I received an email from a Delaware Coast Press reader who has a 24-year-old son who has no friends (beyond those he has met online), no girlfriend, no driver’s license, no job, nothing. He’s quite good at condemning his siblings and his generation for their poor judgment in all areas. He’s news savvy, and complains about the ignorance of Americans, etc. She writes that she doesn’t know what to do. She asks me where she went wrong with him. I warned her that she wouldn’t like my answer, but offered her 4 steps to solve the problem anyway:
#1 Totally change your thinking. You are part of the problem. How do I know that? Because you’re asking me how to fix your adult son’s life. His life is not yours to fix. Only he can fix it. Get out of his crib. Move past his school age years. Back then, he was your responsibility. The expiration date for that period of his life is over. Until or unless you change your thinking on this point, he will never change his.
#2 Turn off his Internet. I’m not a betting man, but I will place a bet that your son is addicted to the Internet — most likely the 24/7 world of online play. Video games are incredibly elaborate and time-consuming. Yes, maybe he’s addicted to something else, but video games would be my guess. If you turn off his Internet connection, he will come out of his room. Get a cable technician to show you how. No excuses. Seize his cell phone and/or similar devices and hold them hostage until he moves out, at which time you will return them. Nothing will change until this happens.
#3 Give him 30 days’ notice to move out. I can count on one hand the number of times a parent or grandparent threw their kid out of the house. In all cases, in spite of the initial screaming and trauma, it worked well and the kid did just fine. The problem is that you probably cannot or will not bring yourself to do it. “He’ll be homeless!” But wait … you just spent a paragraph telling me how bad it is that he won’t leave his room, smile, or do anything other than play video games all day. This implies he has other choices. If he has free will, is able bodied and has a functioning brain, why do you assume he’ll be homeless? He won’t be homeless if you throw him out. And even if he is, it’s not your fault. You did not create his life 25 years ago to give him a place to play video games into old age.
#4 Talk with other parents who have gone through the same thing. I’m a therapist, I’m a professional, and I have certainly seen a lot. But so have people going through this in their homes. There are online chat groups. Google and you’ll find them. Tough Love is an organization providing support for parents, and other loved ones, who take the difficult step of throwing their children out. In the old days, this was primarily due to drug/alcohol abuse, or overt lawlessness. But in the 21st century it’s more a disease called Lack of Ambition.
I’m being tough on you and I’m holding you accountable for doing what your son’s well-being requires. At the same time, I’m telling you to not blame yourself for everything. Maybe you made mistakes when you raised your son, and maybe you didn’t. I doubt that anything you did would cause him to become a professional couch potato. His inner crisis is that he does not value life, and therefore does not value his own life. Regardless of whose fault it is, it’s his responsibility now. That doesn’t mean you’re responsible for his failures now. The only blame I place on you is participating in and enabling his bad choices right now.
So go easier on yourself, and harder on your son. Because the alternative for him is self-destruction. I don’t think you want that. So go ahead use some tough love and set him free.
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