Thursday, January 26, 2012

Endless Parenting Struggles: When adult children rebel

A new question popped up recently from a concerned parent regarding her newly troubled adult son. Dr. Foster Cline gives his expert advice in regards to helping these parents deal with the situation.

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I have a 21 year old son.  His dad and I have not been together since he was 3.  He has always been a good boy and respectful. Now that he is living on his own, he is very verbally abusive. He does not want anything to do with his dad or I.  We have tried everything to get him to let us help him.  But he is just so mean and hateful. I feel he is crying out.  But will not let us do anything except he wants money from us.  Please help us help him. Kim

I am assuming you had a good relationship with your son through his childhood. And I’m assuming he grew up respectful, responsible and enjoyable to be around.

Assuming that, there may be several reasons for your son’s new behavior. He could be using drugs, under the influence of poor friends, or often, after children are out of the home, they look back on their childhoods and rightly or wrongly blame their parents for perceived childhood shortcomings. Finally, sometimes guilt is expressed as unreasonable anger.

But regardless of the reason, your response must be along the following lines:  

1)     Don’t put up with your son’s verbal abuse. That will only increase his disrespect.
2)     Make sure you are not enabling your son with money or support in the face of his anger and disrespect.
3)     Let your son know that you love him no matter what and are available if he wishes you help. It might be best to put this response in writing, as your verbal phone calls may not be effective or work out well. No long notes about information he already knows, attempting to exonerate yourself or your husband.

Short and sweet is better:

Son, we love you. I am sad that our relationship has deteriorated. If your dad and I can be of help, please let us know exactly how. Neither you, your father nor I are helped by disrespectful conversations. I, for one, am no longer available for those conversations. 

Always looking forward to responses from a respectful son.



Remember when you stop being held hostage to your son’s anger and disrespect – and stop trying to reach him in spite of his anger and disrespect- he could resort to increased violent or demanding behavior. So you need to decide ahead of time if you are willing to be strong and take the risk.

Take care and good luck,

Dr. Foster Cline is a child psychiatrist and co-founder of Love and Logic. He is also the co-author with Lisa Greene of the award-winning Love and Logic® book “Parenting Children with Health Issues.” For free audio, articles and other resources, visit

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