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Helping My Almost 19 Year Old Daughter Face The Real World

Question:

Hi Doctor, I am the father of 4 children one girl and 4 boys. My wife and I have been going through hard financial times for the past 5 years so there has been a lot of stress in the family but one cause of more stress if my daughter. She is turning 19 and our oldest. She started in college but decided that early classes were too tough. She did not follow through on financial aid (even though we reminded her time after time) so she has a bill due the college on this friday. We keep reminding her she needs a job so she can meet her commitments but she refuses to take the responsability. She has called places, gotton an interview and no follow through. She has landed a short term job and refused to go to it. Then she complains that she has more work to do than her younger brothers even though they are in school and one is also working, and in drivers ed. I asked her this morning what was up and as usual I got ‘nothing’ ‘I don’t know’ ‘why are you bothering me’ and so on. After a a few loud words she did say that she did not want to grow up or mature. I told her that wether she wanted it or not she was growing up. What else can I do? How can we get her to take the responsabilities? She has so much potential I would love to see her use it. Thanks for any help Mike

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Answer:

Dear Mike,

You have made a "Freudian Slip" in your E. Mail question because you said you are the father of 4 children: one daughter and 4 boys! If my arithmetic is correct, you are the father of 5 children, one of whom is your daughter. In my office I have a jar that is titled "Freudian Slips" and I invite my patients to place their "slips" metaphorically in the jar. Of course, the jar is bursting. In fact, a few of my own "slips" are in there. Please know that the reason for your "slip" is very understandable. In fact, your plea for help represents countless numbers of mothers and fathers across our vast land. Now, to get serious:

I happen to know (privately) of a young 19 year old man who failed all of his classes in his first semester of college. He is very bright so that his failure was not a matter of ability but rather of will. He learned that his parents were very willful when he failed to promise to repay the tuition money they had borrowed for him to go to school. They told him, in no uncertain terms that he was to get a job and pay them rent or he could not live with them. When he refused to either get a job or pay rent they put him out of the house…permanently. He now has a job and he pays rent… for an apartment he shares with three other guys! I know him because he is a waiter in a restaurant we frequent in our area of the world. He is a fine young man, really works hard and is learning a good lesson about life.

You and your wife need to ask yourselves whether or not you can take the hard line approach described above and if it is even desirable. Naturally you are correct when you remind your daughter that she must grow up whether she wants to or not. However, it is not so easy for her. Also, she is different from the young man I just described. For example, this young man is strong and capable and is doing quite well in the world of work. It is not easy but he is doing it and proving how capable he really is. He has also traveled the world and lived in other countries. I am not sure that what his parents did is the best possible approach to most adolescents including your daughter.

Why does your daughter not want to grow up? It is common for young people at her age to experience lots of anxiety about leaving home and facing the world. If she is experiencing separation anxiety and depression it may account for unwillingness to move on with her life. I guess I am leading to the possibility of psychotherapy for her so that she can overcome whatever is stalling her progress and move on with her life.

It is not unusual for students to do poorly in their first semester of college. In fact, many continue to have difficulty during the entire first year. There is lots of anxiety, there is distance from home if college is away, there is separation anxiety, there are classes that may be more difficult than was true at High School and there is the loss of old friends.

The worst thing you can do is get into shouting matches with your daughter. Once you lose your temper you prove to her that she has succeeded in enraging you and that empowers her in a way that she does not need. You need to be patient but firm in encouraging her to go to therapy and to find work. You need to talk quietly with her to understand what is going on with her. Talking means that you must listen to what she is saying. Ask her why she does not want to mature? Ask her what you can do to help her.

My guess is that she is depressed and is truly unable to tell you what is really bothering her. I do want to encourage a psychotherapy approach. In fact, I would recommend therapy for her along with family therapy for all of you. The entire family is facing one of those life transitions that are difficult for most of us to negotiate. She is your oldest child and the first to face adulthood. For the other children there is the loss of a sister and for you and your wife, there is the loss of you first born. As much as you want her to mature I am sure that you and your wife have ambivalent feelings about her impending adulthood and independence. In other words, her difficulties, at the moment, are the difficulties of the entire family.

It’s a scary world today for our children. Be patient with her. Encourage her and all of you to go to therapy. The family needs help at this critical time. With the proper help and guidance I believe that all of you can get through this transition period successfully.

Good Luck

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