Help for Young Adults, Teens, and their Parents (pt. 2)

help for young adults and teens

This is part 2 of 3 of a series of articles working on Help for Teens, Young Adults, and Their Parents.

If you missed part 1- check it out here.

by Paul Krauss MA LPC, Counselor in Grand Rapids, MI (Forest Hills area)

Paul Krauss is an expert at helping parents of young adults and parents through these difficult transitions and circumstances. The goal is to establish safety, restore the relationship, and grow into the future. These are tips 4, 5, and 6 for the parents of young adults and teens.

  1. Communication: Honest, open, and healthy communication is essential

Since tip number 3, you may have decided to put in effort to healing the relationship and spending intentional time together, it’s time to change the way we communicate. The goal: Be honest and open with your  Teen or Young Adult about your life, the hard times, the good times, your failures, and successes. Don’t preach at them. Remember how Charlie Brown’s parents sounded?

There are many tried-and-true techniques that will help foster healthy communication patterns between you and your teen or young adult. These include, but are not limited to: Selecting the appropriate venue to talk (not when the teen or young adult is too tired/hungry/ during a fight etcetera—to get your young adult to talk you may have to engage with them in an activity: While painting pottery, playing basketball, driving in the car. Remember; don’t focus on asking too many questions. In fact, you will have better communication results when you do not grill your young adult for information). Try to engage by spending time with them first and bite your tongue while waiting for them to open up. This may take several different attempts before they are ready to trust that you aren’t just trying to corner them and advise them. A technique that is helpful is to Invite/listen/summarize. One of the largest aspects of healthy communication is listening without judgment and sparing them the lecture—remember, they most likely already know the “right thing” to do—they just are not doing it for whatever reason(s). One of the largest aspects of helping to open up the communication between your teen or young adult is withholding unsolicited advice. Another aspect of open and honest communication is becoming appropriately vulnerable with your teen or young adult—sharing your feelings with authenticity (not spitting out patronizing statements). Tell your child you love them and are proud of them. Tell them a story about your life and stop telling them what to do with theirs!

  • Plan ahead and select the appropriate time and venue for time together…
  • Listening without judgment…
  • Withholding unsolicited advice…
  • Stop digging for information by asking multiple questions…
  • Engaging them in fun activities (family or social)…
  • Making dinner together or have a meal together…
  • Developmentally Appropriate disclosures or stories from your life…
  • Don’t bother them the minute they get home, greet and let them be…
  • 10 authentic positive affirmations of your child per day about them as person not their accomplishments…
  • Invite listen summarize…
  • Don’t problem-solve for them…
  • Learn your child’s love language (quality time, acts of service, gifts, and physical touch)…
  • Tell and show your child you love them multiple times, even if you don’t like their behavior…
  • Practice genuine curiosity in what they are interested in…
  • Don’t tell them what to do unless it is related to a chore or boundary or safety issue…
  • Acknowledge your shortcomings…
  • Mirror their body posture subtly…

Sometimes, one or both of the parents feel so resentful that they tell me that this is a “last ditch” effort to help their teen or young adult to “get the message” and maybe “get it” for once and change their behaviors. When I talk to the parents of young adults I often hear them say that they have “given up” and that they are unwilling to work in family therapy or try any of my suggestions to spend time with their young adult and work on communication and trying to have positive language toward the young adult—because “If _____ (my teen or young adult) isn’t willing to work, than I’m not either.” The problem with this is that the parents is forgetting that their child is not developmentally (brain development) or emotionally mature yet and that most young adults are seeking a relationship and role model underneath their angst and behaviors. We’ve all seen them idolize musicians, sports players, and others—so why not work on the relationship and help their self-esteem as much as possible? It takes time—we cannot expect results overnight—it can take 6 months or longer for the young adult to notice that we have changed our behavior and language toward them. If we are use words of affirmation to help our young adult seek time with us (instead of avoiding us), break the patterns of hostility and lectures, and work to heal the past—we can forge a new beginning. If we choose to be bitter, resentful, and continually bring up and dwell in the past—then our teen or young adult will stay there too.

  1. Accountability & Realistic Rules:

One of the most difficult parts of the process of helping your young adult mature and changing your relationship to them is holding them accountable and creating firm, yet realistic rules.

It is essential that you be impeccable with your word. Don’t hold your young adult to standards that you don’t hold yourself to. Don’t do things for your young adult—allow them to make mistakes and learn from them.

What to do: Collaboratively create an action plan for implementing responsibilities for the Teen or Young Adult and family including a rewards and consequence system (usually monetary, but also regarding privileges like phone subscription and usage of family vehicles). For instance, instead of giving them an allowance—pay them a set amount of money/gift card per chore around the house (and only when that chore is completed). Giving them actual money for their labor, which they then pay back to you for gas or phone usage is a great example of how the world outside of your household functions. Create boundaries for resource usage (e.g. The teen or young adult must earn money for gas and learn to take care of the family vehicle to be able to use it or they must pay for any “over usage fees” on their phone and eventually begin paying part of their phone bill). Give them your time and attention!

What to stop: Since the world will never provide your young adult with an inexhaustible supply of money, why are we all giving our young adults a seemingly endless supply of money? Stop handing them unlimited resources ($, electronics, phone, car), make them do something consistently to earn money/gift cards or resources. Instead of giving them money, give them shared responsibility, concrete and social resources and guidance that may help them on their journey.

