Parenting 18-23 year olds that are having trouble growing up…


adult-children-growing-upThis spring, I had the pleasure of having a bird’s eye view of nesting crows. Out of the 2nd story window of my neighborhood gym, I watched 4 crow chicks mature. The window was only about 2 feet from their amazingly constructed nest of branches. I watched the crows fly back and forth feeding those four hungry mouths. They grew so quickly! However, I knew the day would come when mom and dad would “encourage” them to fly. I am sure these chicks had no idea what was to come!

Sure enough, I came back one day and they were all gone. I imagined that Mom or Dad “nudged” (aka pushed) them out of the nest with their beaks. “Off you go little ones…you will flap your wings and probably crash to the ground—dust yourself off, and flap like crazy. Believe it not, you will be able to fly!” they might have said.

More and more, I hear about young people who are having trouble fledging from their nest. For some reason, not entirely well understood, it seems to be young men these days that are having trouble finding their way into adult life. Many of these guys, on the younger end of this age group, are not really interested in going off to college quite yet. They “want” to work, but they seem to spend a lot of time playing video games. They don’t spend a lot of time hitting the pavement looking for a job. This can also be true for fellows that complete college, return home, and are also hanging around not doing very much. Nowadays, a college degree doesn’t mean an automatic high paying job.

I also have heard that many of these guys enjoy smoking a fair amount of marijuana. “It helps me relax!” says one young man. “I like the way it makes me feel!” says another. “Hey it’s legal now,” says a third. But I notice that these adults aren’t doing very much.

Their parents are frustrated and don’t know what to do.

There are many reasons for this phenomenon. There is no question that our lousy, high unemployment economy is a contributing factor. It’s harder to find a job and takes more effort than in better economic times. It’s tough not to get discouraged. But parents get plain mad when junior is up to 3 a.m. playing “Warcraft II” and sleeps to noon or one o’clock the next day!

This generation has a different work ethic than “baby boomers” or “Generation X’ers”. I would have died before I had to live with my parents after I finished my education. I wanted and expected to be independent. Millennial’s and their cousins seem to be less in a rush to pay their own rent.

These kids have everything. Their parents are more affluent than our parents were. So they have all the bells and whistles of this era. We were generous–maybe too giving. They came to expect that we would provide.
We expected that they would have the same drive for independence that we had. Where did we get that dumb idea? Why would they be just like us? They grew up during a different time, far more affluent than we were when we coming up.

So what can us mama and poppa “crows” do to help out chicks fledge?

You gotta nudge them out of the nest. But what if they can’t fly? What if they crash on the pavement? What if they become homeless? I know, it’s scary. Remember that necessity is the “mother of invention”. This can be accomplished in a graduated manner. But, nudge you must.

You and your partner have to be on the same page. United you stand, divided you fall. Often one spouse is the believer in “tough” love and the other is the “soft” love advocate. It doesn’t matter. Come to an agreement and support each other.

Be consistent. Don’t make threats that you later retract. Don’t “react”, instead “respond” thoughtfully. But, stand your ground.

Get help. I spend a lot of my professional time coaching parents on how to help their son and daughter become more independent. An objective voice can be very helpful.

Have you had problems with your son or daughter fledging? What’s helped you?


  1. Anonymous

    Part of the problem, in my opinion is parents don’t want them to leave. Poor job market?? There are jobs. Labor jobs, cleaning jobs…its not what kids want to do. I didn’t know one kid 20 yrs old who wanted to live at home. We were willing to sell a kidney if it meant the possibility of freedom. Parents are scared of the big bad world now. It’s the same world, just instant information. A little shove is not a bad thing at all.

  2. Shannon Findlay

    It has been hard for me to understand. I was a babysitter since the age of 12 and I couln’t wait to get a real job when I was 16. I moved out a week after graduating high school, when I was still 17 – Freedom!!

