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Doctor Blake
Doctor Blake, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 146
Experience:  Ph.D., Ed.S., NCSP Clinical Psychologist; 15+ years of experience; dual licensure
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How do you parent college-age kids My 19-year-old twins are

Resolved Question:

How do you parent college-age kids? My 19-year-old twins are home for the summer after a rather unsuccessful first year at college. They now refuse to help around the house, say they will do things during the day and don't, are make virtually no effort to get summer jobs, etc. It seems silly to ground what should be nearly adults, but I'm at my wits' end!
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Doctor Blake replied 3 years ago.

Doctor Blake :

Good evening, and welcome to JA.

Doctor Blake :

You have a difficult - if wonderful - opportunity on your hands... to keep your word and to support your children as they become adults.

Doctor Blake :

I hope that you established boundaries when you agreed to the arrangement that your twins could could home, yes?

Doctor Blake :

If so - they need to abide by those boundaries.

Doctor Blake :

As I understand them now, you are offering them room and board... and nothing else. They are responsible for all other "perks" beyond this.

Doctor Blake :

If there are rules about room and board - they should be made clear - and you need to stick with them. If there aren't - then you need to agree (as parent(s)) that you will maintain your stand.

Doctor Blake :

You can't MAKE them get jobs, study, or do something productive... but you can make life pretty (to be frank) "lame" (as 19 year olds might say) so that they will be motivated to do something different.

Customer:

We did set boundaries and they even agreed to them, but they have not followed through and are making no effort to do so. We have calmly reminded them of our agreement, but I don't feel like I have any leverage to get them to do what they agreed to. They seem content to sit around the house.

Doctor Blake :

Don't get upset if there is a period of laziness before they realize, "Oh, wow - they mean business!" Once they realize you won't cave... they'll either (a) get jobs or (b) get out.

Doctor Blake :

Well. if your boundaries included "sitting around the house..." (which I can't really imagine) then that is part of YOUR agreement.

Doctor Blake :

Perhaps I don't understand the nature of your concerns... what end of the bargain are they not holding up?

Doctor Blake :

ahh... I see you're typing. I'll wait.

Customer:

We agreed that the one who does not yet have a driver's license would get it, they would find jobs, would pick up after themselves, and would occasionally run errands if we needed them to (mom and dad both work and there are two younger kids in the house). We also agreed that until they got jobs, they would do projects around the house that we would assign them (painting their younger brother's room, cleaning the pool, etc.). The best we have gotten in the month they've been home is an occasional, highly complianed about, errand. Nothing else.

Doctor Blake :

I see.

Doctor Blake :

Then it's time for a family meeting.

Doctor Blake :

You need to revisit these expectations and boundaries.

Doctor Blake :

Try to learn, AS A FAMILY, how you can achieve these goals.

Doctor Blake :

Do they need reminders? Do reminders make them crazy?

Customer:

Reminders make them crazy and

Customer:

requests for an update leads to excuses for why nothing was done.

Doctor Blake :

Do they understand if these goals are not achieved that there will be consequences? And what ARE these consequences?

Doctor Blake :

It's tricky when you have twins - because they can easily collude against parents.

Doctor Blake :

I would suggest writing out a list of the expectations that you've made.

Doctor Blake :

At the end of the list is the deadline - when they return to school.

Doctor Blake :

What can and will be reasonably accomplished during this time?

Doctor Blake :

If you can all agree and negotiate this, then great.

Doctor Blake :

If they do not fulfill their end of the bargain - then you have to agree to withhold - what... spending money at school? tuition?

Customer:

I guess that's the problem. We need to figure out how far we are willing to go. I guess, if we keep taking things away, eventually they will feel the pinch. And you are so right about twins! Since birth, they have primarily sought one another's approval rather than their parents'.

Doctor Blake :

LOL. arent's twins great? From the beginning they have a special "language all their own." (Us psychologists/linguists refer to this as "idioglossia," just so ya know...)

Doctor Blake :

I think what I'm hearing is that they have had previous experiences where, perhaps, boundaries have not been all that firmly kept in place...

Doctor Blake :

...and now they have a chance to slack... well, they're gonna.

Doctor Blake :

I would recommend that FAMILY MEETING.

Doctor Blake :

#1. Here's what we expect you to get done by DATE OF RETURN TO SCHOOL.

Doctor Blake :

#2. If you get EVERYTHING done by DATE OF RETURN TO SCHOOL - here's what you get.

Doctor Blake :

#3. If you don't get everything done by DATE OF RETURN TO SCHOOL - here's what happens.

Doctor Blake :

The only tricky part is... if you don't follow up on #3... you're gonna teach them the lesson that "my parents don't really mean what they say... so let's see how far we can take it!"

Doctor Blake :

In part, what you're experiencing is called an "extinction burst" in clinical/behavioral research circles.

Doctor Blake :

You are fundamentally changing the behavioral-rewards system to extinguish a behavior you don't like (sitting around eating cheetos, watching TV).

Doctor Blake :

When the folks giving the rewards begin to hold them back, the cheeto-eaters invariably increase their behaviors... waiting to see how long they can wear you out!

Doctor Blake :

(Sometimes an extinction burst can lead to really nasty behaviors, BTW)

Doctor Blake :

But, here's the tricky part - if the folks giving the rewards cave in even just a little bit... it teaches the "cheeto-eaters" that they just need to keep pushing the envelope a little bit further... and further... and further...

Doctor Blake :

This "extinction burst" phenomenon works with ALL animals (not just human teenagers). Just beware that if you yield even a little bit, you'll inadvertently teach the lesson that: "just hold out long enough, and we'll cave..."

Customer:

Did I mention they both have ADHD? When you say nasty behaviors -- it can get pretty nasty! And it's like having toddlers, again. When I was their age, I was completly independent. I couldn't imagine my mother having to discipline me. I know that is part of the problem I am having with them -- I'm mystified!

Doctor Blake :

I would encourage you NOT TO CAVE, unless you want to make the problem worse. (this same extinction burst is seen in toddlers who don't want to be potty trained, BTW.)

Doctor Blake :

LOL. Don't be mystified! Welcome to the world of behavioral psychology.

Doctor Blake :

Please, oh, please, oh please... make certain that the "parental units" in this dynamic are in complete and total agreement before submitting your "EXPECTATIONS LIST" to your twins.

Doctor Blake :

You both should probably write it out between yourselves first - to make certain that you agree. If even ONE of you caves... you're sunk.

Doctor Blake :

Once you present AS A UNIFIED FRONT your expectations and consequences... you'll learn how far they'll go... and what consequences you'll have to dole out (based on their behavior).

Customer:

Thanks, XXXXX XXXXX We'll try the family meeting and sticking to our guns -- and fear not, dad and I are a team on this.

Doctor Blake :

LOL. Good!

Doctor Blake :

I wish you all the best in the world.

Customer:

Thanks.

Doctor Blake :

Feel free to contact me again, if you like... or any of the experts on JA.

Doctor Blake :

Please click <ACCEPT>.

Customer:

Appreciate it.

Doctor Blake, Psychologist
Category: Mental Health
Satisfied Customers: 146
Experience: Ph.D., Ed.S., NCSP Clinical Psychologist; 15+ years of experience; dual licensure
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Doctor Blake
Doctor Blake
Psychologist
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Ph.D., Ed.S., NCSP Clinical Psychologist; 15+ years of experience; dual licensure