May 16, 2023


A lot of adults believe that once their children turn 18, they no longer have the ability to control aspects of their life. It’s important to know that that’s not entirely accurate. I am called often by parents of a 17 ½ year old who try to explain to me that the moment they turn 18, they lose all authority. It’s a crisis-like example of the clock striking midnight for Cinderella. Instead of turning a dress into rags, it’s like your child magically becomes off-limits. In this article you’ll read ways in which you still can help your child even after they legally become an adult.

Turning 18 has less flair now than it did 30 years ago. And we know in becoming a legal adult, it doesn’t automatically give someone the gifts of maturity and flawlessly navigating adulthood. We know the brain has several years of development, and impulsive behaviors run rampant. That could include substance use, sexual relationships, and academic endeavors. Life is a series of choices and if you are holding the purse strings, it’s important to know you can direct your loved one to stop or get help. The same goes for when they are struggling with mental illness. It’s not your job as a parent to just sit on the sidelines and let them struggle, unless that’s what you want to do.

If you are desperate to get your young adult help, there are some steps you can take to help.

1. Let them fail. Failure is a part of life. Set them up so that when they struggle, you make yourself into the “safe person” to vent to and problem solve. They, in fact, do not want you to solve anything. They just need a sounding board to try things on. When you’re in this position, you end up being able to drop hints about options for the future that allow for success without being the one to “tell” them they need help or treatment.

2. Hold boundaries. If they are using you as an emotional or physical punching bag, get yourself out. If you are paying for anything for your young adult, you can shut that down immediately. Do not cave, as you will learn rather quickly if you stay strong in holding this boundary, that you are serious. If they are financially dependent, they will come back crawling rather quickly. Have a plan in place. Say something like “I am willing to pay for you to get help, but I will no longer willing to financially support you otherwise. This includes paying for an apartment, care payments, health insurance, car insurance, food, and giving you an allowance.”

3. Get trained. A lot of the parents I work with get stuck in patterns with their young adults. They become emotional flooded constantly because they are irate, worried sick, and feeling beyond frustrated. You have the same arguments in the same location over the same issues, daily or weekly. If you are ready to break the cycle, it’s beneficial for you to get trained.

4. See a Therapist. We want you to grieve the loss of being a parent of a child. Your child is no longer an actual child. It’s important for you to learn to be a parent of an adult, and make sure you’re speaking with a trained professional about it.

5. Seek the help of professionals. Hire an Interventionist. I’d specifically recommend those that are clinically trained. You want to make sure you’re not traumatizing your loved one or yourself for that matter. Also hire a Therapeutic Consultant. That way once your loved one agrees to go to treatment, you have someone who has lined up an ethical treatment program and will provide case management and continued care support throughout the duration of your loved ones’ treatment journey.

6. Research Guardianship/Conservatorship options. This is for parents of young adults with significant mental health or medical issues who are unable to care for themselves. This is a legal process, so it’s important to note this takes time and financial resources. Each state has different requirements and repercussions regarding this process, and most treatment programs will only accept a young adult who is “willing” to be there. So even if you move forward with this process, you may have less options for treatment programs.

7. Know it’s okay to say no. If you just don’t want to provide financial support, including getting treatment, that’s entirely your choice. Depending on how you feel about your young adult, they may learn to quickly get themselves together or they may just disappear altogether. You have to be strong enough to handle however that plays out. You must take care of yourself. If you drain all your financial resources on your loved one, what will you have left for yourself?

No matter how this plays out, you must let go of the image you envisioned of how your young adult would be once they entered adulthood. Clearly something is off, and although you may be holding on desperately to that vision of success for your child, you need to be open to accepting who they are, and who they will become. Let this image die with grace. Mourn the image to allow yourselves to be present for what’s currently happening. This image is often the biggest factor in parents causing situations to get worse; thus, destroying the relationship entirely. Start from a place of honesty for yourself. Only then can they truly see the “adult” in front of you and not seen as “my child.” They are struggling, and it’s important that you allow for a process of change that is supportive.

Helping a loved one get help can be hard to navigate alone. Know you don’t have to do this alone. That, and anyone at any age can go to treatment. There is still a stigma associated with getting help and know that just because someone becomes a legal adult doesn’t mean that you can’t influence them getting into treatment. Know that you have options to provide support, and just because someone turns 18 doesn’t mean that your hands are tied.

For anyone looking for additional resources around mental health, substance abuse, college transition coaching, or parent resources you can find them on: or follow @lilleyconsulting, or

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