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How can I consistently use consequences with my 18-year-old son who is having behavior problems?


​​My son is 18 and just started college. On paper, he is awesome! Good looking, athletic, smart (got almost a full scholarship for college), works 2 jobs and he gets great grades. On a personal level though, he is selfish and irresponsible. He totaled my car 2-days ago and could have killed several people. He was out at an hour he shouldn't have been, and in a location he shouldn't have been either. I am largely to blame. His behavior toward us has been disrespectful and escalating for 2 years, and I have been inconsistent and nearly absent in holding him to account…because I just couldn't say “No." Every punishment seemed too extreme, and I'd make excuses for him. My husband would try to discipline our son and I would often undermine him. Now with the car wreckage, my son doesn't even seem to care and no punishment I can think of seems adequate. I also don't have confidence in my ability to stick to anything consistently. I understand he is on the precipice of going down a path of self-destruction and everything is on the line. What is the right thing to do? Please help…is there a sponsor program or something to help keep me from being a pushover?


18 year old

Thank you for reaching out today. Parenting is hard! Especially when it comes to discipline. It can be hard to know when you need to ask for help, so that is great that you found the courage to reach out today! 

It definitely sounds like there needs to be some severe consequences for your son with him totaling your car. He is likely acting like it is “no big deal" because he has gotten away with things in the past when you don't hold him accountable. Consequences can be hard, but they are there to protect our children and to help them learn. Like you said, your son could have killed several people and this crash could have been much, much worse. Teenagers in general are typically reckless and think they are invincible, which is why parents need to step in and let them know that this is not reality. 

With these extreme behaviors, it is definitely acceptable to have your son lose his privileges. If he is not able to be responsible enough to drive the car safely or be in locations that you approve of, he should lose the privilege of using the car. Typically, behavior-based consequences are more effective than time-based consequences. Therefore, your son should earn his privileges back based off of healthy, positive and responsible behaviors instead of getting them back “next week." 

It sounds like your husband has a strong ability to follow through with consequences. Maybe let him take the lead when/if needed. It is SO important that, as parents, you do not undermine one another. This is only going to show your son that he has control over you and can manipulate the situation by making someone feel bad for him when there is a consequence involved. You and your husband need to be on the same page when it comes to appropriate discipline and consequences. Maybe have this conversation with your husband in private, prior to talking to your son about this. That way, you both will be a strong, unified front when talking with your son. 

Like i mentioned above, parenting is hard! It takes a village to raise kiddos. It is great that you have the support of your husband. Please feel free to reach back out to the Hotline at any time. Crisis Counselors are available 24/7 to provide whatever support or assi​stance possible, just call 1-800-448-3000. Hopefully these suggestions can point you in the right direction on what to do next. Remember that you are strong, brave and confident! Get control back with your son and lean on your support when you need to.​