How to Get a Recent Grad Off the Couch When Summer Ends

Helping them become more independent can require tough love and patience.

Posted Aug 29, 2019

When kids graduated high school this past June, more than one parent I know worried that their child had no real plans for the future. While many adolescents had lined up college or some other kind of training, many parents were stuck with an ungainly young adult who felt entitled to remain at home doing practically nothing.

Not planning for more education. Not working. Not even getting out of bed until well past noon. And certainly not helping around the house. If any of this sounds familiar, it may be time for some tough love with your child.

Parents typically let their young adults coast over the summer. After all (we reason), they have worked extra hard to graduate and who wouldn’t want to reward our kids with a carefree summer? But come the fall, what seemed like a well-deserved break can strain family relationships if that same young person gets to thinking, “this is a sweet deal” and takes up permanent resident as a non-contributing member of our household.

This phenomenon of elongated adolescence is relatively recent. The entire notion of what Jeffery Arnett calls “emerging adulthood” means that our youth are taking longer and longer to launch themselves into productive lives.

Of course, some families will see nothing wrong with a child staying at home until he, or she, is ready to marry and set up a household of their own. But that situation seldom means the child exists without family obligations. They are expected to contribute to the family in some way, and certainly they are expected to continue their education or get a job. A child who simply accumulates dirty dishes in his bedroom, or comes in late every night and disrupts the family, or expects his parents to keep paying for the internet, cell phone, and his pocket money, is not a child who is fulfilling his end of the bargain.

This fall, it may be time to motivate your young adult to prepare for their future with a little “tough love.” That term is often misunderstood as an excuse to be mean. That was never the intention. The term really is about providing a loving environment that motivates a child to behave in ways that are socially desirable. The emphasis should be on the love part rather than being tough. Here are three examples of strategies I’ve used over the years with families stuck in a pattern of exploitation by an overly entitled teen.

1. Give the young person important chores that benefit the family. While making their bed and putting their dishes in the dishwasher might feel like a helping hand, I tend to encourage families to invite their children to make more genuine contributions, like doing some of the grocery shopping, taking the car in for an oil change, and definitely doing the cooking for the entire family at least once a week. The goal is to show the young person they are part of the family and to give them tasks that benefit more than just themselves.

2. If that doesn’t work, then start calculating how much your time costs and how much it costs to keep the young person at home. While most parents are very hesitant to charge their children rent, it is perfectly reasonable for a young adult to pay for their own clothing, their own cell phone, and their own entertainment. If that requires them to find work, then you will have at least helped your child take a step in the right direction towards independence. If they are still excessively lazy and, say, won’t go for their driver’s license or contribute to car expenses (including insurance) then it may be time to charge them for each time you drive them to activities they want to do. More than one family has found this a great way to force a child to value their parents time and resources. I generally suggest you set your transportation fee at half the going rate for a taxi. That way you won’t feel guilty and your child will watch their money become income that you can spend on little luxuries (a spa day would be nice!).

3. If all else fails, prepare a soft landing for the teen outside your home. I never recommend cutting the young person off emotionally or financially or abandoning them to the street. If you do need your child to leave your home (because they are disruptive, abusing drugs, or not motivated to do much of anything) then arrange a safe place for them to go. Use your contacts to at least help them find a part-time job so they can afford rent. No matter what you do, be sure to let them know that you are asking them to leave because they need to develop the life skills necessary to succeed in life.

Encouraging our teens to launch, and helping them have the skills necessary to succeed, is a critical part of parenting. Just because our child walked across their high school or college stage with a diploma in hand doesn’t mean they have the life skills (or the motivation) they need to begin the next phase of their life as a young adult.

References

Arnett, J. J. (2006). Emerging adulthood: Understanding the new way of coming of age. In J. J. Arnett & J. L. Tanner (Eds.), Emerging adults in America: Coming of age in the 21st century (pp.3–20). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.