How to help your troubled teen after they turn 18

How to help your troubled teen after they turn 18

An 18 year old troubled teen is not ready for adulthood
An 18 year old troubled teen is not ready for adulthood.

Most young people aren’t ready for adulthood by 18 years of age, but your troubled teen is especially unprepared. By 18, their legal status instantly changes to “adult” and they are free to fail at life’s countless tests. Your hands are tied and you can’t keep your son or daughter safe from themselves any more.

Pace yourself for a marathon

Your job as parent is far from over.  Parenting an 18+ year-old will feel the same as when they were 17 years 11 months old.  They’ve been behind their peers for a long time–emotionally or socially or academically. You’ve done everything possible to get them ready for adulthood, but they simply aren’t!  For troubled teens, the teen years last into the mid-20’s or longer. And this is really scary; suicide rates across all age groups are highest for people aged 16-24.  It’s the period of greatest stress, whether the person is suicidal or not.

Many people with disorders aren’t able to take responsibility for themselves until about the age of 30.

Over the past 16 years, I’ve asked this question of people with mental health disorders and addictions, or I’ve asked their parents, siblings, children, or their friends:  “At what age did (you, your loved one, friend) make the conscious choice to take responsibility for treatment?  When did you/they get a stable job, or live on their own, associate with healthy people?  I asked dozens of people. Their answer? Every single one told me they or their loved one didn’t turn things around until they were between the ages of 30 – 33In my experience, you start to see signs of awareness that they need help in the late 20’s, with limited attempts to face their problem.

True story: a co-worker once shared about his bipolar disorder and years of substance abuse.  I would never had guessed that this stable, wise person had had a troubled past.  I asked when he turned his life around; it was 30.  I asked what motivated him.  He said, “I couldn’t avoid it anymore.  I ran out of excuses.  I just hit rock bottom too many times.”

Why does recovery take so long?

  1. Anosognosia “a deficit of self-awareness” caused by mental disorders.  They simply can’t tell they are different from anyone else, so they resist messages that they are.
  2. They get good at coping.  They squeak by, or use others, or depend on parents to rescue them.  They try to delay the inevitable scary thought that there really is something wrong with them.
  3. Their brain or emotional development is slower than normal people.  They may need an extra 10 years to go through the final maturation phase into the adult brain.

Because of their mental disability, a child over 18 needs better life management skills than their ‘normal’ peers because they have so much more to worry about.  Besides the usual adult responsibilities, they need self-discipline and self-monitoring for mental and emotional stability. They need to be continually alert to their states of mind–the same as someone who’s an insulin-dependent diabetic needs to continually check blood sugar.  They need to remember to take meds and stay in therapy.  They need to avoid or limit fun excesses their peers can get away with, e.g. parties with poor snacks and alcohol.  They must stick with a healthy diet, exercise, and investment in supportive friendships.  You know your child, all of this is hard for them!

How much to sacrifice and how much to let go?

Parents have a tendency to rescue their adult son or daughter when a crisis befalls because it’s so hard for the child to recover from set-backs.  But rescuing too much makes them more dependent on the parents (or adult siblings).  On the other hand, pressuring a troubled teen to be an “adult” when they are not ready push them to dependence on others who might make their life worse.  Pressure can motivate them to cope with drugs or alcohol, or take unnecessary risks, or give up.

True story:  I met a couple in their 70’s who’d rescued their troubled 34-year-old daughter her entire life, and faced cutting her off financially because they couldn’t afford it anymore. They were heartbroken to let her go, and painfully afraid she would become homeless or suicidal, and they deeply regretful they unwittingly undermined her capacity for independence.  Don’t let this happen to you.

You must transition away from “parent” to case manager, therapist, and mentor.

Case manager – This is the busy work.  You are the one to fill out forms, make appointments, provide transportation, ensure prescriptions are refilled and taken.  Follow-up on calls and emails regarding anything: banking, waivers, police reports, insurance, appointments, etc.

Therapist – This is actually easy if you can keep your thoughts to yourself.  You listen.  You acknowledge their feelings without rescuing them or smoothing over issues.  You ask probing questions so you can get data that will help you help them meet their needs.

