When is it time for an adult child to move out.

"Limitless" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Limitless” by Mimi Stuart ©

“My son is 20 and we are having a great deal of trouble with his selfish behavior. He stays at home and commutes to school, and this summer he is basically just doing what he wants and getting angry and impatient if we ask for help around the house. He swears often as is critical of me even though he knows I don’t like it. He blames other people when confronted about his own attitude. He definitely has a good side and can be very funny and entertaining. Lately though, I feel depressed, as though I had failed as a parent.”


This is a very common situation, although a painful one. Unless your son has always been rude and selfish he will probably turn out fine in the end. I believe your son resents you because he is an adult yet he is dependent on you. He doesn’t feel good about himself because he is functioning as a child. Yet he’s too comfortable and afraid to change the situation. Fear is what is driving his resentment and his lashing out at you.

Behavior and the Brain

The prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until we’re about 25 years. Typically it develops more slowly in males. It develops through experiencing the repeated consequences to our actions, both positive and negative. A person develops the ability to resist immediate gratification or impulsive behavior such as being rude and critical when there are repeated negative consequences to such behavior.

If a young man experiences no consequences when he swears, is rude, and does not contribute in a supportive way, then he will be unlikely to develop the ability to resist those impulses later in life with people close to him. Now is the time when you can influence him so that his prefrontal cortex does not remain underdeveloped.

Consequences

You need to keep two things in mind. One, your home is your sanctuary and two, he is an adult.

You should not tolerate an entitled, rude, critical person living in YOUR home. Enabling bad behavior doesn’t do anyone any good. It merely strengthens neural pathways of negative behavior. There need to be consequences and firm boundaries to his conduct in YOUR home.

There is no need to be angry or mean when discussing a problem. It’s much more effective to be kind but resolute when expressing your own boundaries, specifically that it is time for your son to move out of your home. I suggest being very honest with him, but start with something positive and retain a firm but compassionate tone of voice.

For example, “You’re often funny and enjoyable to be with. We love you. However, perhaps because you’re 20 and an adult who needs his independence, you seem to resent us. We understand that young adults who are not adequately separated from their parents may become critical of and annoyed with their parents. However, your criticism, swearing, and hostile attitude toward us in our home are unacceptable to us. We know you’re better than that and don’t want to enable you further.”

“While you are in our home we expect appreciation, support and consideration and we expect you to live by our rules. Since you haven’t been doing that, we think that for our own sakes as well as yours, it is time that you should live elsewhere. This is not a punishment, but what’s best for everyone.”

“We all have to be creative in figuring out how this can be done. Perhaps you can get a loan for your tuition and use the money we’re spending on tuition on your room and board. You can get another part-time job, or get a full-time job and take fewer classes. Whatever you decide is up to you, and we would be glad to help in any way we reasonably can.”

Facing challenges

This is the time when young people should be meeting the daily challenges in life. Facing such challenges is how he will build self-confidence, and as a result have more positive interactions with others including you, as long as you don’t mollycoddle him.

College

You may worry that it will be harder for your son to complete college if he has to get another job. Yet the gift of gaining self-respect, respect for others, and the skills to deal with life challenges will balance out the fact that it may take longer for him to complete college. Moreover, it is probable that he will appreciate the gift of a college education more than he currently does when he sees what it takes to get by on his own. In the meantime, I would also ask him to do more chores, let him cook his own meals, and do less for him.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Setting Boundaries”

Read Angry Adult Child:“The years of terror from my mother has made me make sure that my son knows I love him. I fear, more than anything, his total rejection. HOWEVER, he often seems angry at me.”

Read “I worry a lot over my adult children and I often call them to give advice.”

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