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A 18-year-old who is in the final year of high school is exhibiting certain patterns of behavior that seem very troubling. He is currently doing well in school, but I'm afraid that these patterns of behavior will soon enough lead him to disaster (academically and otherwise).

  • Lack of deep interest in most activities, apart from watching sports or playing video games.
  • Lack of interest in any specific academic topics.
  • Avoidance of any responsibility or school duty until the last possible moment before the (homework/exam) deadline -- to be precise, he does in the end do the job, but goes about doing it in the following way:

    • he asks for help from his parents and does it in a way as to imply that it is their responsibility to insure that the task is completed;
    • he refuses to go the extra mile in performing any academic task. What is more, he is always ready to cut corners that do not affect "too much" the performance -- one of his favorite saying is "I don't want to do useless extra work" (while actually talking about work whose avoidance will not make him fail, but will avoid him truly going beyond mediocrity).
  • Complete abdication of responsibility for any aspect of his life, from trivial decisions to more important life-changing ones -- e. g. he has not yet even thought about his college major (or job perspective) after finishing school (to clarify, in my country you have to decide a fixed major before applying to university).

  • Complete lack of skills and awkwardness in the most trivial/easiest manual activities.

  • Refusal to complete even the most trivial tasks (even when pressed) -- including showering, brushing his teeth, set his room in (the tiniest amount of) order. This kind of lack of self-care is consistent with depression symptoms, but, in my experience, being forced by an external force to complete such tasks is ralely met with active defiance in depression cases (in those cases it is more of a "letting oneself go" rather than actively resisting an external push towards self-care).

  • Severe misbehavior and lack of respect towards parents (or adults in general), sometimes to the point of threats of violence or simulated acts of violence. In some cases, I can see where his frustration comes from, but it is still unacceptable.

  • Unwillingness to learn (in many contexts) from others (even school teachers -- for example one phrase he uses often is "Why does teacher X go on blabbing about this useless stuff, can't he just assign pages from the textbook and be done with it?").

I must say that these things have been a problem with him for many years, but recently have become more and more severe.

One approach to try to deal with this kind of behavior would be to let him be until reality sets him straight. However, I'd really rather not have him suffer the consequences of his actions, because in my estimation they will surely be permanent and disastrous.

I cannot figure out the causes of this situation and when it is brought up for discussion his reaction is mosty avoidance (one phrase that he comes up with a lot in these circumstances is "Don't stress me out" -- which is also used when he engages in procrastination about school or other activities).

What should the parents do to deal with this situation effectively?

  • One thing missing from this entire thing: What does he say about any of this? There is an underlying problem or reason or issue. – SiXandSeven8ths Apr 24 at 20:06
  • @SiXandSeven8ths I cannot figure it out and, when the situation is brought up, his reaction is mosty avoidance (one phrase that he comes up with a lot in these circumstances is "Don't stress me out"). – Hiro Apr 24 at 20:13
  • @Hiro Do you think it is a lack of motivation/ambition or something else? For example, my step son has ADHD and exhibits a lot of these traits. I'm not saying its ADHD, just that the underlying problem might be a medical-related issue. The recommendation would be to see a doctor who can refer to the right resource for help. – SiXandSeven8ths Apr 25 at 13:05
  • Sounds exactly like my autistic and ADD (note: NOT adhd) stepson. – bigbadmouse May 28 at 14:18
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To mould children after fifteen is an uphill task, anyways. And as a parent you are sometimes caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to how much pressure you should put on your young adult and where you should let it loose. A whole lot of wrong beliefs have already piled up in your child and they are misguiding him today. Therefore it is best that you entrust the case to some Enlightened person, who is adept in the art of moulding children by changing their wrong beliefs and opinions and giving them the right direction to bring about sincerity in their behaviour and morality in their character.

A few things that you can try from your side:

  1. This world can only be won over through love and patience! Change your child’s behaviour gradually and patiently through love and understanding. Daily spend time with him and lovingly discuss things of his interest too. Maintain immense faith even when your child does dreadful things. The love from parents should be such that their children would not want to leave them. Moreover, prayers have enormous strength. God is present in each one of us in the form of the Soul. Earnestly and devotedly, pray to the Pure Soul residing within your child to help him get the right understanding and wisdom which ensures him a healthy and harmonious way of life.