Mentor – Start by building trust.  When they trust you they’ll listen, and when they listen you can teach them all the things they need to know to be independent (like the self-management skills in the paragraph above).  These are important questions to ask your young adult child:

“For mentors, the most important thing is to ask questions, to be the guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage.”
–Lisa Fain, CEO, Center for Mentoring Excellence
A good way to mentor is to ask open-ended questions which can’t be answered by ‘yes” or “no”.  Your goal is simply to get your child to ponder out loud. That’s the point of this exercise, to just get them started. There are no right or wrong answers. Parents must keep their thoughts to themselves–do not challenge or offer opinions, ideas, or suggestions–only listen.
Life planning questions:
  • What is your ideal future?
  • How do you want things to be different in 3 years? in 5 years?
  • What’s getting in the way?  What might get in the way in the future?
  • What can you control?
  • What are your ideas for overcoming barriers?
  • Tell me more
Mental health mentoring questions:
  • What can you do to feel better when you’re upset?
  • What are you best at?
  • What are you proudest of?
  • What are you thankful for?
  • How should others treat you?
  • What do you want others to know?

A major challenge is where they’ll live.

At home:  Can you bear the stress if they live with you? or if they leave your protection?  How do you help them move on?  If your troubled young adult child must live at home full or part-time, adjust your rules and expectations. Rules can include a requirement for ongoing mental health care. Your troubled child of 18 or more becomes your guest who stays at your invitation, or a renter who contributes to the household and follows the landlord’s rules.  On the other hand, you’ll need to step back and respect their privacy and acceptable choices and activities.  This may not be easy with someone 18–this means compromises and letting go of being the parent boss.

In an apartment on their own:  This is the preferred situation, but who will be ultimately responsible for rent and utilities?  Who can pay the deposit, usually the first and last month’s rent?  Should the manager/landlord know about their condition in case there are problems?  Problems include property damage, inappropriate visitors (drug users or sellers, couch-surfers, party animals), neighbor complaints.  In one parent’s case, both the local police and management company were notified and given both parents’ phone numbers.  It helped at first when there were complaints, but as the complaints and calls to the police continued, their child eventually evicted along with the others who camped out there.

With roommates or housemates:  I do not recommend this unless you are willing to move your child repeatedly.  Even if your child is not antagonistic–maybe withdrawn due to depression–it is very stressful for housemates.  Your frequent calls and visits for a check-in will also be stressful to them.  And what about these co-inhabiters?  Are they safe for your child to be around?  Will they victimize your child?

With a boyfriend or girlfriend: the same concerns apply as for housemates.  This living situation is only as stable as the partner.  Some couples stay in a parents’ basement.  This too is only as stable as the partner and the parents.  Consider that these living arrangements are temporary.  Good luck if they have shelter for a year.

In the eyes of the law, you are not responsible for them anymore.

You really aren’t.  In fact, you have the right to banish your 18 year-old from your home and change the locks on the doors.  Parents who do this are usually in fear for their physical and emotional safety–not because they don’t care.  If this describes you, it’s understandable and forgivable if you feel forced into this step.  But know this, things change.  Your adult child will change.  Banishment need not be forever.

At the age of 18, broad institutional supports kick in. (don’t you wish that were sooner?)

  • Once they turn 18, people with mental health problems are protected from discrimination in their job/housing/education by laws that protect all disabled.
  • Insurers are required to provide mental health care on par with all other treatments and services.
  • Adults over 18 are better supported by mental health organizations that offer support groups, referrals to safe housing or job opportunities, social connections with accepting peers, and legal and legislative advocacy.
  • Educational institutions have special departments solely for supporting students with disabilities, and that includes troubled young adults.

This 4 most important things that your troubled teen needs to function after 18. They are based on long-term monitoring of 1000’s of others in their 40’s and 50’s with mental health challenges who nonetheless did well in life:

  1. Ongoing support from family, friends, and institutions

  2. A job or continuing education

  3. Ongoing mental health care

  4. A safe living situation


Adjust your expectations for how quickly they’ll progress.

