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When Your Young Adult Child is Totally Out of Control

May 17, 2022

One of the most challenging situations is having an older teen or young adult whose behavior is quite out of control.

The more you seek to set expectations, the more challenging the behavior, up to threats of violence, destruction of property, self harm, suicidal gestures.

Most often this situation didn’t happen overnight, but rather there was a history of ever increasing difficult behavior.

The pattern often includes the parent seeking to hold firm on expectations, but with each rising increase of behavior, the parent lets go the expectation hoping it buys favor.

Counseling is often sought for the child. Rarely do they go or last.

By the time I receive a referral of these situations, parents are still hoping to find the key that unlocks the issue and brings reasonable and stable behavior to the child. It’s a Hail Mary.

It doesn’t happen.

Indeed even with a bonifide mental illness, on top of that the young adult has learned to forever hold their parents hostage with increasingly extreme behavior.

There is no magic key by this point as this is who the person has become. Delivering that awful news is interestingly often met with relief.

There needs to be a change in the thinking of the parent.

That change is from seeking to fix their child, to managing them more productively.

That really means a return to setting expectations, limits and boundaries.

However, now the risk in doing so is much greater… up to and including death.

For to hold the child to any expectation, they will recoil and at this point the only strategy they have left is either extreme violence or suicidal threat or action to undo the parents wishes.

Here parents are best to take any such threat or behavior seriously and call 911.

The use of emergency services is imperative to holding true to their expectations lest they inadvertently teach their adult child to use these threats to continually undo all other expectations too.

All this though on the parents part must be done in a calm compassionate manner.

This is not about parental hostility or abuse, but rather clear and unequivocal limits, boundaries and expectations.

This is not for the faint of heart and typically requires support for the parents.

As for their expectations of their kids, these are to be kept simple:

No intoxicants in the home;

Attend therapy;

If working or on disability (ODSP), pay towards your common expenses.

The parent have only one stick, consequence available, and that is for the child to no longer live at home.

That is tough on many parents. Some will not go there. For those who cannot, the adult child has just learned their new leverage point to undo those expectations and things remain the same.

This approach may be unpalatable for some.

Indeed, it isn’t appropriate in all situations.

It is always advisable to seek professional input and support before initiating such action to make sure it is suitable and tailored to your situation.

The change starts from changing the parents thoughts from fixing to managing.

My thoughts are with parents in these circumstances.


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I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue or even help growing your practice. I am available in person and by video conferencing.

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Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

gary@yoursocialworker.com
www.yoursocialworker.com for counseling and support

www.garydirenfeld.com – to build your successful practice

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, former parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice.

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