  2. Give your child a sense of purpose. From what you’ve stated, it seems that child has the tendency to get bored rather too quickly. When watching sports or playing video games exceeds it normal limits, he will get bored of these things too. Where there is happiness, tiredness or boredom has no scope to exist at all. Hence, get him to explore what he is passionate for (other than playing video games), what does he love doing. Expose him to environments where he can see how people are happy, irrespective of the amount of hard work they do and no matter how pathetic their living conditions are. Challenge him on one hand and support him on the other to help him rise, listen, learn, dream and work with you to unleash his hidden potential. This will help create a common ground for both of you to talk and respect each other and will help find a common purpose to be around with each other.

  3. Watching you, he will follow you and will do whatever you do. Children learn when they see it in their parents. So inspire him to learn from you in a happy environment, the value of being responsible and also the skill of how to meet responsibilities being moral and sincere in life. He will become good and virtuous when he silently observes how his father is fulfilling his duties diligently and willingly; and how every family member is content with my mother’s hard work. This will make him realize one day, “I have all the comforts and facilities given to me, but still I am bored and miserable. If I take interest in my work, I too will be happy then!”

  4. Allow his intuition to develop. When any problem arises, the child gets confused, “Oh! What do I do? How do I solve this problem?” At that time, rather than offering an instant help or a readymade advice, ask him to find his basic solutions for himself. When he sees himself surrounded by darkness, not knowing how to solve the problem, suddenly something will flash within and he will see how to solve the problem. That’s called intuition!! It is a vision which is a result of so many past life’s experiences and is present in everyone to help us solve problems. Meditation, yoga, etc. will further enhance his vision and understanding. Educate him, but do not offer direct help and handicap his abilities. You will soon find him get over his favorite saying, "I don't want to do useless extra work”; and in course of time, he will be offering constructive and creative solutions to others too.

  5. Motivate, Encourage and Acknowledge responsible behaviour. Something that you now know he enjoys doing, try entrusting him some responsibility in that particular area or field; but not directly! Motivate him by reverse tactics. For instance, tell him, “I want to give you this responsibility. But how can I hand it over to you, who gets bored in fulfilling his own responsibilities and is totally disinterested and unenthusiastic in carrying out his basic routines.” We are doing this not to scare him or intimidate him, but so that willingly or unwillingly, he initiates and takes the first step forward. Frame value-based moral responsibilities and lure him to grab them one by one, and see that he enjoys them as he tries to implement them.

When he starts liking his compulsory duties, he will automatically get the strength to accomplish his work. And then, watching sports or playing video games will no longer be his prime source of enjoyment. At first he will raise objections, but later, when he will experience how good it feels to live a normal life, he will respond positively.

  • I really like your response in general, however I think at 18 a lost or defiant kid needs to have a test or struggle to help give them meaning in life. The cultural concept of a coming of age experience or challenge ties is the historical example of what I'm thinking about. – Adam Heeg Jun 26 at 18:23
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  1. Pick a single aspect. Pick a small one that can be well defined. Explain the problem that you have with his behaviour. Pick one that has a natural consequence if he fails to do it.

  2. Let him fail. Do NOT rescue him.

Example: He never starts his essays until the night before they are due, and he comes to his parents saying, "how do I do this?" You can tell him how in a cursory sort of way, but limit your help to 10 minutes, then let him flounder about.

He will do poorly on his essay. Next essay, suggest that he ask for help earlier, but that you will only give him 10 minutes of help in any given night.

  1. Certain actions have consequences. E.g. The use of the family car to go to the dance on Saturday is contingent on having a reasonable average on his report card.

  2. Certain things he should pay for himself. This means getting a job. Trying and losing a few jobs is a great eye opener for young men. As examples: His car insurance, his cell phone plan, his clothing. In general, let him know some time ahead that this is going to happen. For insurance the natural point is the next time it comes up for renewal. If his policy is a rider on yours, then if he is behind his payments to you, his keys are taken and the car is parked, or he has no access to your keys. For phones, go down one day and split his phone off onto a different plan.