Parents of any ‘normal’ 18 year old also revise their relationship with them, becoming a mentor and peer rather than a parent.  What’s going to be tricky for you is avoiding a default role as ‘parent’–watch out for this!  What young adult wants their parents telling them how to live their lives (even if you’re right)?  If you want their trust–which you do–dial back your ‘parenting’ and remove the power differential it implies.

Keep up regular communications with your child even if they resist.  Do everything you can to build a and maintain a relationship even if it’s difficult.  If not with you, than with another mature adult who can mentor them.

–Margaret

Please comment.  Your thoughts and experiences help others who read this article.


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18 Replies to “How to help your troubled teen after they turn 18”

  1. Hey everyone..I am also dealing with my newly graduated 18 year old daughter. Who in the last month told me she’s dating this 24 year guy. WTF??!!! She continually tells me I can’t do anything about it because she’s 18. I am a single Mom her Dad is really non-existent and not helpful at all. I have rules in my home that she chooses to bend to her liking….like she and her boyfriend work at a burger joint that is open until 1am most nights. I allow her to hang out with him after work until 3am. I just ask that she communicate with me if she’s going to be late and she doesn’t do that she just does what she wants as she knows she has the upper hand. I won’t throw her out as she has mental health issues and cuts herself. She knows I won’t throw her out and she uses that as leverage with me. Like last weekend she started a fight with me on Thursday and stayed gone all weekend. I can’t sleep at night when she’s not home I know she’s 18 but this whole situation has me so messed up. I have not met her boyfriend every time I try to some BS comes up on his end and we never meet. I feel like I’ve lost my daughter and my best friend. I am so lonely and scared and I really have no support. I just want my daughter to be ok. No I am not OK with her dating this 24 year old but what can I do she’s 18 as she says. I am doing my best to back off and let her make her own decisions, choices and mistakes something that I never did when she was younger. I always fixed everything. I appreciate any advice. I am so lost and scared. Thanks.

    1. Hi Amber,

      Thanks for writing and sharing your story. It is really, really hard to let go when you know your daughter is at risk of further mental health problems. The stakes are so high! The age of 18 is too young for adulthood in my personal opinion, but it is what it is (at least some freedoms are delayed until 21). There are 2 things you can do now, one is hard and one is easy.

      The hard one first: you need to build trust. It may take a long time, years, but hang in there. You start by honoring those decisions you approve of, such as her holding a job and having a place to stay when she leaves (as far as you know). State these outright. To the best of your ability, show you accept her freedoms and that you are always available for support if she needs it. Communicating acceptance (even if you have to fake it) shows you trust her, which is a start. One thing I can assure you of: she *will* need you someday! Make it emotionally safe by respecting her freedom to choose and not telling her what to do–suggest or offer a recommendation, and remind her you know she can decide for herself. This really helps build trust. She’s telling you she needs her freedom, so show respect her freedom. OK, letting go is hard on you emotionally. For now, care for your emotions without relying on her to be a “best friend” and there to reassure you. She can’t take care of you now and shouldn’t. You are an empty nester and trust me, this is hard for all of us empty-nester parents. We survive and learn to let go; you can do it too!

      The easy thing: offer safety tips either verbally, if possible, or in writing if she rejects the conversation. Explain you want her to be safe. Talk about how to protect herself if the boyfriend becomes violent, who to call (crisis line, friend, you). Tell her she deserves to feel safe with someone who respects her. Give her some standards for the right kind of person to be with. Encourage her to seek help if she’s ever afraid of anything that comes up in life and feels unsafe. Give her information about support services (food stamps, housing, health care) because someday you may not be there to support her, right? She needs to know she’s legally responsible for herself now, not you (even though you will be there anyway). She can get arrested and thrown in jail, lose a job, have to pay a fine, run out of money cash, and she can’t depend on you to save her. Put it in her mind that if she’s insisting on freedom than you don’t have to meet her needs. (I know you won’t kick her out, but don’t tell her that; she needs to know the realities of legal adulthood and to hear it from you plainly and clearly). Don’t reassure her verbally–keep it in your heart. She must ponder adult consequences; that is an important lesson to teach her. Be calm and strong and avoid manipulation.

