We are concerned about our 18-year-old daughter. She will be graduating from high school this May with good grades. She was part of her high school cheer team throughout high school but other than that she is completely unsocial.
She has no close friends and never hangs out with any peers. She’ll decline offers if they are extended and never initiates getting together with anyone. She doesn’t have a job and when we talk to her about her future she is irritable and thinks we are picking on her.
More concerning is that every waking hour when she is not at school she is watching TV (she doesn’t have TV in her bedroom) or on a device scrolling social media.
She is mostly unhappy and irritable and even disrespectful and occasionally mean. We’ve had many conversations about this but they never end well. She believes we are attacking her or picking on her when we point out our concerns. In effort to preserve our relationship I haven’t taken drastic measures to not allow media but I am worried about the fantasyland she seems to prefer. Please advise.
Your concern for your daughter makes sense. She is on the doorstep of launching into her future but has no momentum or direction. I imagine you have fears that she’ll be a permanent fixture in your living room well into her 20s and beyond. Let’s talk about some ways you might be able to help her.
Obviously, your daughter is stuck. A very real possibility is that she may have untreated depression and anxiety. She may need professional help to help her move forward in her fear and anxiety. However, before you take her to see a counselor or put her on medication, I encourage you to adjust your approach with her.
When there are looming deadlines, it’s natural to feel more anxiety and unintentionally put more pressure on her to move forward. It’s also human nature to resist pressure from others.
Instead of trying to force an outcome, I encourage you to let her know you see the struggle that is holding both of you hostage.
Lead by owning your part in the struggle. You might say something like, “I imagine you feel lots of pressure from us, which probably doesn’t feel very supportive to you.”
Before you try and solve the concerns about her future, identify the current struggle between the two of you that keeps the conversation from even happening.
You might learn some things about her that you didn’t know. You might learn that she is an introvert and has limits on how much social stimulation she can handle. You might learn that she’s scared about the future or feels like she’s not accomplished what she had hoped to.
This is a chance to identify that you’re both stuck and you want to understand how you can both move forward with this conversation.
Even though this conversation needs to happen, you can’t make your daughter talk to you. She is an adult now and you have to relate to her with the respect of a peer while hoping to maintain the influence of a loving parent.
Your daughter is behaving in a way that makes sense to her. Stay with this conversation until it’s something you both understand.
By doing this, you’re not avoiding the conversation about her future. This is the conversation about her future.
If she can’t face how stuck she is in discussing things with loving parents, then it won’t matter what her plans are. Being able to respectfully discuss things with others and share thoughts and ideas is a major task of adulthood that she’s not mastered.
There is a need to discuss an exit strategy for her as she moves toward the future. Instead of getting right to the details of that plan, work to understand why she struggles to have this discussion with you. Be willing to look at both sides so you can work out any differences and be more unified as you help her plan her next move.
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.
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