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If your teen is graduating, it's time to renegotiate the laws of the land

Anthony E. Wolf

It's that time of year - when parents of graduating high-school children begin facing what happens next.

Many of your kids will be leaving town for university. But many won't. And the ones who are going away may still be home for the summer.

The difference is they are now newly minted adults.

"Desmond, would you please not leave your dirty dishes sitting around the house. I need you to wash them and put them away. Would you please clean them up, now."

"I'm busy right now, but I will later."

"No, I need you to clean them up now."

"Mom, you don't get it. I'm not your little kid who you can boss around any more."

Now that your teen is finished with the high-school part of his life, society no longer considers him a child; nor does he. He is officially a young adult. It's a very real shift - one that has repercussions when your child is still under your roof.

One major change is that you can't boss him around any more, at least not in the same way that you could when he was younger. Giving commands no longer works.

Still, it's your house and you still have the right to set the rules. Here's how to set and enforce them with your new adult.

It's best to have those rules clearly spelled out. It is a good idea to have a little talk, shortly after graduation, in which you present your expectations. It avoids future misunderstandings.

"If you are going to live here, there are certain things that we expect you to do. Certain rules that we want you to follow."

And what if he doesn't follow them?

"Yeah, what are you going to do then? Kick me out?"

This is, of course, the bottom line.

The truth is that parents of young adults living at home may ask their children to leave, but they rarely kick them out - forbid them to live at the house, change the locks. That usually occurs only when children regularly steal from the home, or have a serious substance-abuse problem, or turn the house into a living hell with their behaviour.

Rather, the main leverage for rule compliance - and it is surprisingly strong leverage - is that living in the home is no longer what is owed to your child.

When he was still in high school, you had an obligation as his parent to provide support and shelter - whether or not he was bratty. As an adult, he lives in the home by your choice, because you care about him.

In effect: "If you don't like the deal, you don't have to live here."

Of course, you will also have to tweak the way you interact.

"Desmond, would you please not leave your dirty dishes sitting around the house. I would really appreciate it if you would wash them and put them away. I would appreciate if you would do it now."

It's the language of the new deal. It's less bossy. Less confrontational. Yet with most now-adult teens, it does work. He does not want to be a pariah in his own home. Feeling welcome is the reward of compliance. Most children do care about feeling welcome in their own home.

There is a consolation prize for parents: Your teen no longer has the same rights within the home that they had as an official child.

"Desmond, you'll have to sit somewhere else. I want to sit in the big chair."

"But I always sit here."

"I know. But now things are a little different."

"What? I don't have rights any more?"

"Well, it is my house. And I've always wanted to sit in the big chair, but I've always let you sit there because I wanted to be nice to you since you were a kid. But now I don't think I have to any more."

"Yes, you do."

No, he doesn't.

Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books, including Get out of my life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall?: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager.

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Rules that work

These rules are reasonable to ask of any young adult living in your home, and can make your home a more pleasant place to live. All of these apply whether or not they are giving you money to pay for their keep.

1) They should be pleasant - your tolerance for teenage surliness changes with their adult status.

2) No drug use in the house.

3) No parties at the house. Unless you want them to have parties.

4) If they are going to be away overnight, let you know so that you won't worry.

5) They should pick up after themselves.

6) If you ask them for a favour - to help with something around the house - you expect them to be willing.

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Rules that don't

The problem with these is that they are for younger kids, and genuinely do not fit in with your child's new whether-you-like-it-or-not adult status.

1) Requiring them to have a curfew.

2) Regularly asking them where they are going.

3) Expecting them to come to family meals regularly or to participate in family activities.

4) Giving them lectures about how they are going to have to get their act together.

5) Telling them not to talk with food in their mouth.

Source: Toronto Globe and Mail