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Teens Who Won’t Grow Up

Recent question: “I have a nineteen-year-old boy who acts more like he is a 14-year old. He has graduated from high school but does not have a clue about what he wants to do.  He won’t get a job and won’t even think about what he wants to do with the rest of his life.  My problem is I don’t know what to do either.  He sits around the house playing video games or just messing around. He does have chores that he does during the day but he needs to take responsibility to think about his life. He doesn’t have any friends his own age. The few friends he does have are a lot younger and when he is around them he tends to act that age. Please help, I am not sure what to do or where to go from here.”

I am getting quite a few letters like this and it is troubling. The economy is a problem for young, uneducated and unmotivated males who have no marketable skills. And really don’t have clue about how to plan for a future. Our schools at fault? Partly. Many students do not get much out of high school and there are few resources to help a young man who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life. Families at fault? Partly. We tend to give our children too much stuff and not enough responsibility. They grow up thinking that all will be provided, they do not develop a work ethic that starts in school and is reinforced at home. Culture at fault? Maybe. We are surrounded by all sorts of screens that feature speed rather than planning or thinking.

But this mother does not know where to turn now to deal with her son who is neither functioning as an adult nor planning a route to becoming an adult. This is my answer:

A tough question. The teens and twenties are important learning years. In addition to learning from classes and books, young people learn from peers and role models how to behave and think like an adult.

The prefrontal cortex of the brain is not fully developed until the mid-twenties or later. The prefrontal cortex is the executive part of the brain, the part that we need to make decisions. Executive function includes planning and organization.

But the brain can’t develop alone. It needs input from the environment surrounding the person. During the late teens and early twenties that environment can be school, college, vocational training, or a job where the young person earns enough money to pay for further education or training. It is not the environment at home where your son is a non-paying boarder playing video games. Or outside hanging around with younger kids.

Your son could profit from vocational testing and counseling. If you can afford private vocational counseling, tell your son he must see the counselor as he cannot live at home indefinitely and his present life style is not healthy.

Another route is for him to register for a course at a community college. Most have vocational testing and counseling. And he can make friends his own age. Many boys are at sea for a while but in this economy the longer he avoids thinking about his future the harder his life could be.

You may know of a part time job or help him make up cards or fliers for doing yard work or errands for people in the neighborhood. If there is a father or other male figure in his life he might help by suggesting contacts for a part-time job. If your son rarely leaves the house you have to wonder about depression. I am curious to know if he has met other expected milestones. Does he have a driver’s license? Did he have friends in high school? Has he contacted any of them?

Nagging him won’t work, But you can set rules and timetables and should do this now. One way of bringing up topics that can cause friction and/or clamming up is to go to neutral ground like a restaurant together. (By the way, no gadgets with screens at the table because you have to talk.) Tell him he cannot continue with this life style. He must present you with a plan, a plan that leads to his functioning independently. A good initial plan is living at home with a part-time job while he goes to community college.