21 Year Old Son Lacking Responsibility

My problem is my 21 year old son who has been on a downward spiral for three years. He came home after a half a year away at college with only one credit. Then he enrolled full time at college in our hometown the following school year and failed. The following school year we told him he had to work full time and take a part-time class. He withdrew from the class near the end and never told us!

He is now sleeping all day and working for a charity part-time, 5-9, when he wants to go in (not often). He is also the lead singer for a band with a bunch of college students. They practice a few times a week. They make no money because anything they make they put back into a recording studio they rent. He is into writing poetry and writes the songs for them. He seems to think that his summer job as a lifeguard and swimming instructor (6 years) will sustain him.

He pays for his car insurance, telephone, and student loan but always late. He is always living on the edge. My husband told him that if he does not go to work at this point he does not want him going out or having anyone over. Yesterday, he slept all day, did not go to work, and got up to go to band practice. My husband said, "If you leave, do not bother coming home tonight. Sleep at a friend's because the door will be locked." My son said, "I have to go because we are doing a show tomorrow night" and he left.

My husband locked the door behind him when he went to work at 5; yet my son was in his bed when I went up to check on my daughter this morning. He should have been at work. I have been working on helping my son become a responsible young man. He thinks we are "too uptight" and should learn to relax more. "Everything will work out." He seems to have no work ethic, but he does have  strong spirituality. I know this was lengthy and maybe not appropriate to send to you, but I know my son has many gifts and talents, and I do not know where to go from here.


Always keep in mind that you will not be able to change him. He can only change himself.

The immediate issue is how you can all live together comfortably. Put your feelings on the table and put two questions to him:

1) What can WE do so we feel comfortable in our home?
2) What can YOU do so we feel we are responsible parents?

In essence, the discussion will be around what can be worked out so all FEEL good about the resolution. It is critical that you share your feelings—namely, that you feel that YOU ARE ENABLING him to act in a way that you believe is a reflection of your poor parenting.

This noncoercive approach of allowing him to help you reach satisfaction will be more effective and far less stressful than a coercive approach of your attempting to change him.

Dr. William Glasser's book, "Unhappy Teenagers: A Way for parents to Reach Them" would be a good investment for you. You can purchase Dr. Glasser's book from the William Glasser Institute at 800.899.0688.

My new parenting book, "Parenting without Stress: How to Raise Responsible Kids while Keeping a Life of Your Own" would also be of great assistance.

Be positive and never give up. Continue to send the message that you love your son and that you have faith he will live a productive life while having some consideration for his parents.

From what I infer he is not in danger of hurting himself or others, he acts in a safe manner, and he has good values. Your nurturing his nature will achieve what you desire more than any other approach. He has a talent for writing and music. Encourage him. Let him know that you would like to enjoy his talents by his sharing with you.

Finally, continue to reflect on the 1944 tune by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Johnny Mercer" "Accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative."

1 Comment
  1. The response is very valid and it must be pursued in right earnest. One can win over by love. He should be treated very friendly manner so that he will open up and discuss his problems and interests. Even my son was like this. I have excercised lot of patience and changed him with love. It may be late, but it is a sure shot solution.