      Last but most important: Find solace for your emotional needs. She is not to be your “best friend” now. It is a burden on her in this phase in her life. What can you do to find peace of mind in the next phase in your life? Empty-nesters have to do this. Therapy? A pet? A new hobby? New friends or a club? Travel? It’s time for you to move on too. Doing so puts you in a better place when she comes back–she will, I promise. It’s up to you to take care of yourself and be patient with her progress (or lack of progress). Yes, you are the safety net, but she must come to you not the other way around.

      I hope this helps. I’ve been through something quite similar with my own child and a much older boyfriend, and drugs and evictions, that’s how I know things will turn around if part of you can let go.

      Margaret

  2. Cindy Dec. 8 2020 post was very much like my own 20 yr. old son’s situation. I would add a lot more though regarding his mental and emotional state and mine being a single mom.
    We came out of a very violent domestic situation when he was 5. I feel I can’t help him cause now I’m having Ptsd from those times with now being my son. Its bad. He needs help. He listens to nothing I say and no respect. I feel like I’m breaking.
    What can I do? I know he can’t support himself financially or mentally. Please is there any help?

    1. Hello Cindy,

      Thank you for writing. To answer your question, “is there any help?”, yes, there is a way through your situation. Your son is not lost–he can recover–but he definitely needs help with PTSD. Have hope. But before you can help him, it’s imperative you too get help with your PTSD. As I’m sure you know, PTSD is crippling. One cannot think clearly or escape terror, one cannot make good decisions or be effective when bombs are going off in their brain. Without your wellbeing, you can’t help your son like you would if you hadn’t experienced your trauma. The right PTSD treatment helps you put a force field around the horrible memories–you still have the memories, you just don’t feel the pain. And treatment works!

      You have several options for treating PTSD. One of the best, and most unusual, is called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). It is not talk therapy, but a simple neurological exercise that changes the brain connection between the hypothalamus (where bad memories are stored) and the amygdala (which reacts to the memories). Look it up on Wikipedia and look for EMDR therapists in your area. There are few better things you can do for your son than relieve your own PTSD. Regular therapy will also help too. Someday, hopefully soon, there will be a new drug on the market that’s been shown to heal veterans with severe PTSD with 97% effectiveness!!! The main ingredient is also unusual, psilocybin from “magic mushrooms,” though in low doses. I recommend reading about this too.

      There is so much more to know, but it may be too difficult to put it all together without your wellbeing. Trust that your son’s life will not fall apart even though it seems that way now. You will be setting a good example for getting help for yourself, and you will be able to help him accept the need for treatment someday. It WILL happen.

      Take good care,

      Margaret

  3. my mother sent me a screenshot of one of these stories said here. im 18 years old and im heavily dealing with shit in my house that i shouldnt have to deal with. word of advice to all my parents out there. learn how to let your child live and learn. your situation can be different from many others but you as parent need to understand that we as teenagers have our problems to deal with and if you openly allowed yourself to be understanding, maybe you would be the first person we’d come to if there was a problem. stop giving your child rules if theyre old enough to do what they want, your job as a parent is to be there when we need you and those times that you are there, we always will appreciate you. please listen to this coming from an 18 year old kid dealing with issues at home. You might think im out of my damn mind but be open to what your kids have to say or who they are and how they dress. thats how you raise potential. and stop allowing peoples opinions to affect yours, that shit hurts when my mother thinks i care about other peoples expectations. im probably not as bad as your child is but theres always an answer on how to do things right but you taking control of someones life is out of hand.

    1. Hello Jonathon,

      Thank you for sharing your feedback for other parents. No one could say this better than someone who’s there. I support your message to parents; we need to listen to our young adult child as if they are smart, aware, and know what they need and think. We need to take them seriously as any adult whether or not we like it or agree. It’s their truth, and can be worked with in so many ways such as: negotiating, compromising, discussing to get a fuller understanding, agreeing to disagree, or letting it go.

      To parents: I understand the concerns you have about a child that doesn’t seem ready for the world. For those who are at high-risk (behavioral disorder) you really should be concerned and continue to play an important role in their life, but if not, you must step back and let them become the person they are, and relate to them as a peer. If you must step in and be the ‘parent’ to rescue or advise against something unwise, always step back again, then be sure to express trust and appreciation for their efforts. They need self-esteem and they need you to give it to them.

