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The Parent ‘Hood: When teen repeatedly asks parents for help

By Heidi Stevens

Chicago Tribune

Your 18-year-old texts you for help dozens of times per day. Is this the new normal?

Parent advice (from our panel of staff contributors):

My wife and I were in a college admission meeting when one son – not the prospective candidate – repeatedly rang my wife’s cellphone until we finally picked up. “Where’s the butter?” he asked. In fewer words than these, I suggested through gritted teeth that, given the limited universe of possibilities, looking for butter ought to not pose an intellectual challenge. In other words, there are calls for assistance, and then there are intellectually lazy “what’s the capital of New York?” annoyances. If you’re getting dozens of texts a day, I’m guessing you’re getting a lot of the latter. I suggest going into magic genie mode: Every day, your teen gets three wishes/queries. No more. And no “I wish for more wishes” nonsense.

– Phil Vettel

If it is really dozens of times a day, that’s too time-consuming even for the most patient parent. The lesson to cut back will be quickly learned if you text as often while the 18-year-old is out with friends. But enjoy and savor the communication; the time will come all too soon when the child is completely grown and you will wish the texts/calls were more frequent.

– Dodie Hofstetter

Expert advice:

It’s pretty normal, says Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, professor of psychology at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., and co-author of “When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up? Loving and Understanding Your Emerging Adult” (Workman).

“As we all know, technology has made it so cheap and so easy for us all to stay more connected,” Arnett says. “It’s also a reflection of how parents and their kids are closer in this generation. Much closer than they used to be.”

Is it cause for alarm? Not really, Arnett says.

“It doesn’t mean anything is the matter with them,” he says. “It just means it’s easy and cheap and they draw comfort from having you as a source of support in a time when they really need to feel supported.”

If the content of the texts is not urgent and answering them feels like a waste of your time, don’t answer them.

“That’s the great thing about technology; you get to regulate how much you want to respond and how often,” he says. “Just proceed like you didn’t see the text until the next day. God knows this is what kids do with their parents.”

If you’re worried that your child is unable to make an independent decision, raise the issue head-on. But limit the talk to the issue at hand – the number of texts – rather than loading it down with hand-wringing about his or her maturity level.

“ ‘I’m wondering if you really need help on a lot of these questions, or are these things you can start figuring out yourself?’ ” he suggests.

“I’d encourage parents to be patient with their kids and realize their kids probably are going to take longer than they did to grow up,” says Arnett, who spent 20 years researching emerging adults. “It’s not reasonable to expect a kid today to be self-sufficient at 18, or even 22. Most kids are going to need contact and support throughout their early 20s. You don’t have to worry that you’re somehow enabling them or infantilizing them by answering their questions.”

Have a solution? Your 16-year-old still wants an allowance. You say he should get a job. Who’s right? Find “The Parent ‘Hood” page on Facebook, where you can post your parenting questions and offer tips and solutions for others to try.