The Family Project
Q. My son graduated from high school this past spring and is not working nor attending college. He says that nothing interests him. My husband and I have explained to him that he needs to figure out what he wants to do to support himself, but he just says he doesn’t like anything. In the meantime, he sleeps late, plays video games and hangs out with friends at night. We can’t support him forever. What do you suggest we do?
Panelist Mike Daniels said there are two possibilities going on: “One is that he just likes playing video games, and he doesn’t have to do anything because there are no consequences. The other side of it is that nothing interests him because there is something else going on. He’s depressed.”
In high school, Daniels continued, there are weekday classes and activities. After graduation, in this case it is clear, there is no direction.
Making a distinction in how the parents approach the subject, panelist Chad Stefanyak said, “They say, ‘We can’t support him forever,’ versus ‘We won’t support him.’” They are the same thing, Daniels said, because it is disrespectful to their son if the parents expect to support him for the rest of his life.
Stefanyak said he thought that the son’s response was developmentally appropriate for the age group: “If you ask somebody in the teenage years ‘Why don’t you get a job?,’ it’s not because he wants to be a contributing member of society. It’s because he wants to be able to afford those things that are fun for him. The parents have already provided this, skipping the whole earning thing.”
The first step in a situation like this, Daniels said, is to sit down with the child and a disinterested fourth party, whether it’s a social worker, therapist, or school counselor, in other words, somebody he trusts, to have a conversation about the topic of “We can’t support you forever.”
When a panelist suggested putting a timeframe on the situation, Daniels explained that timeframes, expectations and requirements have to be there, absolutely, but to start with it should be: “We can’t do this forever, and we’re concerned that you’re not interested in anything, and not doing anything except playing video games.” Wanda Mercado-Arroyo observed that to be able to go out with his friends at night, the boy needs resources. “He needs money and a car. Who is providing that?” Daniels said that giving the son money reduces conflict in the family. “It is difficult for parents when children start making decisions and start saying ‘no.’”
Panelists expressed concern about the son’s lack of interest in anything, and asked whether the lack of interest was enabled by the parents.
Daniels said the parents need to look at that aspect of the situation. The conversation needs to be about whether the young person wants to have an independent life, and how he sees his life in 10 years.
The “tough love” approach was suggested, but Daniels said that works best when it has been consistently used. “If you go from ‘Here’s a free ride’ to ‘Free ride stops now,’ you are asking for an explosion.”
The better approach, Daniels said, would be to say, ‘We are going to pull back. We’re not going to continue to support you. There are expectations, and we’re going to help you figure out how you can become an independent young person.’” Panelist Denise Continenta emphasized that parents need to establish expectations, as well as weekly or monthly goals, for their son to work toward.
This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo, Educator and former School Administrator; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension; and Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS.
Have a question? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Family Project weekly column is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.