      Good luck Jonathon. I hope things go better for you someday. You’ve expressed yourself really well, and someone will read it and benefit from your message.

      Margaret

  4. I found this article by Googling “18 year old son crisis.” I’m running out of ways to try to help my son. As far as we can tell, there aren’t issues with drugs, alcohol (though he’s certainly had a drink or two), or run ins with law enforcement. He just keeps making horrible choices and not caring how it affects him or anyone who cares about him.
    To truly explain what’s going on would take pages and pages. In short, he’s a college freshman with ADHD (comorbidities include anxiety, depression, and possible ODD) who has graduated from high school and started college in the time of COVID 19. We have struggled with his behavior through his life. Home from the first semester (during which he has failed at least half of his classes), he is rapidly wearing out his welcome with everyone in his family. He’s not meeting the expectations set out for him, and he becomes infuriated when asked about it.
    Where can I turn? He completed a DBT outpatient program last summer, but he hasn’t been utilizing any of the skills he supposedly learned.
    I’m so scared for him. He can’t live with his dad, my husband (his step-dad) is at the end of his rope with how he treats me, and other options just aren’t there. Where can I get help?

    1. Let’s talk.

      Your situation is sadly common, but I promise there is a way to support your son to turn his life around, plus be supported yourself and in your marriage. And even though he’s of legal adult age, there is so much you can positively influence. Parenting after 18 just means a different form of parenting. As I read your story, I see many strengths to work with. There is hope.

      Margaret

  5. I am intrigued by all of your stories. I am dealing with some major issues with my daughter. She has met a boy, hanging out with the wrong crowd, drugs are involved, although I have no clue what she is actually partaking in. We don’t talk like we used to. Her behavior changed as soon as this boy came into the picture so I know he is part of it all. She got “fed up” with our house rules, and used this boy as a way out. By the way, our house rules are, either go to school, work a job, or both if you so choose, clean your room, and take out the trash every week. Do that, and you can live here for free, and save up money to get your own place somewhere nice. We also asked her to communicate to us if she was going to be late, or if she was staying at a friends house for the night…simple common courtesy. These rules are not huge, in fact she gets off easy compared to most kids her age…but she wasn’t having any of it. so she left. I have been informed by others in my circle of family and friends that some of the people she is hanging with, are using heavy drugs. This scares the crap out of me. I’ve talked to her, the lines of communication are open for now, and she sounds ok, but the not knowing what is going on in her life is killing me. She seems ok. I have seen her since she left. No extreme weight loss, no crazy red eyes, or obvious signs she is using but the people around her are downright twitchy. I am an insomniac by nature, but the sleep is just non existent since she left. I admit, I’ve done all that I can to limit the amount of damage I can on my end, to help without “fixing it for her”. I am throwing myself into my work and working late hours. It has been my only respite from overthinking EVERYTHING. She is 19, she’ll be 20 in August. I have no legal recourse to stop her from doing anything. I just want her to be ok.

    1. Hello Dylan,

      I hate to sound trite but “I feel your pain.” I’m all too familiar with this story; my daughter was ‘lost’ to a heroin/meth user, who turned her apartment into a meth pad for his ‘drug family’ to use. This is a summary of the key points in your message that indicate the strengths and weaknesses in your situation with your daughter and what to do about them. This is a bad situation, yet there’s every reason to hope!

      — “Her behavior changed as soon as this boy came into the picture…” Bad news first: Trust your instincts; her behavior points to drug use. He has drawn her into his drug family. This ‘family’ will be criminally involved in (something) to pay for the drugs. They, like other addicts, will keep her in their circle and make it emotionally difficult for her to leave. It sounds like you haven’t seen her when she’s high. Depending on what she’s using and how much, you will see changes in personality over time, and possibly physical changes if she’s a heavy user, even if you don’t personally see her during a high.

      — Now hang on because there’s good news. You wrote, “I’ve talked to her, the lines of communication are open for now, and she sounds OK…” This is the number one most important thing: keep open a good line of communication. Take her out to eat if you can. Go with her to buy clothes. If this isn’t possible, use whatever means of communication she prefers, phone, text, or email. If she pulls away, drop by with a gift or groceries, send a card, send a care package, anything. She may get angry and hurtful (it’s the drugs talking) but as long as she stays in contact with you she won’t slip away.

