Dear Straight Talk: My son dropped out of college last year, his sophomore year. He partied hearty and flunked out. After six challenging months at home, he has a restaurant job and lives with roommates where mostly just drinking, video gaming, and other un-cool stuff goes on. He’s not under 18 anymore, he’s 20. Do I have a right to tell him to get his act together? And will it help? — Frustrated Dad in Sonoma County
Moriah, 17, Rutland, Vt.: Think tough love. Since he’s drinking illegally, tell him you love him and will help him turn a corner, otherwise you’re reporting his household to the police. My brother had a similar issue. He dropped out of college and expected the world to care for him. He thought he was invincible and that my parents wouldn’t get him in trouble. He needed to be set straight. Sometimes parents have to play the bad guy.
Taylor, 17, Santa Rosa: My parents are going through this with my stepbrother. It’s important for young adults to have freedom, but watching him drop out of college and play video games all day was unacceptable. They told him to get his act together. We have a rule that if you live at home after high school, you must be full time in college, or working and paying rent.
Collin, 16, San Diego: This is probably the first real freedom your son has ever had. He sounds self-sufficient and not unhappy. I say let him live his life a while. Maybe he is thinking about his future. Unless he’s in trouble, give him some time.
Gregg, 23, Los Angeles: Ha! My dad just confronted me. I’m working two jobs while taking a year off college for financial reasons. With $100-300 a night in tips from my restaurant job, it’s easy to blow the money thinking, “I’ll just make more tomorrow.” I spend ridiculous amounts each month on partying. So my dad basically told me to get my act together. He said, “If you think money is like an open faucet, it’s not true.” He didn’t shame me, though (very important), and offered to help with a budget. I’d actually been worrying about my partying and finances, too, so it really helped. Fathers are like coaches. Don’t worry that your son is over 18; you’re not an adult until you act like one. Also, if your son’s got a drug or alcohol problem, you need to totally use your parental spine, incentives, sanctions, whatever-it-takes, to make him see a rehab counselor, which will include some family counseling.
Ashley, 26, Auburn: You absolutely have the right to tell him to get his act together. He might blow up, but so what? It shows you care. You can’t force him to change, but it will make him think. The party phase may end naturally when he gets sick of restaurant work or sees his friends graduating and making real money, but your consistent involvement and care makes him care more, too.
Dear Frustrated Dad: I hope the panel convinced you that young adults want accountability. Age 18 to 25 is still adolescence. It’s also society’s most ignored demographic, with many parents averting their eyes. Parents who keep tuned in to who their young person is, and, if needed, set limits and expectations, make a huge difference. College dropouts are the most at-risk demographic for drug or alcohol dependency — many are in trouble. When approaching him, be “fact of life” that his addiction-centered lifestyle is unacceptable. Anger gets energy moving. Help him set goals (including rehab possibly), repeat this process as necessary, and stay connected no matter what. — Lauren
Ask a question or go deeper in today’s conversation at www.straighttalkadvice.org — or write P.O. Box 1974 Sebastopol, CA 95473. Straight Talk Advice.org is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. If today’s column has been useful, please consider a donation!