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Thread: parenting an 18-year-old

  1. #31
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    Unhappy Change is difficult

    Thank you for your considerations. I had to re-read your book’s description of Bipolar Disorder. I have also read and listened of cases on the television and newspaper. I have not witnessed those mood swings and extreme illusions that I often read of. He has a lofty sense of hubris. He is obedient to his emotions. His moral compass is directed by his emotions. I have heard of doctors linking bipolar disorders to a heavy reliance on satisfying their emotions. He self-medicates to achieve the identity he desires. He uses alcohol and prozac to overcome his social shyness. Although he advised me that he recently gradually withdrew his prozac because it caused him sexual impotency. Marijuana and nicotine gives him a calm from his predisposed anxiousness. His exaggerations of self; his lies and deceit support his hubris and habits. His psychiatrists and psychologists have been hesitant to treat him as bipolar but has treated him as conduct disorder. I wonder if it is as you state in your book, “whatever exists now in a person has very powerful forces behind it, not the least of which is years of repetition.” It is difficult to change from what has become familiar, comfortable, and secure; despite the destructive consequences that keep coming to him. For the same reasons, it is equally difficult to change the relationships that support these habits of the mind. Add to this possibly a pre-disposition and there could possibly be a huge mountain to overcome. He turns to the "truth" for comfort when experiencing his destructive consequences but quickly returns to his familiar past. Is this the "hardwiring" we all fear? I have observed that my son has a great deal of ambition to achieve but he does not have the character to sustain what he has achieved. Is it true that people are more likely to change not by knowing who they are or were (ie. The destructive forces in their lives.) but by envisioning what they could be? In other words, is anyone likely to change from hearing how bad they are?
    Is it counter-productive for a parent to continue to respectfully attempt to bring reason and awareness to their son? Is it wise for a parent to express his fear that their son is on the edge of a cliff and heading in the wrong direction? Are we in the same frustrating position as the therapist that can help others but can’t help his own son?
    Our son will be soon in the care of his college's mental health staff. I do not know how much intervention I can respectfully do on my son's behalf. Like I said earlier, my son can put on an act for those who are trying to help him. I do not know why he has allowed my wife and I to know a part of his destructive life except that he still desires our paternal support and approval. Please continue our dialoge, it has given us valuable guidance and perspective. Thank you.

  2. #32
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    Presenting BiPolar for consideration

    Hello Dr. Bradley, In a few weeks my wife and I will be flying to meet our son to help him move back to college after serving a one year suspension and performing some valuable internships. I don't know how many "never again" promises he has kept or broken. He knows that the stakes are high when he returns to college. He has little room for poor judgement.
    I saw this pharmaceutical company sponsored website, www.isitreallydepression.com and would like your opinion on whether it is appropriate for a "crazy teenager" to consider the online test. I hear of so many people share of their crazy teenage years. I know of many in my college fraternity days that were the same (I was the nerd; the fraternity minister). I believe it must be very difficult to discern in teenagers: permanent mental disorders, hormonally driven behavior, socially driven craziness, age driven lack of wisdom, insecure-pain driven self-medication, and hardwired behavior. Given your last thoughts, I thought this online test might be a good prompting for him to consider a open dialogue with the college's mental health professionals. But am I implying a difficult label on him?
    Sincerely

  3. #33
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    Dear Dad,
    I happen to like those online questionnaires, even though they often get roasted by some professionals. No, they are not a substitute for a thorough professional evaluation, and, no, they should not be used to diagnose anyone. But I find that they are very useful in helping folks to begin discussions with themselves and/or others about how they are doing in the world.
    Perhaps suggest to your son that he has nothing to lose in taking the test. If he refuses, gently ask what he's afraid of. If he so wishes, offer that you'd be happy to take it as well and share your answers with him if he wants. Anything that starts people talking is a good thing in my view.
    Keep us posted.
    Dr. Mike Bradley

  4. #34
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    Update: Nearly 21 years-old

