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

Posted April 6, 2009 by

Ah, the battle cry of the “almost adult”! Parents all around the country cringe when they try to enforce a family rule, only to be met with their 17-and-a-half-year-old’s shout: “Soon, you won’t be able to control me at all!”

Is that true? Are all bets off once your child reaches that golden age of eighteen?

The answer is yes and no. (Mostly no.) It’s true that when your child reaches the age of eighteen, they are legally seen as an adult and are legally responsible for their own behavior instead of their parents. They can’t break laws, of course – being 18 just means you can be tried as an adult, not that you’re free to do anything you please.

What concerns many parents is how much control they can have over their child once they reach 18, and many parents abdicate all authority once their kids are no longer minors. So how can you tell your child what to do when he’s legally an adult? The truth is, no matter how old your child, you have the right to enforce the rules of your house. Your 18-eighteen-year-old has to follow the rules just as much as your 4-year-old does. Of course, as kids get older, they can earn more privileges, and have more responsibility, but the age factor does not give them an excuse to be abusive (verbally or physically) or disrespectful. Your house rules are your house rules. And as James Lehman says, there’s never any excuse for abuse – no matter how old someone is.

In EP’s three part series on adult children, James describes how many parents get sucked into feeling like they owe their child a place to live, or food to eat. In fact, many older children begin to treat their parents’ home as though it were a hotel. Teens have an error in their thinking when they believe that turning 18 suddenly means they can do whatever they want. That “thinking error” shows up in many ways, often around issues of school or good grades. If they don’t want to go to school, they’ll say “I’m almost 18, you can’t make me.” Or, “As soon as I turn 18, I’m going to quit and you can’t stop me.”

Both of those statements are true. You can’t force your child to go to school, and you can’t stop them from quitting once they’re 18. You can, however, enforce a family rule. If you believe your child should finish high school, tell them, “You’re right. I can’t force you to go, and I can’t stop you from quitting. However, the rule in this house is that you graduate from high school, or you get a full time job and pay rent. The choice is up to you.” If they come back at you with “Okay, I’ll move out then,” you may just need to let that comment slide. Teens often challenge your rules by threatening you with leaving, trying to get you to give in to their demands.

A more appropriate response to that kind of comment would be: “That’s not what I want to see happen. However, you do need to find a way to comply with the rules as long as you live here.” Then, walk away. Your child might be so shocked by your reply that they’ll find a way to comply with your rules.

Remember, the rules are the rules — and the rules of your house remain the rules of your house no matter how old your child. This needs to be stated clearly and firmly. Your house rules should reflect your morals and values, and provide a safe environment for everyone in the home. For example, no stealing or lying will be tolerated in your home. Curfews need to be met. Basic hygiene and respect for others’ property is expected. No drugs or alcohol, especially if the child is still under legal drinking age. You may have other rules to add to this list. If your 18 or older child is living in your house, they need to abide by your rules, or face the consequences for breaking those rules. Sit down together and talk about your rules and your expectations.

Once you’ve had this discussion, you can sidestep all those cries of “You can’t make me.” When your child challenges you with “I’m almost 18, you can’t tell me what to do,” the most effective response is: “You’re right. I can’t tell you what to do outside of this house. But while you’re here, you do need to comply with my rules. You don’t have to like them, but you do have to find a way to follow them.” Don’t engage in a power struggle over who’s right or wrong, and don’t argue with their faulty thinking patterns and entitlement. If they break the rules, follow through with the consequence for breaking those rules. Remember, whether your child is 5 years old, or over 18, your home is your home, and your rules are your rules. Once they’re 18, you can’t control all their choices,  but you can create a safe, and somewhat peaceful, home environment. Good luck!


Megan Devine is a licensed clinical therapist, former 1-on-1 Coaching Advisor, speaker and writer. She is also the bonus-parent to a successfully launched young man. You can find more of her work at refugeingrief.com, where she advocates for new ways to live with grief.

