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Teens Who Make Bad Choices

Here is a situation that has the whole family worrying. A recent email: “My 18 year old granddaughter who just graduated from high school has recently gone to work in an all-nude bar as a waitress. I am well aware that these places get the girls in the door with the lure of “big money.” I understand that the dancing girls then “work” on the waitresses to earn even bigger money by becoming a dancer. Her hours are from 10pm to 4am! Everybody in the family has voiced grave concern but she refuses to listen and won’t quit even after money was offered to bail her out of her car loan.”

A tough problem and a difficult question to answer.

This teen is legally an adult and “I can do what I want now.” is no doubt her mantra. She should be heading for college or another way to learn how to support herself–which means health insurance and retirement benefits not just enough money to make car payments and keep her in mocha lattes.

The three tasks of adolescence are to learn how to support oneself, emancipate from the family of origin, and find a life partner. Even though adolescence in our culture is very prolonged as compared to a primitive society the human brain is not completely developed for abstract thinking until age 25. So if family members say, “She’s not thinking straight!” they are right.

But what can the family do? First of all, accept the fact you can’t stop her from doing what she has decided to do.

There are three options for a worried family with a legally-of-age child who is on a wrong path. You can cut off ALL contact. This option always reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. “Off with her head!” says the Queen at no provocation whatsoever. But Alice is in a fairy tale not the real world. I know there is one school of thought that holds the family should cut her off completely because what she is doing does not fit with their values. I disagree. My suggestions are to maintain contact while quietly pointing out your disapproval. “We love you but we hate what you’re doing.”

Another option is to cut off all material support. If she lives at home tell her to move out. Do not give her any money. The message, again, is “We love you but we cannot support what you are doing.”

Speaking of material things, I would not have offered to pay off her car loan. If she cannot “support” her car including payments and insurance she will have to take the bus. I don’t know what city your granddaughter lives in but few towns have all night bus service.

Waitressing is hard work. Going and coming home from work at these ungodly hours can not only be dangerous but also can keep her from being with friends who have normal hours. Keep hoping your granddaughter realizes this and finds another job.

The third option for a family is to do nothing or to grumble and nag which amounts to the same thing in ineffectiveness.

I am saddened by the fact that so many of our youth graduate from high school without any plans for the future. There is a reason the words “graduation” and “commencement” are used synonymously. Graduation from high school is just the beginning. The ones who do not enter college have to work even harder on the planning process than the ones bound for college. Saying, “I’ll find a job.” isn’t enough. That job must provide a basis for both independence and for personal and financial growth. It should be a stepping stone to a better life than one can expect from the usual jobs available to teenagers.