    This is becoming a longitudinal journal.
    Our son completed his 2nd year of college after a mandatory one-year “medical leave.” During the one-year leave I saw little improvement in his self-destructive addictions and obsessions despite his sincere efforts otherwise. During the year he had continued abusing alcohol, pot, nicotine, and sexual promiscuity while searching for his identity. He is now nearly 21 years old. While being back at school he was required to check-in with the associate dean every other week. He was aware that a lapse in moral judgment could now have significant consequences for him. During his spring break visit with us, except for a short diversion to watch baseball spring training with us, he studied the whole time. He appeared to be clean the whole time. His grades were outstanding (3-A’s and a B+; taking difficult quantitative and qualitative courses). He was haunted by pre and post test anxieties/depressions. He was obsessed with demonstrating his worthiness academically. He has received a summer scholarship and an associated internship with a distinguished economist for the summer.
    I continue to make efforts to stay connected with him, to make him aware of those timeless truths that bring forth calm, perspective, character, and integrity but I am mindful of the need now to practice wise parenting by knowing to not parent as much as possible. I fear without the boundaries created by the college, he will again lapse into his self-destructive behaviors that bring him escape and comfort. I have seen this yo-yo styled struggle over the last four years. As Dr. Bradley warns, I must guard against presuming destructive behaviors.
    The journey continues. We will hopeful all be better for it. I continue to hope that the evolution of his awareness and beliefs will bring about a change in his behaviors; which will affect who he becomes. At 52 years-old I can attest to this adaptation.


    I saw this in the health section of our local newspaper. Current research continues to support Dr. Bradley’s assumptions.
    Brain waves:
    Birth to age 12: brain is in fastest period of growth, with nerve cells connecting to form and enlarge most vital regions of the brain. This explains why young children are fastest to pick up new languages.
    Ages 12-25: brain continues to develop, and areas responsible for impulse control and moral judgment typically are developed in early 20s.
    After age 25: Mature brain “prunes” itself, with more activity devoted to refining existing systems than creation of new areas.
    Gender/income differences: Girls start with a slightly better verbal ability, but boys catch up by adolescence. Boys and girls have an equal aptitude for math. While children from low-income families scored slightly lower on IQ tests, earlier suggestions of a bigger gap are due to poorer health among poor families.

  5. #35
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    Unhappy Update: Nearly 21 years-old

    This post is a copy. My original post was not received apparently.
    Update: Our son completed his 2nd year of college after a mandatory one-year “medical leave.” During the one-year leave I saw little improvement in his self-destructive addictions and obsessions despite his sincere efforts otherwise. During the year he had continued abusing alcohol, pot, nicotine, and sexual promiscuity while searching for his identity. He is now nearly 21 years old. While being back at school he was required to check-in with the associate dean every other week. He was aware that a lapse in moral judgment could now have significant consequences for him. During his spring break visit with us, except for a short diversion to watch baseball spring training with us, he studied the whole time. He was clean the whole time. His grades were outstanding (3-A’s and a B+; taking difficult quantitative and qualitative courses). He was haunted by pre and post test anxieties/depressions. He was obsessed with demonstrating his worthiness academically. He has received a summer scholarship and an associated internship with a distinguished economist for the summer.
    I continue to make efforts to stay connected with him, to make him aware of those timeless truths that bring forth calm, perspective, character, and integrity but I am mindful of the need now to practice wise parenting by knowing to not parent as much as possible. I fear without the boundaries created by the college, he will again lapse into his self-destructive behaviors that bring him escape and comfort. I have seen this yo-yo styled struggle over the last four years. As Dr. Bradley warns, I must guard against presuming destructive behaviors.
    The journey continues. We will hopeful all be better for it. I continue to hope that the evolution of his awareness and beliefs will bring about a change in his behaviors; which will affect who he becomes. At 52 years-old I can attest to this adaptation.


    I saw this in the health section of our local newspaper. Current research continues to support Dr. Bradley’s assumptions.
    Brain waves:
    Birth to age 1 2: brain is in fastest period of growth, with nerve cells connecting to form and enlarge most vital regions of the brain. This explains why young children are fastest to pick up new languages.
    Ages 1 2-25: brain continues to develop, and areas responsible for impulse control and moral judgment typically are developed in early 20s.
    After age 25: Mature brain “prunes” itself, with more activity devoted to refining existing systems than creation of new areas.
    Gender/income differences: Girls start with a slightly better verbal ability, but boys catch up by adolescence. Boys and girls have an equal aptitude for math. While children from low-income families scored slightly lower on IQ tests, earlier suggestions of a bigger gap are due to poorer health among poor families.

