Are you held hostage by your adult child?

Holding the parent hostage: the upheaval of authority within family systems.

Much has been said and written about children behavior regarding understanding boundaries and keeping each individual safe. However, in my practice is seen the more abusive behavior towards parents by young adult children.

Most concerning are how young adults (YA) blow up the family systems model by overturning authority within families. The YA emerges as the prison guard over parents who are older, incapable of protecting themselves from the assertiveness, aggressiveness and violence. The YA now hold the keys over life, car, house, family dynamics and the emotions of their parents. They are literally holding their parents’ hostage using extreme emotions and expectations.

In a most recent case I’ve come to know a young adult in treatment who is so highly critical and aggressive towards parents, now saying that he will begin by suing them or “do something worse” if they attempt to withhold him their finances, any attempt further interrupting and directive over life (to include additional treatment or therapies), etc. The YA sets up to commandeer the family, even while staying out of the house.

Certainly, this type of oppositional / anti-authority behavior begins during early childhood upbringing with over lenient, and often super emotionally needy caregivers / parents who “can’t do” enough for their children — creating finally a young adult who “can’t do” anything for her or his self, except rely on parents for everything.

So, what to do? The courts and law enforcement can be of use; however, legal services are not treatment oriented. Clearly, an intervention can shift the dynamic, but not without recognizing the need for long-term change and introducing parent / YA education and continuing treatment. The usefulness of program solutions can’t be underemphasized. Neither can the usefulness of a family therapist, such as Neil Brown, with whom I regularly work.

As a psychologist who possesses decades of experience within the behavioral health field, I have successfully assessed and placed many YA’s into supportive residential programs. YA’s who today thank me for turning their sinking lives into successes. They just couldn’t fathom how to do it, until a treatment, mentoring program was introduced to guide them.

Without sounding simplistic, it’s fundament to empower both the parents and the YA to look to apply themselves elsewhere, somewhere they can make a solid difference for themselves in individual growth, while bringing back a healthy family system thanks to professionals. I would invite other professionals’ collaboration with me on this critical topic of family resources.