Big Kid. Big Problems

Dear Dr. Darcy:

My husband and I have a 19 year old son in college with ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder].  He has no judgment or impulse control.  He went to a private school in Manhattan where he received enormous support from the staff.  He’s now a freshman at a very good school and he’s having issues around his ADD but not the type of issues you’d imagine.

He called us last semester to tell us that he broke his roommate’s bed by jumping on it.  Did I mention he’s 6’2” / 210 lbs?  Later in the semester he was at a frat party and he got so drunk that he passed out.  He woke up (arrested) in the hospital, not because he did anything wrong but because he was out cold through the morning and his friends couldn’t wake him up so they called the police.  He seems to lack the common sense that other kids his age have.  For example, last winter he was at a party in NYC and impulsively announced that he wanted to play football on the roof during a thunderstorm.  When one of his friends cautioned him against going on a roof in those conditions, my son ignored him, only to get electrocuted within minutes of being on the roof (he’s fine – no injuries).

I feel that his biggest issue is managing his impulsivity as a young adult but I don’t know how to support him or help him along and I half think he’s going to put me in an early grave if he doesn’t start learning some life lessons.  Dr. Darcy, can you help us?


Your son is truly a big kid.  He’s only 19 and still an adolescent, so I caution you against thinking of him as a young adult. Boys continue to grow until they are at least 21 (you think he breaks things now…update me in 2 years when he reaches his full size), and we’ve now confirmed that the brain continues to grow and develop until we are in our late 20’s – early 30’s.  The part of the brain that is developing during this time is the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for organizing information, making plans, developing judgment, learning follow-through and learning problem solving skills.  This boy of yours is going to be a big mess for a while longer.

You can lessen (pun intended) the amount of time it takes him to master these skills by allowing him to bear the consequences of his decisions. Did you bail him out of jail? Did you pay for the bed to be repaired? My readers are laughing at my questions because we all know the answer.

Let’s talk about what you need to develop during your son’s final stage of brain development:  Tolerance for discomfort.  That’s right.  In order for you to support him and not end up in an early grave, you need to build a muscle which will enable you to watch him fall and breathe while he problem-solves his way to a resolution.  If you’re resolving things for him, he’s not going to understand the implications and consequences of his impulsivity and you will delay his mastering these life lessons.

Find yourself a parent coach.  Someone who is familiar with the skills necessary to parent a late adolescent / young adult and who can guide you through your changing role as a parent.  And, just in case you thought you were getting away with it, let me point out that when he was arrested, it was not for nothing, rather, for underage drinking, which in some states can be a felony.  Just an FYI.

Writer’s Stats: Female, Heterosexual.