and more as time goes by because your child is an adult. You can be helpful and check in, but it’s best not to give unsolicited advice.

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This doesn’t mean that you don’t hold your child accountable. You still need to define boundaries and let her know that you’re going to stick to them. At the same time, you’re also giving her more respect and autonomy.

Plan Ahead When Dealing With Your Child’s Behavior

As with younger children, it can be helpful to be proactive: plan for possible scenarios before they happen and come up with a list of fail-proof consequences you know you’ll be willing to follow through on.

Don’t threaten things, such as throwing your child out or calling the police, if you’re not sure you’d be able to follow through with it should push come to shove. I’ve spoken to many parents who have used threats like these but, when the time came, couldn’t do it. They ended up losing whatever authority they may have had. Don’t pick the nuclear option if that won’t work for you: instead, find something you’ll be willing to do that will also have an effect on your child.

After all, you just want your child to make better choices, right?  Using threats with no intent to follow through usually backfires.  So, the simple solution is, “Mean what you say and say what you mean.” Simple isn’t always easy, though. In the end, the only one who can decide where your limits and boundaries lie is you.

Related content:
When Your Teen Says: “I’m Almost 18 – You Can’t Tell Me What to Do!”

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Denise Rowden is a parent of two adult children and has been a parenting coach since 2010. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.

Comments (28)
  • Mori

    In my case, I am the 18-year-old child who misbehaves. I have fought with my parents over everything for as long as I can remember, especially with my step mother who came into my life when I was around eight years old. She has her problems and so do I, but I can't make her change so I want to change to make living in this household a little easier.

    I have trouble understanding other's perspectives and often get caught up in the "oh woe is me" and victim mindsets. I understand that this affects my relationships with others. So, to better understand my parents I'm reading things that may share their perspective. Thanks for writing this.

  • RPope
    I am very frustrated with being a mother of two young adults and being recently divorced. I have prayed, cried, received counseling, and so many other resources to help me establish rules and boundaries for my home, but they are constantly violating the rules I have set. It is becomingMore a bit much, but I am thankful for this resource that clearly helps understand that I am not alone in this battle.
  • CR
    I totally disagree with "It’s important to in fact recognize that your child is an adult now." You say this because their 18? Or because the government aka Uncle Sam says when you turn 18 you are an adult. That's why we parents struggle with a child at that age.More "Im an adult now." Thats crap. You dont go to bed and magically wake up as an adult. ADULT is defined as "a person who is fully grown or developed, both mentally and physically." Im sorry but at 18 mentally they are not adults, far from it. I understand my child is now legally responsible for his actions but until he proves he can make adult decisions and not the immature decisions he's currently making, that's when I'll believe he's truly an adult.
    • JustMe
      I couldn't agree more. I feel the legal age for everything should be 21. The "you can do this but not that" mentality makes absolutely no sense. This is why my daughter feels she should be able to drink, smoke, go to 21+ clubs, dress inappropriately, spend the night withMore her boyfriend, etc. At 18 and 19 they are still TEENagers, and most lack the mental capacity to curb their impulses and exercise any forethought. 20 to me is the bridge between youth and adulthood, and by 21 they've at least had the benefit of maturing a few years to be better equipped at making more positive choices. It's difficult enough to navigate this world with a fully formed pre-frontal cortex. What's so wrong with realizing the fact most of us still require adult guidance at 18 and 19 (and some at 20)? This need to "grow up" overnight is a very scary one.
    • S

      Some people never grow up and act like a “true adult”.

      Part of the process of developing into a person that makes “adult decisions” is learning from the immature decisions you make. It is part of growing up.

      If you don’t allow your 18 year old to go through this natural process then you may find they will never fully grow up and be an “adult”.

