Holding back a child in kindergarten or first grade makes sense at that time. The child is young and needs to repeat some skills or have time to mature. Boys especially tend to be immature, and need an extra year to learn how to sit still and absorb lessons. Letting them catch up to peers works well until high school. Then the reverse comes into play. You have the child who is shaving and ready to get his driver’s license before the other youths in his grade. You have the young man who is tired of your stupid rules, is sure he knows everything and is ready to leave the nest. This article will give you the advice you need to deal with a problem teenager in this situation and ultimately teach some life lessons.
High school has been difficult and you are constantly fighting with your teenager. He is smart enough, but not applying himself. At eighteen he is a junior, and now is a bit ahead of his classmates in maturity. He does not see the bigger picture, and does not have a plan for the future. He has a part-time job and is earning money. He is hanging with kids his age or older, and they all have plans that do not include parents. He declares he is going to move out and be on his own. He does not need curfews or your advice.
So, what do you do since talking endlessly and arguing has not been productive? You say, “O.K.”, and leave him standing mouth agape and in shock. However, you did not arrive at this decision lightly. You and your spouse have discussed this thoroughly and you have agreed on a plan. If, due to a divorce situation, there is a non-custodial parent, then you have discussed what you are doing with that parent too. Everyone needs to be on the same page of the book. Once the initial shock has sunk in, and before the youth begins his celebration of freedom, you sit down and lay out the terms of this agreement. This is not a total free-for-all contrary to his belief. In reality, you are still in charge and he needs to understand that his desire for freedom comes with responsibility.
First, you emphasize that high school is his first priority and he must attend school and make an effort to get decent grades. You inform him that you will advise the school of the new living situation, and that the school will still call you, as the parents, on attendance and grade issues. He will nod his head emphatically and assure you that he will be an outstanding student.
Secondly, you advise him that he cannot waltz in and out of your house at will. You gather his key and tell him to call if he wishes to stop by. He is welcome anytime, however he can use the front door like anyone else. You will offer him the same courtesy at his place. He will nod, but the slightest glimmer of hesitancy will pass over his face. You have to look carefully to see past his bravado as he processes your information.
Thirdly, you tell him what he is allowed to move. He can have his bedroom furniture and worldly possessions such as stereo, TV, and other electronic equipment. You will allow him to take his car, and he is responsible for general upkeep such as gas and oil changes. He needs to report any larger problems with the car and you will deal with those problems on an as needed basis. At no time may he pawn any of these goods for money. They belong to you and you are allowing him to use them at his new place. When you finally get to the budget category of this discussion, you will understand why it is necessary to give the pawn caveat.
Finally, you discuss the budget. Try to keep a straight face and nod as he presents the big plan. Between the two or three young men, they have nothing and no clue on the price of groceries and general living expenses. They have allocated for rent, phone, cable, and grandiose party plans. You briefly discuss the holes in the life plan, and give some advice. This is glossed over because you are far too negative. At this point, you wish him good luck and you tell him that he needs to maintain his grades, job, and decent credit. You will yank the plug on this project at any time if he does not meet the criteria. Tell him that by choosing to be an adult, he needs to act like one.
He moves out with the optimism of youth, and your house is quiet. You hear from the school once in awhile, and you can see the deterioration of the grades and attendance. You try to call him but the number has been disconnected. Sooner or later he comes by for a meal. His rangy thin frame has lost a few pounds, and he is obviously eager for a decent dinner. The glow of roommates and the responsibility of grocery shopping and taking care of general aspects of living is wearing thin. A load of clothes is stolen from the Laundromat and you can sense the crack in the veneer. Keep the dinner conversation light and discuss all of the fun things you are doing without him in the house. It is difficult, but you can tell it bothers him a bit to think that your life is absolutely fine without him.
The junior school year ends and the results are not good. The experiment in freedom and adulthood is coming to an end whether he likes it or not. Let him run wild for the summer. Schedule a meeting prior to the beginning of senior year and tell him he shall come home to finish school while under your roof. He protests and is upset, and yet there is an underlying resignation. To this day, he will declare that he could have continued living on his own. For the sake of his pride, that is fine. Let him think that. You be the bad guy and make him come home. He needs to eat, earn good grades, and enjoy his senior year.
We all become adults soon enough. While he does not understand this as he moves back home, he will come to appreciate the opportunity you gave him to be on his own, to glimpse adult responsibility, and to learn some valuable life lessons. He will begrudgingly respect you, and I can happily report an excellent senior year culminates in graduation and some plans for the future, other than living hand-to-mouth and from party to party. Whew! Raising teenagers requires creativity and teamwork on the part of parents.