  6. #36
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    Smile Raising a 21 Year Old

    My son is 21 years-old now. I’ve been updating this site for over 4 years. I’m writing this at 1 AM because my son woke me up and I can’t go back to sleep. He called by cell phone at 11PM (his 2AM) from the other side of the US to ask for Google Map directions to a house. With e-mails and cell phones the small degrees of separation makes parenting older children different than what we experienced at 18 or 21 years-old. I’ve noted this before in these writings. We are not insulated by a “don’t ask, don’t tell,” policy of disclosure. We have a good relationship. He shares much with us. He has consulted us about girl-friend problems, college class choices, his stock investments, and his writings (he writes for an online magazine and interns at a policy institute). I dread what I don’t know. I don’t agree with everything he does but neither does my Dad of me. My son is much more of a risk-taker than I am. I e-mail him words of wisdom. Sometimes daily, when he is facing a new experience; other times once a week. Occasionally he acknowledges its usefulness. We better than most know our children’s temperament, strength, and weaknesses. Young adults need wisdom. I wonder what he might be doing in a car at 2 AM with a young lady driving and looking for a house. I change the Google Map View to Satellite View and tell him that the house he is looking for is across the street from what appears to be a large Church. My son acknowledges it is a Church and that indeed the house he is looking for is across the street. He thanks me. I remind myself at this writing that I must guide my son with “open hands” and not “closed fists.” I lead with my life and not by control or manipulation. Yes, when they are younger and living at home, we must do all we can to slow their access to the destructive temptations of the popular culture. But as Dr. Bradley admonishes, it is the priority of the relationship that makes a difference. We visit our son in a week to help him move back to college to begin his junior year. He is changing, his identity is taking shape. My wife reminds me to be hopeful in the mist of my pessimism. She reminds me that there are many things he is doing to make his life significant.

  7. #37
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    Identity Formation

    I recently heard a movie trailer of a comedy about some people on a train. Metaphorically it was the “train of life.” At some point everyone gets off the train for a break because the train is lost! The people on the train ask each other how can a train that travels on tracks, get lost. In the discussion among the people about the train’s status, one replies: “We haven’t located ourselves yet!” As parents we often wonder how our children can get lost on the tracks we put them on. Identity formation, discovering those values that can carry them through life, is their unique journey. As parents of adolescent or young adults, we serve as one of many valuable reference points in their lives. In that responsibility our lives are enlightened.

  8. #38
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    Stop Smoking w/ Hypnotic?

    Dear Dr. Bradley,
    Our son has indicated that he desires to stop smoking cigarettes. He says he has stopped smoking marijuana since being asked by the school to take a break from school. But consequently his cigarette smoking increased to 5 cigarettes a day (after meals and periods of high anxiety). He has tried many times to stop on his own unsuccessfully. The schools health center advised him that they would not prescribe Chantix or other prescription because he is not considered chemically addicted. It appears to be a habit much like a child needing to suck their thumb. Is there evidence that hypnotic therapy is effective?

  9. #39
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    Hypnosis works only with highly-motivated subjects who very much want to quit. I worry that your son is not there yet since he more likely really enjoys that behavior versus is bio-chemically addicted to it.
    He might do better with substituting some other reward that is less deadly (i.e. coffee, chocolate, chewing gum) for those "cigarette moments." However, here again, he must really want to give up the smokes.
    Perhaps you could offer him some other reward that might help him through the denial pain (paying for a song download or sending a few dollars for each day he abstains, and so on).
    If you guys find a cure, please let us know.
    ATTN OTHER PARENTS: any suggestions that you've seen work?
    Dr. Mike Bradley

  10. #40
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    Smoking Cessation: 2 weeks

    Our son tried the hypnotic therapy. It was effective for 2 weeks. Being away for college, he could not return for any follow-up therapy. He does have a drawer full of lollipops in his desk drawer. Is smoking and lollipops part of an oral fixation? He did not suck his thumb when an infant.
    Saw the movie, "Into The Wild." Identity formation is hard on everyone who cares.

  11. #41
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Bradley View Post
    Hypnosis works only with highly-motivated subjects who very much want to quit. I worry that your son is not there yet since he more likely really enjoys that behavior versus is bio-chemically addicted to it.
    He might do better with substituting some other reward that is less deadly (i.e. coffee, chocolate, chewing gum) for those "cigarette moments." However, here again, he must really want to give up the smokes.
    Perhaps you could offer him some other reward that might help him through the denial pain (paying for a song download or sending a few dollars for each day he abstains, and so on).
    If you guys find a cure, please let us know.
    ATTN OTHER PARENTS: any suggestions that you've seen work?
    Dr. Bradley, You asked about stopping smoking. When I went to the Cancer Society's excellent stop smoking program (inexpensive too), they asked, "who wants to stop smoking"? We all raised our hands. Then they asked, "who wants to give up cigarettes"? And we all sat on our hands. Then they explained that one does NOT need to be 100% committed to giving up smoking; that one could be ambivalent and that part of their program worked with that ambivalence. So I would encourage anyone with an interest in stopping smoking to check out their program even if they are ambivalent. They also told us that each time we gave up smoking, it was more practice for when we would give it up for good. I once read that the success rate for drug addicts who volunteered for treatment programs was no better than for those committed to the programs by the courts. So there is some myth to the oft-repeated statement, "you have to want it to recover", b/c in the beginning you may not want "it". Finally, I believe that the multi-mode approach seems to work well with smoking -- the patch, a support program and some people need certain anti-depressants to get through.

