A mother contacted the Guardian Weekend, problem solved columnasking for help with her 19-year-old son, describing how he, "isn’t in regular work and has started stealing from other family members. He dropped out of education before completing his A-levels and has since had a series of labouring jobs where the pay isn’t good. He has never been a great communicator, but his life is a total mystery as he never brings friends home."
Dr Angela Evans, a child and adolescent psychotherapist, picked up on the fact that this mother was still cleaning the rooms of her grown-up children and wondered about her difficulty in allowing her son to separate from her (not to apportion blame, but to help to identify possible colluding behaviour). She stressed how important it is to allow her son to become his own person.
“Adolescence is about separating from adults,” explained Evans. “To an extent, you should be experiencing your older teenage children like a stranger.” She also advised the mother to stop asking him how the job hunt is going, saying that this would just provoke more anxiety. In Evans’ extensive experience of working with teens, she has seen this behaviour before: “Lying and stealing is classic behaviour among difficult teenagers when they are angry and feel left out – it replaces an emptiness."
“The key is for parents to be a team in supporting adolescents,” says Evans. “You need to talk and find a middle ground you are both happy with.” Evans also stressed the importance of listening. “You need to draw up a contract to make family life run smoother. [your son's] growing adulthood needs to be recognised, but there also has to be no stealing. You need to make time to check in with one another and respect one another’s spaces.”
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