      — Your house rules were fine by the way. They are not the reason she’s made this sudden change. Blame it on drugs and the romance of risk and freedom with a crowd who is all too able to drag people down.

      Get sleep!!! If you need medical help to get regular sleep get it! Look up something called “sleep hygiene” on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_hygiene). If you need a medication, take it! Sleep is vital to your own mental health and your capacity to play the next role in her life. If you go down, she goes down.

      Get other forms of emotional support for you: psychotherapy, friends, volunteering, religious community, or social group. Reach out to friends and ask them if they could just listen if you’re down. Find a support group for families of loved ones with addictions such as Narc Anon for Families (http://www.nar-anon.org/). The support group will help you understand more about addiction and how you can help your daughter when she tries to leave the druggies and get back to her life again. She WILL try to leave them–life with a drug crowd SUCKS. If she’s had a good life before then she’ll want it back someday.

      From now on, you will not be the parent caregiver. Avoid ‘parenting’ or you may drive her away. She is an adult now. You will be her mentor, case manager, and ear–someone to listen without judgment. She needs you to continually remind her you’re a phone call away if she needs help. And you DO have legal recourse. Get the boyfriend and his cohort on the police radar and help the law take them down. Or inform the police or landlord ahead of time that she has a family who loves her and is able to look after her should something happen (police raid, eviction, other crime). This may help her avoid being charged or getting serious charges.

      This reply may be difficult stuff to read, I know. Get thick emotional armor, pull out your inner warrior, and educate yourself. I promise, you have every reason to hope. Families rescue their loved ones from Drug Hell all the time, but it’s a long road back to their health. Be strong enough to be there when she needs you.

      Take good care,

      –Margaret

  6. My 19 uear old smokes meth steals cars has been in countless relationships is always angry doesbt clean kr sometimes shower. His braces needed to be taken off over 6 montbs ago and ge will not go to the dentist. He had my house under investigation my 8 year old daughters winsow beoken out while sbe was sleeping. He has no respect for no onebincluding himself. I am so heart broken but more for him it’s like slowly being forced to watch him kill himself or potentially someone else.
    Is there honestly any help….

    1. Hi Jennifer,

      I hope you are taking care of your mental health. If you want your son to get better, you must be OK. I have bad news and good (or pretty good) news.

      Bad news first:
      • There are few to no options for treatment given your son’s drug use (and I strongly suspect an underlying mental illness);
      • As long as he’s using meth or another drug (especially marijuana), he cannot be treated unless he’s held against his will in a long term program;
      • It may take years before you see steady progress;
      • He may never be the person you hoped he would be.

      Good news:
      • My child was lost in Meth Hell for 10 years and came back! I’ve witnessed other adult children make that heroic struggle out of Meth Hell, because their families stayed supportive.
      • You can escape much emotional pain by changing your attitude and expectations. You must also put yourself and your other daughter first as much as possible.
      • You have options for getting him the help he needs, but they are drastic. An extreme situation requires extreme actions.

      This is what may happen to your son. It can keep him alive while he’s storm-tossed by meth and mental illness. He gets charged with a crime and indicted and jailed. You advocate for him to receive addiction and mental health treatment while in jail. You present testimony in court and in writing to the judge. You want to have your evidence of addiction and mental illness in court records. He may not get treatment, but he will get clean and sober for a while, and you can visit him as often as possible to show support.

      In jail and afterwards, he gets connected to some programs for addiction and mental health recovery. Eventually, it all falls apart again, and he starts going through that rotating door—criminal charges, conviction, and incarcerations over and over again. But this is not necessarily a bad thing if you stick with him each time and continue to advocate for treatment in court. Your son gets clean and sober in jail and remembers what it feels like. You keep visiting your son or writing letters or calling.

      While all of this is happening, you use these years to enjoy your daughter growing up, and you start something positive in your life and get happy again.

      As time goes by, your son will reach the same stage as (most) everyone else does, whether they struggle with addictions or mental illness or both. He gets tired of it. He’s suffered too much or witnessed too much suffering. If you’ve been involved all this time, he will allow you to help him… and that’s when healing starts.