    • Arq
      I stopped reading at "You say this because their 18??".........
    • ConcernedMom
      I agree wholeheartedly
  • Sw
    I have an 18 year old son who has been full of attitude and ego and hardly talks to me. I am divorced and he told me he blames me for the divorce and ruining his life ( his father is behind that) He gets angry atMore me for everything, down to him not getting his braces off because he won’t wear the rubber band. He proceeded to leave and go to his dads, he blocked me on all social media and on the phone I pay for. It’s been 5 days and he won’t communicate and his father will also not help. I don’t want to lose my son. I’m at a loss what to do. I want to disconnect the phone but feel if I do it will make things worse
  • Mike (StepFather)
    So my wives oldest Child Joshua... From the day I met this man-child he's been a handful for his mother. Hes attacked me multiple times and been taken away in Cuffs everytime. He's attacked his mother multiple time and as well as his little brother whos autistic ( well callMore his K) . He lacks respect for us hes busted out his bedroom windows and punched multiple holes in his walls... He is now 18 and I want to throw his butt out of the house but obviously my wife wont allow for it. My wife and i have a 6 year old daughter together and he does this in front of her terrifying her.. Im worried for my wife, stepson(K) and my daughter. This Child in my eyes is dangerous. Hes been accused by many girls in highschool for sexual assault as well. What the heck do I do ?
  • 21mom
    I kicked my 18 year old daughter out of the house for being disrespectful towards me. I wish I didn't but I want her to realize that she cannot disrespect me. I miss and love her so much.
    • mel
      I had a disagreement with my daughter last month just 2 weeks after she turned 18. I have raised her as a single mother and she has had 8 surgeries and been chronically ill. Her dad paid his child support but was only a 4 day a month parent. Well,More after our disagreement because she was being rude and disrespectful and would not follow my rules. She left and got a protective order on me and now i cannot go to her graduation or her athletic banquets. My heart is completely broken. It has been 39 days and I do not think I am going to survive this.
    • Mom of three
      I guess I kicked my 19yo son out the other night. I told him he could not live with us if he was going to continue to lie, manipulate, make bad choices, and break our house rules. So, he went to his dad's house. When he talked to his dadMore he said "he didn't feel safe". I have protected him and loved him every minute of every day. I feel like my husband (my son's step dad for 15 years) doesn't know or understand why I just can't move on. I'm sure it is a dad coping but I don't think I can breathe anymore. I miss him and love him SO much, but it seems like he is hell bound to major trouble (pot, drinking to the point of throwing up, ...) I feel you 21mom. We have to stay strong.
      • ConcernedMom
        I totally agree with you.
    • HeatherHuber17
      I did the same thing to my 18 year old daughter 3 days ago. I told her that yes she is an adult and I can't control her. But that also, I'm no longer legally required to put up with her ungratefulness and disrespect. She can either get with theMore program or stay gone. I won't tolerate being disrespected in my own home. Period.
  • Bob 51

    My stepson is about to turn 18 in March - 2019. Over the past 1-1.5 years things have not been good with him, the first thing is over the past year he has been Gaslighting his mother via verbal, mentally and def emotionally. The consent threat's of suicide, moving out,manipulating, bad name calling,household damages, demands and the heaven forbid if they are not followed. 3 nights ago I was late getting home, the domestic violence increased from holes in the walls or stuff being thrown to a vegetarian burger off his mothers head, the dogs water dish being dumped on her head, then to her being thrown and pinned against the wall. Things happened again only this time towards me, it was a F/U and thank goodness only a empty carton thrown at my head. I explained this is not acceptable, I can't restrain you without going to prison for abuse, I made the call and called the police.

    Over the past while I was asked to not say anything, my lady I know was more scared of her son escalating and getting more intense. I respected her wishes and have beaten myself up the last while because of it. I own this, not stepping in. When I got home 3 nights ago I explained I'm stepping in, this needs to stop and stop now. My first full step in was last night.

    History on my step son, type 1 diabetic, Daddy and authority issues, no school the past 2 years, refuses all help councilpersons doctors appointments, refuses medication for help, only medication is weed its a problem, doesn't work, leaves garbage everywhere, no cleaning. He is a very gifted child intellectually., now with that he also believes he is Eisenstein or Elon musk.

    Looking for some advise, obviously kicking the boy out in the next few months is an option, but looking for thoughts to have a positive flip with the kid and a happy home.

  • Mystery74

    I have 2 daughters one is 24 married and has 2 kids of her own the other just turned 18 and has flipped her “I’m an adult now “ switch and she is going to move out and there is nothing I can do about it. She tells me I keel her prisoner of the house because I ask when she is going out where and whom she is going . Her dad just ignores everything and treats it like a phase so I am the only one who tries to discipline.