    I am a Gen-X’er and mother of twin boys who are now 23 years old. They have both had jobs since high shcool and one of them has gone to college but I have been surprised how much pushing it has taken to get them there. Its not that they are lazy, its more like they expect to have their dream job right away. When my son finished massage school he turned down a job in a sports medicine clinic because they wanted him to make a year commitment. He refused to do so because he was hoping for that fancy spa job. I was shocked! We were in the middle of a horrible recession! I tried talking to him about getting your foot in the door, gaining valuable experience, paying your dues. He wouldn’t hear of any of it. A year later, when he was still working in Fred Meyer Deli with no massage job, I asked him if he wished he had taken that clinic job and he reluctanly agreed that he did. Lesson learned. But not because of me. He had to make that mistake.

    They have lived on their own since they were 18. They rent a house with 3 other people so they all have some cheap rent. I think this is a good way to go for young people who don’t yet make a lot of money. It is fun for them as well.

    I like your advice. My advise would be: don’t stop pushing, let them make mistakes, and do NOT give them money.

  3. Dr. Paul

    I agree with both of you! I think many young people have unrealistic expectations of adult life. There is no doubt that this is a difficult job market–but ambitious young people are able to find work. I like your suggestions Shannon!

  4. Anonymous

    Shannon, exactly! I had roommates. You don’t get to go out and buy a house and be on your own. You should want to be on your own , away from parents that you are willing to share house. When I was in school, and renting house with others, I worked 3 part time jobs…they were HORRIBLE jobs. I didn’t have kids, or mortgage and I rode my bike…but it was all worth it to be on my own. It’s the same with drivers license’s. So many kids don’t want to get them as they are “nervous”…or frankly, Mom and Dad are fine with driving them around. My daughter was nervous. I informed her she will be nervous about EVERYTHING that is big…99% of the time , she will be fine. So yes, I forced her into getting her license. Guess what?..She lived to see another day.

    As soon as us Gen X’rs stop coddling and cushioning our kids every move, things will change. Face it, we are in the group of parents who don’t let their kids take a fall. World is too scary for them to want to be on their own.

  5. Benny Ho

    This article has struck a chord with me. We are close to a family with 2 sons. The father is a scout master and both boys were in scouts throughout their childhood. The youngest son is a good friend of my oldest son. The older son graduated several years ago. He was a good student, almost got his eagle scout, highly involved in high school band, motivated towards an engineering career at the time etc. He started working part-time at McDonalds in high school, which most parents would agree is a good thing. BUT eventually he got mixed up with the wrong crowd at work. Coworkers with a bit of money and easy access to marijuana and no career motivation to go beyond. That then led to my friend’s son accessing and experimenting with harder drugs. He had 2 major incidents where he was high on drugs at home. One where he jumped off the second story deck and busted his foot. Second where he jumped headfirst through a second story window. Thankfully he survived both incidents. After the first incident, the son was nudged out to live and fend for himself. You would think that he would have learned his lesson the hard way, huh? No way, the second incident occurred back home after he regained his parent trust to moved back in. Currently this son is back in the nest with many parental conditions/rules (no drugs, get your life back together, get a job, etc) and he must be constantly monitored. Everytime that there appears to be a bit of progress, there are major setbacks. This son is even talking about hanging out with his so-called buddies from before and justifying his previous pot use. SO SAD!!! I am sick to my stomach! What is a parent to do? This family has the ideal, caring, loving parental structure: strong marriage, high standards, actively involved in kids activities etc.

  6. Casey Hawley

    I have one of these Boys!! He is 22 years old and has decided to work the bare minimum so he can spend more time on Video Games. However, he does not live at home. My advice to parents everywhere, you need to tell them when they are 16 years old what you and the world expect of them. Here is what we told our son. When you graduate from High School you have to choose if you would like to be a grown-up or a kid. Then we defined what each of those meant. Kids live at home go to school full-time and work part-time and save $200 a month. Adults move out and support themselves.
    I have always found that kids will only do as much as you expect of them. It is so hard to watch our kids make the choice to live poor when they could do so much better with just a little effort but I keep reminding myself~This is HIS choice and only he can change it.