The short and obvious answer is NEVER. Spanking of younger children is often a default action when all else fails and the parent is utterly frustrated. For parents with whom I work, “frustration” is the most common feeling they express when facing inappropriate behavior on the part of the young adult.
My mother experienced such frustration one night with her young adult sons, but evidently, she didn’t get the “never spank a young adult” memo. When my brother and I were in our late teens and he was home from college for the summer, we were catching up on things by talking and laughing late into the night. My mother could hear us from the other room and yell “stop talking and go to sleep.” We paused for a short time and then started up again which led to another angry complaint accompanied by a warning this time “you boys better stop that talking.” After several repeated warnings to no avail, she burst into the room intent on spanking us for our flagrant disobedience. It was a pretty hilarious scene as she tried to turn us in our respective beds and wail on us. If she intended to inflict pain on us, she was successful because we succumbed to the agony of uncontrollable laughter.
What to Do with Your Young Adult
But what’s a parent to do these days when a young adult, in or out of the home, isn’t obeying or doing what the parent thinks is the right thing to do? I have a short answer that most parents won’t like. You can’t do a lot. Parents who attend my workshops come with anticipation of hearing about the magic sauce that will enable them to make their young adult do or not do something. The fact of the matter is young or not they are an adult and don’t have to listen to us anymore. I have no magic sauce but can offer some guidance that may enable you to influence your young adult.
- First, the truth is, if they are living at home, you do have leverage with the ultimatum of them leaving if they don’t follow certain expectations. In either case, living at home or not, threats are not terribly effective and can be damaging to the relationship.
- Second, you do have the capacity to influence to a point. The best way is to use the sandwich approach. Start by acknowledging that you cannot control your young adult and they have to make their own decisions. Next request that you be seen as a consultant or coach and would like to offer some ideas for them to consider. Follow this with repeated assurances that you cannot tell them what to do and acknowledge it’s their decision. This can reduce the resistance they may have to your ideas.
- Third, with any concern, it is likely that they have some ideas about what they think should be done, so it is essential to solicit these thoughts. You can say “these are my ideas, what one or two ideas do you have?” By avoiding the yes or no type of question and asking for one or two ideas, you are more likely to get at least one idea from them. If you can get them to come up with a reasonable idea then it is likely they will invest more in that idea then if you came up with it.
- Fourth, listen more and talk less. Listen with the heart and not just the head. That is to say, hear from a place of love and concern and not judgment. Try your best not to freak out if they disclose something that is troubling. Recently in a family therapy session, a mother confided that her twenty-one-year-old daughter had unprotected sex and needed to go to the doctor to see if she was pregnant. It’s best in such circumstances, as hard as it may be, not to cover your ears and run from the room screaming “where have I gone wrong” as this mother did.
Parents, we are all just trying to do our best. Neither our kids nor we have a manual to guide us through this stage of development. If we approach our young adults with heartfelt sincerity and openness to learn about, understand and love them we may still stumble but we will clearly fall in the right direction.