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.
It’s important to in fact recognize that your child is an adult now. With that shift come certain freedoms, but also certain responsibilities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When Your Teen Says: “I’m Almost 18 – You Can’t Tell Me What to Do!”
Empowering Parents Podcast: Apple, Spotify, Google, Stitcher
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.
You must log in to leave a comment. Don't have an account? Create one for free!
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”.
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.
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
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
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
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.