Adult Kids – Tips for Parenting a Young Adult – Part 4 of an Interview with Dr. Jim Fay

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

Sending your child off to college doesn’t necessarily mean your parenting duties are over. Today we learn about ways you can help your child transition into a self-sufficient adult.


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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We are here with Dr. Jim Fay, The Brain Warrior's Way podcast. This is our Parenting With Love and Logic week. We have bene having so much fun, and today we're going to talk about young adults. What I've seen as a child psychiatrist, the issues don't end at 17 or 18, that there are huge issues when you send a child away to college.

Tana Amen: Especially if they're not ready.

Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm actually not a fan of "your brain is not fully developed until you're 25" in girls. More like 28 in boys. I see kids who really struggled through adolescence and parents sem them across the country to school. It's often where their first psychotic break happens, where they get depressed, they become overweight, maybe even suicidal. Parenting young adults is really important.

Tana Amen: I have a question on that, though. Does a lot of it have to do with how you raise your kids young and how strong they are before they go as far as what age they're ready to leave?

Dr. Daniel Amen: We'll let Dr. Fay weigh in on that.

Tana Amen: Yes.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Let's jump into this issue, Dr. Fay, of older teenagers and young adults. What has been your experience as you have helped people parent with love and logic?

Dr. Jim Fay: Well, the lucky ones who've been parenting this way don't worry a whole lot about their kids at that point, and don't get a lot of return. Kids coming back to live at home with them. You were talking about college, and how kids go off to college to start with and how they view the financial thing makes an awful lot of difference in what goes on out there. We're strong advocates for telling kids that we want them to college someday and that they need to save up enough money to pay for their first quarter of school out there so that you can support as they go along. What happens is they pay for their first quarter of school and then if they bring back appropriate grades, we reimburse them for the money that they spent on that first quarter, and then they have money for the next quarter and so on.

Tana Amen: Interesting.

Dr. Jim Fay: Those kids usually get through school in a different way than other kids who go there to party. They've got some skin in the game. That makes a lot of difference. It's not something we think about often with kids away from home. I don't send my kids off to college if I think they're going to go off to party, to start with.

Tana Amen: Right. Yeah, that's really interesting. One of the things that we implemented early on was teaching decision-making with Chloe and also problem-solving. We travel a lot and even when we travel, there was a time that she and I got lost somewhere and we didn't have cellphones. We were out of the country. She freaked out at first and I'm like, "Okay, so what would you do if I wasn't here?" I already knew what to do, but I literally had her walk us through each step of what to do because we were in a very remote area, couldn't find a cab. It was a really good lesson. Things like that we've done with her since she was young, and then just started stacking on more age-appropriate decision-making but not easy decision-making so that she has to figure things out. It think that that's made her a lot stronger, don't you, Daniel?

Dr. Daniel Amen: Absolutely.

Dr. Jim Fay: It sounds to me that you were using that technique called "guiding kids to own and solve their own problems." When the kids are facing a problem, instead of solving it for them or telling them what they ought to do, it's, "Oh wow, would you like to hear what some other kids have tried before?" Then give them a list of different ideas. With each new idea, we say, "How do you think that would work?" We often start out with the worst one first because they're going to reject that one anyway. You don't want to waste a good one.

Tana Amen: Right. That's funny.

Dr. Jim Fay: Throw out several ones. Even if you don't have a good one, you can throw out several bad ones and say, "How do you think that would work?" Then at the end just say, "Well, I've run out of ideas. Good luck." That whole idea that the quality of their life is going to depend on those kinds of decisions, if that is going on early before they have to leave the house, they're going to handle themselves a whole lot better out there.

Tana Amen: One thing I've noticed with young adults, well Chloe's only 13, but I've noticed with some of the parents that we know of either teenagers or young adults, they talk about their kids paying consequences but then they don't follow through. I think it's painful to let your kids pay consequences. For example, in the fourth grade Chloe had a group project. My rule is I don't take homework to school. If you forget it, you forget it. That's another one I learned because her grades aren't my grades. It's not a reflection on me as a person. I got a call from her teacher, not from Chloe. Her teacher is saying it's the only time my daughter's ever forgotten something at home that she needed for school. The teacher called me and she said, "Could you bring this to school because she has a group project and all of their grades depend on it?" I'm like, "Oh, I'm so sorry about that. I'm in a meeting. Chloe knows I can't bring homework to school. She knows that's her responsibility." She said, "Really? You're not going to bring it to school even though it's a group project?" I said, "That's not my problem. It's her problem."