    Today she was no nasty to me and said so many awful things that I have decided to turn off her cell phone I mean I pay for it and obviously she doesn’t respect it. She has borrowed her grandmas truck to get back and forth since she wrecked her 2 Nd vehicle so I told her to take the truck back and she can figure out how to pay for her own vehicle car insurance and cell phone and she was like that’s fine I moving in with a friend . So I asked how she is paying for rent, food utilities and she just said I’m done talking to you . I’m at a loss her older sister did the same crap and now here the youngest daughter is doing it. And of course I forgot to add the oldest is supporting her and I think sparking her fire to talk to nasty to me . She was in counseling (youngest) but on her birthday decided not to show up to counseling because she didn’t need it but since then she has went basically crazy

  • Jr

    My daughter is.gonna be 18 in 2 weeks....she graduated high school.early.and started.college few days later...been dealing with her not listening,disrespecting,anything you can imagine.for.months now...i week and half ago she decided that I was the worst mother in the world.and she was gonna.run to.her boyfriends parents house...we have spoken a few times..she says im.coming back but when I want too..its like she is on a homeymoon.now honestly and when she is.done.she.can just walk.back.into.the house being extrememly.disrespectful...she.has been beyond nasty to.me and her father and her siblings.. I told her we have to.meet in the middle.and talk.about things...she says meeting in the middle.is her.coming home.while she is.in school...keep.in mind

    .she has no.apt,no job we pay for everything....im.all.for.her becoming a adult and starting her life but is sleeping on your boyfriends parents.couch the way. I can't have her.come.home.with same.attitude...i need.advice please

    • Denise Rowden, Parent CoachEP Coach
      We hear from lots of parents in similar situations so, you're not alone. We have several articles that focus specifically on adult children you may find helpful: Adult children. Thank you for reaching out and sharing your story.
  • Kim Johnson
    I am mother with a 20 year old and an soon to be 18 year old. They have got to the point where they feel that they can stay out late as they want with out calling or checking in and then come home and wake me up withMore all the noise in the kitchen and turning on the tvs. However, my concern was they were being disrespectful of our home and me. So, me telling them a time to be home and setting the alarm was not working so I bought a security stick and told them without arguments that if they could not be home during the week at 10pm because one has to be at work at 7 am and I have to be at work at 730 am and the other has school. I asked them to be home by that time or the stick is going on the door and they couldn't get in and would have to sleep where they were. Needless to say my kids thought I was joking or took what I said for a joke and stayed out beyond the time. Well I placed the stick on the door at 10:01 p.m., showered and went to bed. They had to stay at their cousins house over night. Now, they get home by 930 p.m. during the week. I felt empowered again, because none of the talking and pleading was working and keeping me frustrated. On the weekends it goes on the door at 12 p.m. I have to admit right now I am feeling kind of empowered.
  • Stacey
    My husband and I have 2 18 year old children, twins a boy and a girl. We have very recently found that our son is doing what he wants not calling and telling us he won't be home for dinner, he has met a girl that he worksMore with and has just recently started staying at her place, obviously as a mother I am horrified because he isn't here at home with us. Tonight he said he would be home by ten and ended only coming home after 11 and told me he is staying at her place tonight left his car here and went in her car. I only have the twins and obviously this is our first time going through this. Our daughter is not like this at all. He came home with hickies all over neck, which really looks awful. I am so worried about him. Because he has a part time job and is earning money he doesn't rely on us for money so he has become independent, he has also spoken to his sister as they are quite close and discussed moving out of home and into a place with some other boys. I was shocked, so there is quite a lot of things happening all of a sudden. How do I react without pushing him away?
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent CoachEP Coach
      I hear you. The transition to young adulthood can be quite rocky at times, for both kids and parents, and sometimes the changes can feel pretty overwhelming. You’re not alone in feeling this way. The hard truth is that because your son is now an adult, heMore has the right to make his own decisions, even those which you do not agree with or support. As Debbie Pincus outlines in her article, Adult Children Living at Home? How to Manage without Going Crazy, your role as a parent changes from that of a manager to more of a consultant when your kids become adults. While you cannot control your son’s choices, you can control the boundaries you set, and how you choose to respond to his actions. For more guidance on setting appropriate boundaries for your son, you might check out Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part I. I recognize what a difficult time this must be for you and your family, and I hope that you will write back and let us know how things are going. Take care.
  • danni1970
    I have a step son that turned 18 and he is a Senior this year. His Dad and I are having trouble with him fallowing the house rules and with Respect, we did not have any trouble till he got with his new girlfriend he has stop doing his choresMore around the house he is not in when it is curfew.  His girlfriend is 15 we have told him that during the week that he has to be in the house by 8 pm for school in the morning and the reason for 8 pm is that are youngest goes to bed at that time and on the Friday and Saturday he has to be in by midnight he told his father that is not happening he will be in at 2:30 am on thous days cause he helps babysit with his girlfriend. But every time we say anything about her or her family and tell him that he is grounded he just does not listen to us and does what ever he wants.  Our 15 year old does not want to do her chores now cause she see what he is doing and wants to do the same thing we have told him that she gets grounded for the things she does wrong and the same thing should happen to him as well and he just laughs in your face not happening I'm 18 do what I want and does it.  We don't want to kick him out we had to do that to my oldest step son and it did take a toll on my husband to that and he fells that is how Sean is going down the wrong path his oldest did, and we don't want that. Can you help us?
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      danni1970 I’m so sorry to hear about the struggles you are facing with your stepson, and I’m glad that you are reaching out for support.  It’s pretty normal for your stepson to want to defend his girlfriend, as most kids this age tend to identify more with their friends andMore dating partners rather than their family.  For this reason, I recommend focusing more on your stepson’s choices and behavior rather than his girlfriend, because despite https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/does-your-child-have-toxic-friends-6-ways-to-deal-with-the-wrong-crowd/, he is the one ultimately in charge of his own actions.  As outlined in the article above, it can be helpful to think of your stepson as a house guest rather than family, and think of how you might respond in that situation.  If a house guest or tenant was not following your rules, it probably wouldn’t be effective to “ground” them.  I understand your hesitation around kicking him out, so you might look at other privileges you provide, such as a phone, use of a car, or spending money, to hold him accountable.  I recognize how difficult this must be for you right now, and I hope that you will write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family.  Take care.
  • Mel 50
    My son is 18 and just graduated high school. He is going to college and living at home. To complicate it even more he is ADHD and is on Vyvanse. I'm divorced but have been in a long term relationship for almost 6 years . I have toldMore him the usual as long as you live in my house you have to follow the rules, clean your room, odds and ends household chores. He is getting more hateful to me all the time. I ask him tonight to come home early after work and he blew up on me and said there is nothing to do at home. It escaladed into a huge fight and my fiance told him to pack a bag and don't come back tonight. I am extremely upset. .Ifor this backfires then he skips school and then he can't become an electrician and that's my fault. ..I'm just trying to get him through school so he can have an opportunity for a better paying job than I have....I don't want to financially support him forever. ..But I'm losing myself through this to...I'm depressed, cry all the time and sometimes just want to give up.
  • Eddy4510
    Well from my opinion, I think that there is a difference between doing what your parents tell you to do and following their rules. Doing what your parents tell you to do would mean to do what they say, even if you don't like it. For example, if your parentsMore didn't let you have video games when you were a minor and you bought one now, if they ask you to give them your video game so that they can take it away, you have their right to not give it to them since its yours now and you bought it with your own money, and plus you are an adult now. If you get a tattoo and they ask you to remove it, they can't do anything about this either. That's what I mean. Now following their rules would mean to do what they say if you want to keep living with them. Examples may include to do chores, avoid drinking and swearing, no smoking or fighting inside the house,  an to help wash the dishes. Those sound like rules you must follow to keep living under this roof. So to sum things up, your parents cannot prohibit your personal decisions like having video games, tattoos, or a boyfriend or girlfriend when you are an adult. But they can expect you to obey their rules if you live with them.
    • Eddy4510
      Sorry I meant you have the right to not give it to them. I knowticed that I misspelled the third sentence.
  • lguzman

