Dear Teen Parenting Coach

Q: Our Daughter’s Failure to Launch Is Upending Our ADHD Family

What if our teen is not psychologically or emotionally mature enough to leave the nest, but her unhealthy behaviors are hurting the rest of the family? Here, our Dear Teen Parenting Coach explains how to help a teen who is failing to launch into the real world by building independence day by day.

Q: “How can we encourage our 19-year-old daughter to do what is requested of her? Absolutely any requests for courtesy and/or action are ignored, and we feel we cannot push for fear of violent reactions — she throws tantrums which include screaming, cursing, and kicking holes in walls and/or doors. We cannot get her to go to school, pick up her belongings strewn about the house, text when she is out to let us know she is safe, or move out and begin the life of independence she claims she needs.” —3gkids

Dear 3gkids,

The baseball player Chili Davis once said “growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.”

It is very difficult to parent a young adult who thinks her age entitles her to certain freedoms, but still acts like a little girl. While it may seem like your daughter has a motivation problem that’s causing her “failure to launch,” I suspect more is going on.

Usually, kids like her have been struggling for many years. When the structure of high school, and all the support that came with it, ends at graduation, things tend to go bad quickly. She is now facing a level of responsibility and accountability that, while scary for every 18- or 19-year-old, feels insurmountable to her. The real problem is that she is refusing to seek help. She is also older now, so there are fewer things you can leverage to keep her on track. But you are not without options.

[Free Resource: Turning Your Teen’s Apathy Into Engagement]

Before doing anything else, you must tackle the threat of violence. I strongly suggest you get a therapist of your own to help you through this process. If she is using violent outbursts to hold you hostage, it means she has way too much power — and that you are afraid of her.

Step one is to draw a very firm line in the sand: Violence will not be tolerated. You and your therapist have to work out a careful plan if your daughter continues to present a threat to your family’s safety (including any damage she does to the house).

Parents of kids who fail to launch can feel very stuck. Even though she may sometimes act like a little girl, you can’t treat her like one. The days of sending her to her room or grounding her are long gone. You have to set limits in the form of choices, so your daughter feels she has some autonomy and structure.

Consider all the ways you are supporting her beyond room and board: her cell phone, access to a car, spending money, etc. Then give her a choice: you will pay for these things if she does something productive like gets a job or a G.E.D, and sees a therapist and psychiatrist.

[“Can I Save My Teen From Failure?”]

Tackle the most important things first before you address the smaller grievances (doing the dishes, leaving her things around the house), however annoying they may be. This problem evolved over many years, so it will take some time to solve. You have to hold your ground. You will find a million ways to rationalize giving in: How can she be out in the world without a cell phone? (It’s possible; you did it at her age). Keep your expectations reasonable — if she agrees to see a therapist weekly, you might allow her to have the cell phone back, but not use the car until the other expectations are met.

Ultimately, as Chili Davis said, your daughter has to choose to grow up. Until she does, you don’t have to make it so easy for her to be a little girl.

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The opinions and suggestions presented above are intended for your general knowledge only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your own or your child’s condition.