She was stunned, and then she laughed. She said, "You know, I actually wish more parents would do this because then I wouldn't be making these calls." I said, "So why didn't Chloe call me?" She said, "Because her first response was, 'My mom's not going to bring it.'"

Dr. Jim Fay: When we have to worry about their behavior out there, we're not going to be paying for them to do self-destructive things. I know a lot of people who worry about the fact that their kids drink at parties, and they still let them drive there.

Tana Amen: Right.

Dr. Jim Fay: The rule in our house was, "Hey, you can use the family car as long as I never worry about alcohol."

Tana Amen: Yeah, as long as I trust you.

Dr. Jim Fay: Yeah. Well you can trust, but yeah. I trust your intelligence. What I don't trust quite yet is your experience and wisdom. As long as I don't worry about it, you've got a car to drive. Then when we smell alcohol one night. "Oh wow, this was rough. What's your guess about the family car?"

Tana Amen: Yup.

Dr. Jim Fay: You restrict that car until you're not worried about it again. It tears a little piece of your heart off but then you know that, "Wait a minute. There's a whole lot better chance when he's away from home that things are going to go a lot better."

Tana Amen: Well, it doesn't tear your heart nearly as much as I have several friends who have lost kids to drunk driving.

Dr. Jim Fay: Oh yes.

Tana Amen: There's nothing more painful than that. Yeah, it's much easier like you said. Pay the consequences while they're cheap. The other things is my daughter knows if she gets arrested for something like that, I'm not getting up in the middle of the night to go get her. She's going to stay there, but she knows that I mean it.

Dr. Jim Fay: Well you know when they get away from home-

Dr. Daniel Amen: She will not call you.

Dr. Jim Fay: I'm sorry for that. When they get away from home, you hear phone calls from them but most often it's when they're down in the dumps or they need something. Those are those wonderful times when they call home and say, "Oh, I've run out of money." You so desperately want to just send them a whole bunch so they don't have to suffer. What pays so much better is, "Oh boy, what do you think you're going to do? I know you can solve a lot of problems. How are you going to solve this one?"

Tana Amen: Interesting.

Dr. Jim Fay: There's another technique that we've used. When we wrote the grand-parenting book, we thought we'd written everything that grandparents needed. Then we had a focus group read it and they said, "Well, you didn't put in there what do to when the kids are away from home or our adult kids call up and they want money" and things like that. We had to stick in a little thing about that. When they call up and say, "You know, I was hoping that you could pay for Ralph's baseball this year. We're kind of short," "Oh, well yeah. Well thanks for sharing that. Give me a few days. I'll get back to you and I'll let you know what'll work for me." You buy yourself some time so that you can get up your nerve to say what you really need to say.

Tana Amen: That's good.

Dr. Jim Fay: Sometimes you can say, "Yeah, I think that was something I'd enjoy doing," or other times you say, "You know, I might have an extra $50" but you've thought it through.

Tana Amen: So you're not on the spot.

Dr. Jim Fay: That whole business of buying time when things are going wrong out there really becomes important at that age.

Tana Amen: I like that. That's actually really helpful so you're not on the spot when they do that.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You know, I teach my ADD patients to do that all the time. It's, "I want you to practice in the mirror, 'I have to think about it.'" Too often, they just impulsively say yes when it really doesn't fit the goals they have for their life. This has been so incredibly helpful, Dr. Fay. What are some, and this can apply to children or young adults at any age, in the years you've been doing this, what are the three or four tips you would leave people with to really highlight parenting with love and logic?

Dr. Jim Fay: Well first of all, that we really have to get begging, backtalk, and arguing under control. When we set a limit, it has to be the limit. It has to almost be "my way or the highway" but not in a nice way. That technique about when they test the limits, we just say, "What did I say?" and walk away. Then have a scheduled time each week when kids know they can come to their parents and talk about anything that they don't think is fair about how the family runs-

Tana Amen: That's good.

