Parenting --Teens/Decision time...


Mr. Windell,

First, thanks for your time.  I'm an expert on this website for occupational therapy/hand rehabilitation and I realize this takes time.  So thank you.

The background:  I have a 23 y/o step-son, my wife and I married 3 years ago.  She had him when she was 18.  He isn't the sharpest pencil in the box.  His Dad was minimally involved and a disappointment to say the least.  His Mom remarried another man (for 11 years) who gave him little attention as well.  He began smoking pot in high school and continued throughout his early 20's.  His father died when he was 19.  He has come a long way but remains challenged.  

His current status is this:  Attends AA meetings 2-3 times per week.  Lives with us and works part-time.  Although he completed a few college courses his lack of motivation and overall low IQ (he tested in the low average range using a number of batteries that a psychologist administered) don't jive well with college.  He has been in and out of counseling for a number of years with a dx of depression and possible bipolar disorder however he is non-compliant with his medication regimen.  We are beyond frustrated but he shows glimpses of hope.  He has a low threshold for stress and chooses to work part-time rather than full-time.

At this point our options are this:  1.  Have him join the military.  It's the only thing that will teach him discipline and a trade.  Questionable whether this is the right answer psychologically and he will have a hard time getting in anyway due to his medical hx.  But he is willing.  We also question whether psychologically it is the right thing but he is non-compliant with his medications anyway and inconsistent med use may be worse than none at all.  2.  Send him to a program called JobCorp.  It's federally-funded and teaches trade skills.  He is also willing although we have reservations as to its effectiveness.

SO...he knows he needs to leave the home at this point because he is not willing to work full-time and our marriage can't take much more of this.  Any advice would be sincerely appreciated as we are not equipped with the skills to make ideal decisions with this kid.  Thanks for your time!!!

Hi Brian,

Glad to help out a fellow expert.

These kinds of situations are very tough on parents, particularly mothers. However, usually by the time a child is in their 20s, there is so much frustration and disappointment that everyone realizes that something has to change.

I take it your stepson has reached this level as well, realizing that a change has to take place.

You mentioned that he seemed somewhat willing to go into the military. It doesn't sound like the best fit for him, but it is always difficult to predict who will benefit from military service. Although there are certainly aspects of the military he probably would not like, he may like the regimentation and structure. It will force him to be productive, which has been difficult for him on his own. Since the military sort of takes over as the "parent," he may like being told what to do and when to do it. However, the military can be rough and not very sympathetic to someone who has psychological problems.

Job corps may be a better alternative, as it may help him develop some potential useful job skills. I haven't had any direct contact with Job Corps for many years, but I have referred young people there in the past with positive results.

It has to be his decision as to whether he chooses the military or Job Corps, but it has to be clear to him that he must one and depart within 30 days. Also, he must also understand that if he drops out of which ever he chooses, that he will not be allowed to return home for 12 months. If he chooses to drop out, he will have to find a place to live and a way to support himself. It becomes very important that he leaves knowing he cannot just give up on the choice he makes and escape by coming home. You will offer him emotional support, but he can't come home again (at least for a long time).

I think saying these kinds of things are very difficult for a mother, but with your support perhaps she can say them and make them sound convincing. He needs to hear her say this so that he doesn't think that she will change her mind and let him return in a few weeks.

I hope this helps.

Best wishes,

James Windell

Parenting --Teens

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James Windell


I am a parent trainer, psychotherapist, and author specializing in parenting issues.During the past 40 years I`ve worked with parents with discipline problems and challenging children. I give frequent lectures and workshops related to discipline, social skills, and aggressive children. I consult with various agencies and schools where there are child behavior problems. I am listed in the American Psychological Associations` media panel as an expert on parenting and am frequently quoted in leading magazines and newspapers.


I have worked in a juvenile court as a clinical psychologist and as a psychotherapist in private practice. In the Oakland County (MI) Juvenile Court, I developed an award-winning parent training program for parents of adolescent delinquents. In addition I have done group therapy with adolescent delinquents using a social skills-building model. I have consulted with courts, schools, churches, preschools, and domestic violence shelters in areas of parenting.

I received my BA with a major in Psychology in 1963 from Wayne State University. I got my MA in Clinical Psychology from Oakland University in 1972.

I am a member of the American Psychological Association and the Michigan Psychological Association. I have written pamplets, newspaper articles, and professional journal articles. I have been the Coping With Kids columnist for several newspapers for 26 years, and my columns appear weekly in the Staten Island Advance. I have been the author or co-author of 16 books. My books include, 8 WEEKS to A WELL-BEHAVED CHILD, CHILDREN WHO SAY NO WHEN YOU WANT THEM TO SAY YES, 6 STEPS TO AN EMOTIONALLY INTELLIGENT TEENAGER, and THE FATHERSTYLE ADVANTAGE. My most recent parenting book (2012) is THE EVETYTHING CHILD PSYCHOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT BOOK. I have appeared on over 180 radio and TV shows related to my books and parenting. For more information about me, my books and columns, go to my website at

I have an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Oakland University.

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