  12. #42
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    Wink 23 Years Old

    He will be 23 years old soon, he is graduating and he has a job waiting for him at an economic consulting firm. Does he have his impulsive and compulsive tendencies? Does he occasionally feel the need to smoke cigarettes for calm? Yes, but he is aware of it and taking those lasting baby steps toward an identity or view of the world that can overcome these tendencies. Contentment needs to be learned by most of us. I sometimes tell people that I've spent the last 7 years un-teaching my son what I taught him his first 17 years. Values such as perfectionism or to worry. What has helped him most during these 6 to 7 years? I believe it is our loving relationship with him and our own ability to continue the process of maturing in our own life. We are learning to come along side instead of into his life. We gain greater respect from him and influence. Another valuable relationship is his girlfriend. This has helped him turn his focus from himself to someone else of value. Does he continue to battle those vices that we all battle: sex, power, and money? Yes, but he is in a better place than the past 7 years. So maybe that frontal lobe in the brain matures in time and the security of being loved has the power of transformation. It’s not an Ah ha moment, it is more of a barely noticeable shift or evolution. These changes are probably more lasting. Thank you for providing me this place to work though my thoughts and value of your collective feedback. This has been a crazy ride! I am better person today for having been on this ride. Good bye.

  13. #43
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    Smile Was 19, now 25 years-old

    My son is now 25 years-old. This is an update. His first professional job lasted one year. His first serious girlfriend relationship lasted 4 years. His second job is doing much better as he understands much better what is expected of him. He has a new girlfriend. He is trying to be more unselfish in terms of his relational skills. These work and relational responsibilities gives him basic stability. He stopped smoking. He still does pot. I believe he still struggles with the temptations of the three "P's" (Pleasure, Possessions, and Position). He compulsively buys collector items on ebay. I am reading so much more to confirm the premise of the interaction or lack of interaction between the amygdala and the higher functioning prefrontal cortex, especially for the teenager and in some respects generationally due to our recent parenting culture. I heard that the French do the parenting better (Book: "Bringing up Bebe).
    I do have a sense that my son was predisposed to a particularly strong amygdala and poorly developed prefrontal cortex. I think the rock and roll of the drugs and sex only made the differences in these two regions of the brain greater. I wonder if our highly structured upbringing of our children and our tendency to give in to our son's need for instant gratification was fuel for the amygdala at the expense of developing the prefrontal cortex's delayed gratification, patience, empathy, responsibilities, etc. I think he struggles still with an understanding of the proper risk and reward decisions of life. But of course he is doing better today than when he was in high school, better than in college.
    I worry about my son very little now. I continue to love him, pray for him, listen to him, assist him with awarenesses, and give him encouragement. Thankfully he does not live at home with us. We discouraged it also after he lost his first job. I've read recent study's indicating that puberty is starting sooner and ending later in life (closer to 30 years-old?)....I think Dr. Bradley already saw this happening!

  14. #44
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    Hey Steven! Thanks so much for that update. It was wonderful to hear from you since your sharings over the years have been so incredibly helpful for so many parents. Perhaps your best gift is in helping us to see the long-term nature of this parenting job. To understand that if we get bogged down in (pointlessly) demanding immediate changes in our kids, we diminish our real power, just sometimes winning battles and usually losing wars. I see your unending patience, wisdom and support for your child throughout this marathon as the key to his growth, and to the positive trend he shows. By the way, we do now know that those brain wiring changes don't finish up until age 25, and that's just the wiring part, not the "acquiring wisdom" to program into those wires part. So, yes, adolescence is a much longer process these days, and I can't wait for the final chapter of your parenting book with your son. Please keep us posted.
    Take care.
    Dr. Mike Bradley

  15. #45
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    Calvin and Hobbes


    I hope this attachment can be shared with everyone. I enjoy Calvin and Hobbes. Calvin's interaction with Hobbes (Calvin's conscious) illustrates to me the struggles between the amygdala and the pre-frontal cortex.
    Attachments Pending Approval Attachments Pending Approval

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