      Now about those drastic steps: consider getting him out of your house ASAP; he’s toxic. Monitor his whereabouts if you can. Be cooperative with police and landlords and social workers. This is what other parents have done. These other drastic steps worked: charging their son or daughter with a crime, or turning them in, or reporting their associates with a crime if there is evidence. (This worked in my case, but could be risky.)

      A lot of us have been through this situation and walked your path. Stay committed, even if you have to keep your distance for safety. You want to live out your life knowing you did the best you could.

      –Margaret

  7. My grandson has always been a ‘model’ child, polite a hard worker etc. but in the past 6 weeks has changed beyond belief having met a 17 year old pot smoking girl with a 2month old baby (the baby belonging to someone else). She lives on benefits and my grandsonj has just left home and moved in with her. He claims he is still going to his college but we know this to be untrue. He will be 19 in a few weeks time and the big worry is that during one of their violent rows she claimed she would go to the police and claim he raped her. She ‘claims’ she has been raped before. This e’mail would be too long were I to list all the awful things we know of this girl and this boy was a high achiever with the world at his feet, now he lives in a block of flats where all the drug takers are housed, it will all end so badly. Additionally to all this, this girl has ongoing mental health problems. My daughter and husband are at their wits end – any advice please!

    1. Hello Louise,

      Your grandson’s story sounds *exactly* like ones that three close friends experienced with their adult children. One’s son was also ensnared by a woman with mental health problems, and they moved far away to live a life of poverty. Two friends’ daughters did the same thing with a man. In each case: 1. drugs were involved; 2. the child had been directionless; 3. the new partner’s mental problem made them manipulative and controlling. All three parents did the best they could to stay in touch and keep a bridge built with their child in case they broke-up and returned to their lives.

      As of now, none of their children have returned. One mother tried to befriend the woman who ‘took’ her son, but it didn’t work out. You are definitely not alone in your confusion and hurt. The best choice is to do everything you can to stay in touch even if there’s no response–calls, emails, letters, photos, care packages. Stay faithful to this indefinitely. It may be years.

      These is my speculation: someone like your grandson craves the attention they get from the partner at first, but it is manipulative. Eventually, the partner starts abusing them emotionally–think of it as a domestic violence situation. Domestic violence victims are notorious for staying in abusive relationships, or returning repeatedly if they’ve left. Why? The abuser has many ways of controlling them: threats, begging for forgiveness, gifts, guilt trips, and hurtful remarks that undermine their self-esteem. Maybe he is afraid to leave because of her anger; maybe he’s given up and believe this is his lot. One thing is certain, substances can soften the stress of a domestic violence victim at first, but then the risk of addiction and financial ruin is high too.

      This is your greatest test of faith and commitment. Allow yourself to grieve, but also stay strong and steady in your effort to reach out, and hold out hope. You may be pushed away, but keep the faith. You might also consider volunteering for a charity that supports people in need. This can be very healing when one experiences a loss like yours.

      There were 10 anguished years when I ‘lost’ my daughter to drugs and an abusive drug relationship, but she’s back and safe now. This could be your grandson’s story.

      Margaret

  8. I really appreciate this article I am having a hard time dealing with my young adult male 19 years old he cannot hold a job rebellious want listen to nothing I say I can’t understand this behaviors because me, his step father, my parents, and his sister all work and maintain jobs as a matter of fact my parents have retired I am afraid for my son I don’t want to give up on him but I don’t know what to do please give further advice I don’t want to loose him to death or jail

    1. I hate that I’m just finding this, two years later, but I decided to reply for the sake of others.
      If you have a good relationship with your son, speak with him about trying to apply for SSI. This will only be helpful if your son has been seeking help from doctors and other authorities who are knowledgeable about his situation. Also, it doesn’t have to be a means to an end, but rather a safety net. Assuming he gets approved, this helps him get on his feet with a job, but provides a softer place to land when he falls. And it might take him a few years before he is able to hold down a full-time, permanent job, and that’s okay. All of us are wanting the same thing for our children: a safe, productive (as possible) future.

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