Don’t let adult child set the rules in your home

Q: Our 18-year-old son is our last child left in the house. He didn’t finish high school, but does have a job, at least for now. But living with him is awful. He barely talks to us. Getting him to do anything around the house always leads to an argument. I refused to let him take the car, so he just took my keys off the hook and took it anyway. He ignores our curfews and most of our house rules. I wonder about counseling, but I don’t know how to get him to come with us. Help! — L.D., Henderson

A: Your boy is 18, L.D. Glory, hallelujah. You have won the lottery! “Eighteen” is your winning number! You have all the legal power. The boy lives in your house at your pleasure.

The only power he has left in the relationship is his grip around your heart.

The reality is we have built a world that artificially delays the maturing of children into adults, and maybe particularly so with boys. You need to know, L.D., that a ton of parents find themselves living with surly, entitled progeny, age 17 to 26, holding everyone in the home emotionally hostage, sitting in the living room playing video games and ordering pizzas, wondering why someone won’t do their laundry.

And here’s what I tell parents:

Act now, unless you’d like to be looking at this tableau when your boy is 40.

Step one: Decide who your boy is — a guest, a tenant or a family member.

If he’s a guest in your house, then you could work on being a better host. Clean his room more often. Drive him places. Be a better tour guide. Cook and clean for him. Or, you could decide that he is a guest who has overstayed his welcome. You could thank him for coming, but tell him that it’s time for him to leave.

If you decide he’s a tenant, then it’s time for you to choose just what sort of “room for let” you want to offer. As landlords, you get to negotiate rent, board, minimum standards of safety. Allowable appliances. Whether your boy’s lease includes access to your fridge or your appliances. Whether you require a cleaning deposit.

In return, a tenant is not required to socialize or even talk to his landlords. You can do most of your business with memos, e-mails and other formal communique. Tenants don’t have curfews. They are accountable only to the lease agreement.

Or, you can decide that your son is a family member, in which case he’ll be accountable to the bonds and rhythms of family.

The minimal, non-negotiable standard for family bond is common courtesy. We make eye contact. We speak when we’re spoken to. We show up at meals on time. When someone says, “Please pass the salt,” we pass the salt. We pick up after ourselves, especially in common areas. We don’t have to like each other, but open disdain is never tolerated. It is understood that family members have a reciprocal interdependence and that each family member carries a fair share of the load.

The rhythms of family? Yep. No vampires are allowed in my house. I’m not going to be whispering and being quiet at 12:30 p.m. just because my son played video games until 4:30 the previous morning. I’m not going to be awakened out of a dead sleep at midnight to answer the phone when one of his “homies” calls.

Nope. If you’re a member of my family, then the rules are different.

L.D., it’s up to you to insist he grows up. I’m not stupid or cruel. I know full well that he’s probably not yet responsible enough to survive in the real world by himself. But, I swear to you, I’ll set my son on the curb before I’ll allow him to conscript my household in an atmosphere of contempt and fear.

And, by the way, my boy takes my car without permission? Then me and my boy will talk. (Yes, I know that’s grammatically incorrect, but it sounds more macho.) I’ll express my indignation. I’ll introduce him to the phrase “grand theft auto.” And I’ll let him know clearly and decisively what will happen if he ever tries it again.

I’ll call the police and say someone has stolen my car, and I think I know who it is.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling and Wellness Center in Las Vegas. His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to skalas@ reviewjournal.com.

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