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  1. Stefanie Report

    Our daughter who is almost 18 and has 1 more yr of HS has been dating a nice boy for over a yr. He recently turned 16 yo.
    She has indicated his mother wants her to come live at their house when she turns 18. She is a single mother who is a nice person and “good” mother. I see this as another way to bring in additional “rent” money (also $ from 20 y.o. son’s job) from our daughter, who claims she can get a job while her BF finishes HS. Then he can get a job and give her “rent” $$. I feel she is encouraging this decision for her financial benefit and may “trap” my daughter. If she lived at home, more community colleges, home on bus route, close jobs are near our home – their home is far away and not in a safe part of town and a 3-mile unsafe walk to the bus stop. There would only be mom’s 1 old vehicle (and she has to get to work) and 3 kids with difficult to get to public transportation. Does anyone see a “trap” here? Though, if we required our daughter to live at home, she would be mad, sad, with no motivation – without BF by her side. They are good together. His mom is much younger, healthier than me and that is an attraction to live there. But
    I see a “failure to launch” if our daughter is so dependant on BF emotionally (remember age difference) and his mom gets dependant on their “rent” $$ , plus location and her financial constraints. Plus, can mom claim our daughter as a “dependant” according to IRS rules? The kids love each other, we have different faith values and are in a different socio-economic class.

  2. MomSad Report

    Heres what happened at our home with our 17 year old son. He was lying about where he would be all night and just lying about lots of things in general so he could do what his friends were doing.
    Didn’t go so well in our house as my husband got mad and they got into an argument about lying,, not doing too well in school, and not getting a part time job after he quit all sports to hang out with his friends. 
    Well it is hard to have house rules when other parents don’t so my son moved out the day after he turned 18 to live with his friend and his wonderful mom who lets them do anything. So we tried to raise a good kid and got stabbed in the back by him and his wonderful free living friends who have it much more fun than he did I guess. He has always been as respectful to us as any teen and not a lot of trouble, but the beginning of this school year he decided to hang with the bad kids and quit most of his more accomplished kids. So sad.

    He barely answers our texts to him, so at least I still know he is ok, but neither he nor his friend have a job and are  just mooching off the mom who allows it and it has now been 2 months. Will it ever get better??  Now I almost wish I had just been the mom/friend with no house rules so we would at least still be speaking. It has been horrible.

  3. nick_murray7 Report

    Here’s my question. I want to go to a Student Protest rally on Monday along with over 100 other students to peacefully protest the disrespect of teachers and students across our province by the school board. I am a highest honors student with my license, I pay for gas in the car, I do housework, I have a job, I am saving for university and my parents told me no. Want to know their reason? “Because I’m your mother/father, that’s why”. It’s always a fight in the house. I had an argument (which I won) about driving into the city to my favorite book store to buy a book only they stocked. Both parents were at home with no intentions on going out, I had every damned lick of home work done, I’ve driven on that highway well over twelve times, many of which were with a driving instructor whom was impressed with my ability to drive on the highway alert, relaxed, and confidently. There was literally no reason to deny me going to this book store,but they kept saying no, again the same reason as earlier stated. I put $40 of gas from my pay check in that car, and I only got to drive it once up to the skatepark before the gas light was on, that’s how often my mother was driving with her cousin to go shopping. I ended up arguing my way through with valid points and no name calling, and got my book. Tell me, is there any reason I should be denied access to that student rally?
    To be honest with you, I could move out of this house and be with any of my aunts, uncles or grandparents within the next week, they were all supportive of my sister when she moved out of this circus for a house and all offered her a home at 16. God only knows how many times I’ve been offered by my grandparents or aunts a place to stay for free, I’m not even joking. I’ve been seriously considering it. I could count on one hand how many times I was allowed to go to a friend’s house, and they were all great people, many of them teachers and police officers for parents. I never went to a single sleep over in my life.

  4. Carlad1978 Report

    Can anyone tell me whether or not a child can leave the parent who has physical custody or not when they graduate at the age of 17 or do they have to wait till they are 18 yrs old before they can move out of the parents whose got physical custody?

    • rwolfenden Report

      Carlad1978 Thank you for your question.  Because local laws and specific custody agreements vary so much, it’s difficult to answer your question.  For more detailed information, you might consider reaching out to supports available in your community, such as a family lawyer, who would be knowledgeable of local laws as well as your custody arrangement. If you are not currently working with anyone, try contacting the http://www.211.org at 1-800-273-6222.  211 is a service which connects people with resources available in their community, such as legal assistance.  Take care.



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