Dr. Jim Fay: We say we'll be really good listeners at that time and we may or may not change what's going on here. That becomes really important. The whole idea of buying time when things go wrong. Have a tattoo on your finger that says, "I'm not sure how to react to that. I'll get back to you."

Tana Amen: I like that.

Dr. Jim Fay: So that when you actually deal with it, you're in a calm, loving manner. That becomes important. We didn't talk a lot about empathy, but parents having one empathetic sound on the tip of their tongue that they can spit out without having to think when things go wrong with their kids. Instead of immediately trying to fix it or telling them what to do, to have something that indicates, "Boy I'm with you on this." It might be, "Wow," or you know in some states it would probably sound like, "Dang." If you're out in California, it would probably sound like, "Dude." "Bless your heart." Give them a hug. Then you have that available when things go wrong. The kids wrecked the family car, you know that you can buy some time. You can be really empathetic. You can say, "Oh wow. Oh boy, that's rough." What's funny about that is, and Doctor you know all about how that changed brain chemistry when you do that.

Tana Amen: Yup.

Dr. Jim Fay: You feel a whole lot different. Then you can say, "Oh, that's rough. Wrecked the family car. Well, not to fear. You'll be driving again some day as soon as you get that car paid for. How do you want to handle that?"

Tana Amen: I love that.

Dr. Jim Fay: See, you still got that fine relationship with your kid and you haven't destroyed it by saying, "What in the world were you thinking?" and ranting and raving like the neighbors do.

Tana Amen: That's awesome. Yeah, those consequences have been really helpful. One thing that I think I learned from you, I always say, "Oh I'm so sorry, sweetie," and then I think about what I'm going to say, or, "That must feel terrible." I think it's so helpful. One of the things that I've learned from you on how to handle those situations is not so much when she has an accident like that but when she says something or used to say things that were disrespectful or difficult to deal with. It, "I don't do things for people who treat me that way, and you really shouldn't either. You should expect someone to respect you. When you drain my energy, it means I don't have the time and energy to do other things for you."

Dr. Jim Fay: Yeah. It would be nice for all parents to have a sign on a kid's door and it says, "Happy to do the things you want when I feel respected and your chores are done." That can take care of an awful lot of problems. They come and say, "Well, will you drive me?" "Well, did you ask in a nice way? Are your jobs done?"

Tana Amen: So important.

Dr. Jim Fay: If not, well we'll try it some day when you have them finished.

Tana Amen: Love it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So helpful. Well, we want to thank you for your work, how important it's been to our family. The time you've given us today. We will continue to spread the word-

Tana Amen: For sure. Before we wrap up, I just want to say your work has literally changed my relationship when then, of course, changes your life to some degree. It's been so helpful, and I think combining that with what we know about brain development and brain problems and how to avoid some of those, I've got this person who's one of my favorite people now as opposed to a teenager where I roll my eyes and go, "Well that's just typical teenage behavior." I don't think it is typical anymore as long as your child's healthy.

Dr. Jim Fay: No, it doesn't have to be. I got to thinking along the way, "I need to change my ways and find better ways to working with my kids because some day, they're going to pick my nursing home for me."

Tana Amen: Right. Yeah, exactly.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Well, it's actually one of the reasons I really focus on being healthy and doing the right things because I love my children. I don't want to live with them. I want to be independent, and that means as an adult, I have to parent myself with love and logic-

Tana Amen: Absolutely.

Dr. Jim Fay: There you go.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That decision, how's that going to turn out for you?

Tana Amen: For my health?

Dr. Daniel Amen: For my health, for my mind-

Tana Amen: Independence.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Independence, and all of that.

Tana Amen: So true.

Dr. Jim Fay: Well this has been delightful. I've really enjoyed my time with you.

Tana Amen: Oh, it's fabulous. You also have materials for relationships, right? Like marriages and things like that?

Dr. Jim Fay: Yeah we do. It's amazing; there must be a hundred different things that we have.

Tana Amen: It's awesome.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So go to

Tana Amen:

Dr. Daniel Amen: Sign up for their emails. This information can help your children, it can help yourself as a parent. It can even your help your relationships. Thanks so much, Dr. Fay.

Tana Amen: So much fun.

Dr. Jim Fay: I hope I get to meet you some day. Thank you.

Dr. Daniel Amen: We will look forward to it. You're listening to The Brain Warrior's Way podcast.