Our only son is twenty years old and is very rebellious…. He dropped out of the university three times, disappointing us and causing us to lose money. He prefers his deadbeat friends and bad habits, and one time he even hit me. My husband and I became very scared of him…. I got to the point where I couldn’t eat or sleep because of feeling such anguish and anxiety.

After I refused to wash our son’s clothes and cook food for him because of how disrespectful he was to me, my husband started doing it for him. I finally made the decision to leave home and leave him with his father, because I’m afraid of our son, and I never felt supported by my husband.

Dear Friend,

What a horrible situation! Your husband is so afraid of losing your son that he has allowed the young man to make all the rules and so rule the home.

A twenty-year-old should be washing his own clothes! The fact that your husband is doing it for him is overwhelming evidence that your husband has allowed the emotion of fear to completely overcome his reasoning ability.

When a child becomes a young adult, of legal age, the role of the parent should change. The parent is no longer responsible for feeding and clothing and providing for every need of the now adult. Parents who have the financial resources may choose to continue providing for an adult child who is continuing to study in a university or trade school. But when an adult child decides not to study, the parents’ financial and ethical responsibility is over. The adult child must work to provide for himself or face the consequences of not doing so. When he faces no negative consequences for not caring for himself, the adult child does not mature as he should.

However, studies show that the decision-making part of the brain is sometimes not fully developed until a person is in their early twenties. The frontal cortex is the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, and it is still maturing in the early twenties. Consequently, young adults often act based on their emotions and impulses rather than by logical reasoning.(1) Your son’s actions certainly seem to indicate that his frontal cortex is not yet mature.

Nevertheless, that biological component does not excuse disrespect or violence. Children must be held accountable for their actions at every age, or they will never learn to be responsible adults. When your husband allows him to act inappropriately without facing any negative consequences, your son learns to rule by manipulation and fear.

This kind of situation happens in many homes due to the fact that parents mistakenly give in to the unreasonable demands of their teenage and young adult children. The parents believe that they are doing the right thing, until the day they realize that the child now controls the home.

Because your husband and you do not agree, only you can decide what you should do now. We agree that you should stay where you are safe. And we agree that parents should handle violence by their own child in the same way that they would handle the same violence perpetrated by a stranger. And lastly, we believe that parents should force a violent adult child to move out of their house, even if it involves changing the locks on their doors to keep the adult child out.

We wish you the best,

1 “The Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving, and Decision Making”, Facts for Families No. 95, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, December 2011<https://www.aacap.org/App_Themes/AACAP/docs/facts_for_families/ 95_the_teen_brain_behavior_problem_solving_and_decision_making.pdf> Online 7 October 2019.