But the key to all of these:

  • Set clear expectations of acceptable behaviour.

  • Set up a clear consequence for unacceptable behaviour.

  • Be ready to let him fail.

This will cause some stormy times. Be cool, calm, collected.

BOTH parents have to be on side with this, and have to agree about each expectation/consequence with each other before imposing it on the kid.

Edit in response to a comment:

Yes, you have certain unbreakable rules. E.g. If you want to use the canoe, you tell us you are going, you must wear a PFD. Failure to do this results in the canoe being padlocked to the canoe rack.

But flunking an essay is not life destroying.

Lack of interest in any specific academic topic is common. My brother through high school and college couldn't wait for summer to start. He wanted things, and my parents wouldn't pay for them, so he worked. He painted schools one summer, roofed one summer, forest service two summers. and so on. Each summer however by the end of August he knew he didn't want to be a labourer all his life.

Not paying for anything is a good start to firing up some ambition.

Bathing and teeth brushing: You can make 'dressing for supper' a requirement. That means, clean, brushed, in tidy clothing. You need to set an example for this to work.


Rereading your orginal post, your son may have some form of clinical depression. It may be worth having him assessed.

  • Thank you. This helps a bit. However, it would seem that it does not care about relatively minor (but still significant) consequences, and I'd rather not let him experience the life-destroying ones. – Hiro Jun 21 at 22:51
  • @Hiro life-destroying consequences are what gives life value in some sense, fragility makes it precious. I think you know this but the 18 year old clearly doesn't. Sometimes only through loss can get find gain. – Adam Heeg Jun 26 at 19:34
  • +1 for 'let him fail'. – Adam Heeg Jun 26 at 19:38
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What should the parents do to deal with this situation effectively?

From the comments, I take it you are concerned about your brother. Being that your brother is 18 years old already, he is old enough to take some responsibility in his life. It's normal to be concerned as a sibling, especially if you are an older one, but I recommend letting him figure out things out on his own (the caveat being unless he is a harm to himself or others, then seek professional help). People have different timelines for growth and sometimes having multiple people nagging them is a recipe for disaster. The fact he likes to say

"Don't stress me out"

Makes me think that there are multiple people trying to get him to make a change and it is stressing him out.

As the parent or whoever is taking care of him, I would first have him evaluated by a healthcare professional for physical and psychiatric issues. If he does have physical or mental health issue, work with the healthcare professional to address them. If there are no major issues or you have the blessing of the mental health professional, I would slowing remove things that are enabling to him to not do things for himself such as having him do his own homework, do his own laundry, clean his own space, cook meals, pay rent, pay groceries, etc. While you may think this is not caring for him, it is important that he learns to do things for himself.

Asks for help from his parents and does it in a way as to imply that it is their responsibility to insure that the task is completed

Under no circumstance at the age of 18 should a parent be helping him with his homework. Here again remove the enabling behavior and stop helping him with his academic work. He needs to understand that actions have consequences.

I say all of this, because my own experience with my little sister. She coasted through life only exerting effort when forced to by my parents or her old siblings. She lacked ambition, shirked chores, left her room a biohazard and neglected her pets to the point where either someone else took care of them or they had to be rehomed. She preferred mooching off of friends or her boyfriend. I, like my parents, tried guiding her to make better decisions and take responsibility, but she didn't respond to anything we did.

My little sister finally started making something of herself when everyone gave up and let her be. She founded a website with her classmates based on an idea one of them had during study group and made a little bit of money. She eventually found her way into being a consultant through another classmate. She's worked a series of roles, but settled into a people manager position, which suits her well since one of her main skills is getting other people to do work.

As a sibling, I recommend focusing helping your parents and the rest of your family remove the enabling behaviors and have a professional evaluate your brother.

  • 1
    Please edit to answer the question asked, not the presumed question (from prior to edit or comments.) Thanks. – anongoodnurse Apr 29 at 3:12

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