Reply To: Teen Doesn’t Want to Grow Up

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Hi Trish

I was only diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety disorder at the age of 35 (a couple of years ago), and I have to say that your son sounds an awful lot like me at his age. I practically panicked when I tried to think about “what next” as I neared high school graduation. When I got accepted to a local college, I felt relieved because I didn’t have to go far, and it gave me something to focus on.

That said… I should have taken a “gap year” or two, lived at home and worked and matured a bit more before starting college. I wasn’t really mature enough yet or focused enough to be really successful, and living on campus (even so close to home) meant that I also had the huge social pressure of trying to get used to a new living environment too quickly with a bunch of a**holes to deal with at the same time. I nearly flunked out my first semester. I was so stressed out that I was sick constantly, and my entire first year I struggled terribly with being on-time for class.

Working through a gap year or two would have helped me prepare for a lot of that, and also made me appreciate the opportunity and purpose of college better. After I managed to graduate, I worked a year in retail because the economy slumped and jobs dried up for new graduates like myself and the field I studied to go into shrank by about 2/3 and “entry level” positions wanted 5+ years of prior experience.

After a year of dealing with retail hell almost full-time, I went back to school to get into a field with better work opportunities. I lived at home, finally got my Driver’s License (the anxiety of that responsibility had kept me back… but being able to drive for extra time with my mom helped make that go away, and then it was just anxiety about the test itself), and actually did MUCH better in school that time around because I was ready for it. I pulled a C average in my first BA, and maintained B+/A average in my second BA… I was far more timely, and my assignments (while not perfect) were more complete and usually on time.

My advice is… don’t rush him, but do push him a little. He’s not so much “afraid of growing up” as he is anxious and overwhelmed about a process he doesn’t know anything about. Hindsight really is 20/20, but he doesn’t have that reference yet. I would let him take a gap year, or a modified gap year where he still takes one or two core classes a semester at a local community college. Most colleges will accept transfer credits for things like Freshman English Comp, and you can confirm that ahead of time. This way he doesn’t lose his “academic skills” but gets a chance to get used to a more self-propelled atmosphere.

It’s not so much the “spoiled only child” issue.. it’s our K-12 school format in general. Students are tracked through their paths and super monitored as society has asked them to, but the downside is less independence and self-confidence. Also… college is DAMN overwhelming. I loved college deeply, but god is was hard! Even after I was fully graduated, mom allowed me to stay home when I couldn’t find good enough employment to move out on my own yet. Even without my diagnosis, she already knew that I needed a bit of extra time, and support.

Hell… I *still* need the extra support. Sometimes I still need help from my fiance to remember to do important life tasks and chores, or help waking up in the morning or remembering to “un-plug” at night and go to bed at a reasonable hour. ADHD isn’t just developmental… it’s a neurological condition many of us will have to cope with and work around our entire lives. I used to get so depressed and almost hate myself because I couldn’t seem to just “grow up”, until I started seeing a good councilor. Basically, I *am* grown up. I’m just odd, different, and have unique challenges that are different from the kinds “normal” people deal with. But most of all, he’s helped me to understand that all of that is OK. That I don’t need to feel anxiety or shame over my challenges.

I feel somewhat envious of your son, but mostly I feel relief and happiness for him. His ADHD and anxiety are already known, and honestly that is half the battle. I’m so happy to hear that he won’t have to struggle on his own without any answers for almost 20 years like I had to. He gets the chance to shape his adult life around his gifts, rather than puzzle out what his problems are. And there are many gifts that come with ADHD and even anxiety which can teach us compassion for others.

If he isn’t sure what he would like to study or do, there are apprenticeship or paid volunteer work he could do to try out an area of industry. I did two years in the AmeriCorps and it had been an awesome experience. You can earn school money too through them. They also have resident programs where the volunteers live on site. It could be a good opportunity for him and give him an idea of what living on a college campus is like. There are summer programs he can do as a high school student as well.

Sorry that I wrote a veritable book here… but I hope at least some of it was helpful for you and your son. 🙂