You must hold yourself and your young accountable for any agreement of this sort. Remember, your young adult doesn’t have to agree to your new policies. But if you actually follow through with your rules and hold them accountable by actually turning off their phone, withholding money or gift cards until weekly chores are done, or not paying for gas and cause them some temporary discomfort, they will usually get the idea that they will have to change. Money is often an unspoken part of why accountability and boundaries aren’t coming easily in your family. Empower your Young Adult to become active in their life instead of enabling them to continue their current behaviors by handing them money.

Working to empower (instead of enable) your Teen or Young Adult is a difficult process. It is not simple. Oftentimes, I advise parent(s) to have an accountability partner(s) to run each and every decision by regarding money and privileges related to their young adult. For example, many parents are deathly afraid of their young adult not having a cell phone “in case of emergency.” I once hear of a situation where the parent replaced their young adult’s smartphone twice (they would lose it while drinking or destroy it out of anger when their were angry) until they finally decided to change their tactics. They were not ready to set down extreme boundaries, so they compromised—they bought their young adult the cheapest “flip phone” they could find and restricted data and texting. The Young Adult could only use the phone to make phone calls. The parents didn’t live in fear because they knew that their young adult had a way to call them or the police if they were in trouble, but the parents had also stopped enabling their young adult. The parents stated that if their young adult broke any more phones or did any damage that they would charge them for it and they refused to pay for a “better” phone. The young adult realized that while their parent wanted them to be safe and have a way to make calls, they were not going to continue to enable their poor choices. The parents informed the young adult that if they wanted a “smartphone” they could purchase it themselves and that they would also owe monthly for any text or data plan added to the family plan. The parents were stunned when their young adult decided to get a part-time job to pay for their own “smartphone.” Many families I have worked with have stopped giving their teen or young adult cash and have had them do volunteer work to earn their basic “privileges.” It is amazing what happens when you don’t give in to your young adults complaining or anger about their privileges being taken from them

Learn More about Paul Krauss MA LPC’s Course for Parents of Young Adults
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  1. Setting Healthy and Realistic Boundaries

Healthy and realistic boundaries can only be established once you have defined your role.

How often have experienced yourself or other parents who seem so much more concerned about the consequences of their young adult’s behavior than the young adult themselves? If the young adult chooses not to pay their cell phone bill, be late on rent, get arrested and spend a night in jail, fail classes, and generally get in trouble—then they will have natural consequences. (How many of you have learned what to do and what not to do from natural consequences of mistakes you made?) If the parent continues to shield or save their teen or young adult from natural consequences time and time again—then the teen or young adult will find it very difficult to learn from their poor choices. In fact, most young adults who are without consequences will have little motivation to change and may actually make more dangerous and worse choices in the future.

Letting your teen or young adult face the natural consequences of their behavior may be one of the most difficult concepts in this entire article.

Countless families I have known have swooped in to “save” their teen young adult from being arrested for a DUI or an another related offense. The parents were terrified at the idea of having their son/daughter spend a few days in jail and have pay the fines and suffer the consequences of their negligent behaviors. I can understand getting involved to help reduce a penalty from a felony to a misdemeanor—but often times the parents are so ruled by fear that the young adult hardly suffers and inconvenience while the parents pick up the expensive legal bill and pay all fines associated with their offense. of these cases the parent was sending a message to the young adult: “You are the exception to the rule.” In each of the situations I have personally witnessed, the young adults offended again and were arrested or stopped by the police a second time. Having your teen or young adult spend a few days or a few months in jail might seem like “the end of the world.” Remember, that the county jail is not federal prison! Without natural consequences, your young adult is much less likely to learn a lesson from their poor choices. With regards to a DUI, your teen or young adult is lucky to have been arrested—what if they had drunkenly driven into a group of children playing the in street? The outcome would be much different. To be completely honest, spending a few days in a jail, paying their fines, and having to complete community service might be a lesson that changes the life or your young adult. We do not want the young adult learning that they are “the exception” to the rule. Even if you yell at your teen or young adult or ground them or get them to “promise” not to do this again—if your actions bail them out you are teaching them that their behavior is acceptable. Actions speak louder than words. The more you choose to shield them from natural consequences, the longer it will be before they learn how to behave without endangering themselves or others.

Do you or someone you know need professional help working with their Teen or Young Adult? Paul Krauss can help. [email protected] Call 616-200-4433 today to schedule a complimentary consultation.

Paul Krauss MA LPC specializes in working with the parents of Teens and Young Adults as well as Young Adults.

Miss part 1 of this series? Click here. Stay Tuned for part 3, available here.

Related Articles:

Conversations That Teach Resilience: Young Adults by Healthy Families, British Columbia

The 6 Things You Shouldn’t Say to Your Adult Child. Hint: ‘How can you live like this?’ isn’t a good conversation starter by Linda Bernstein

Adult Children Living At Home? 5 Ways To Create A Less Stressful Existence With Your Boomerang Kids

Rules, Boundaries and Older Children Part I by James Lehman, MSW

Ground Rules for Living with an Adult Child (plus Free Living Agreement) by Megan Devine, LCPC

Creating Boundaries With Dependent Adult Children. Stop enabling your overly dependent adult child. by Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D.

How to Set Boundaries with Adult Children

Learn More about Paul Krauss MA LPC’s Course for Parents of Young Adults
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Learn more about the Trauma-Informed Counseling Center of Grand Rapids

Learn more about Counseling and Therapy services at Health for Life Counseling Grand Rapids

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