    I have a 18 year old daughter who is still in high school she gradutes 2016.for the last 2 months it has gotten extremely outt of control. She goes out all hours of the night I get up at 3 to 4am with her friends in my house everytime I try to talk to her it turns into a huge screaming match.she says okay I will not do thid again but I only have to more weeks of summer I plan to enjoy myself.I honestly cant deal with it anymore I have high blood pressure. Just recently she curses at me Iam every Bitch in the world. I believe she is going tp or is most differently turned intp someone I dont even no.She pushes the door o n me to get out her room....

    Her Dad passed away when she was 7..I just want her to obey my rules. Someone help me out with advise. PS DHE ALSO CANT FIND A JOB

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport


      We speak with many parents who

      are frustrated with their adult child’s behavior and apparent lack of regard to

      the house rules, so you are not alone.  Something to keep in mind is your daughter is

      an adult; thus, anything you choose to provide to her is considered a

      privilege, including a place to stay in your home.  While this does not

      mean that you have to tell her to leave your house altogether, you might

      consider looking at how you can enforce your house rules.  It could be

      useful to write up a http://www.empoweringparents.com/parenting-living-adult-children.php which outlines the expectations you have for her behavior while

      she is living in your home, and how you will hold her accountable if she is

      breaking the rules.  I realize how challenging this is.  Please let

      us know if you have any additional questions; take care.

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