18 Year Old Needs Guidance

Updated on December 27, 2011
K.U. asks from Detroit, MI
23 answers

My husband and his son are having an argument right now. My 18 year old stepson graduated high school this past June. He has been working part-time at Burger King for just over a year now and does not have any concrete plans to go to college because he isn't sure what he wants to do with his life. He lives out of state with his mother but is visiting with us for the week. My husband wants to be able to help him out paying for schooling but he does not want to go to any college unless he knows what he wants to study. He knows he doesn't want to work at Burger King the rest of his life, and he knows he wants to go to college, but right now he is arguing that unless he knows what he wants to study, he doesn't want to go because he won't do well. He says he won't do well if he goes now, because he won't care about how he does not knowing what he wants to go for. My husband is upset that he's not at least considering going to a community college for general studies to start but stepson is stating that without more of a concrete goal for what he wants to get a degree in, he will just party and screw up and not take it seriously, so what's the point of spending the money to go now? I think part of my husband's issue is that he did not have anyone encouraging him to go to college or pushing him to do more with his life, and did not have the same opportunities to go to college that his son has now. But his son doesn't seem to appreciate this and is insisting that when he figures out what he wants to do the rest of his life, then he will go to college (or get whatever schooling or training he needs) for it. DH is willing to help him out with paying for college now, but won't be as willing if his son doesn't decide to do any college until he's, like, 25. DH has even suggested having him move out here and live with us for free to go to school out here if he wants but SS doesn't want to even consider it. As someone who actually has been to college and has a degree, I have told him that he does not need to know right away what he wants to study - lots of kids start out with the "basics" and figure it out as they go along. But he says he didn't do well in high school because he didn't work as hard as he could have, and that was because he didn't care about what he was studying - and that college at this point would just be the same thing (his mother did not go to college either and is fine with him just doing what he is doing right now). SS admits that he could have gotten straight A's all through high school if he had applied himself, because he knows how smart he is, but he didn't care enough, and right now he doesn't care enough to do well in college either.

I'm all for some kids needing a "gap year" (or more) sometimes to figure out what they want to do with their life before committing time and money toward getting a college degree. I'm all for kids sometimes learning things the hard way and I know some of them have to figure out their own path. But I'm not sure how much my stepson may be misguided in thinking there is no point in him going to any college now if he does not know what to study. And I don't like that he has the excuse that he won't apply himself unless he is working toward something specific. Like a lot of young people his age, he thinks he knows more than we do and doesn't want to listen. My husband is worried that the longer he waits, the harder it will be for him to complete something later. Has anyone out there been through the same thing with their grown teen kids? What did your kids end up deciding to do and how did they figure out a career choice for themselves if they didn't go to college straight out of high school?

ETA - I don't think the military is anything that he is willing to consider either.

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So What Happened?

Thank you to everyone with your suggestions so far. It's been a frustrating situation since he does live with his mother, and is several states away, so our influence is not that strong. Since he is with us for the week, I am thinking I might try to take him out for coffee somewhere, away from the house, without Dad and his brother there to argue with him, and try to talk with him myself. Sometimes I suspect that his mother has not been pushing him to find the motivation he needs, or to act more mature and independent, because she doesn't want to see him grow up - or at least is okay for now with him acting the way he is. He's never really been one to show a lot of initiative and whenever Dad has tried to talk to Mom about his future, she gets more defensive and claims she doesn't have time to help him research colleges, career options, financial aide, etc. SS has said that working at BK has made him want to get whatever schooling or training he needs to NOT be stuck there forever, but he doesn't know specifically what he wants to pursue. Now I was actually one of those kids who knew what they wanted to do since they were 5, and never wavered, and actually made it happen - which I realize doesn't happen for every kid, but my parents also expected more from me. All SS knows is right now he doesn't want to live with Mom OR Dad, he just wants to be able to live on his own with friends or roommates, and support himself, but he also knows he needs a better job that pays more money than what he's making right now. He's keeps in touch with his friends that have gone off to college and he says that all they talk about is how hard it is, so I think that's turning him off right now too. On the other hand, he's not actually researching what his options are so in a way, he's just spinning his wheels. Maybe if I can talk with him about actually formulating more of a concrete plan, that will get him thinking. I also agree that we can help financially with the costs of college if he's willing to enroll (not 100%, but some) but that he needs to be enrolled by a certain time if he wants our help. Thanks again!

UPDATE - took the kid out today for coffee, just so we could chat. He just opened right up, and I listened and didn't argue against him like his dad was last night. He told me he really, really, wants to go to college, but until he is more sure of what he wants to study, he doesn't think he will take it seriously. He actually is giving some thought to the military - his cousin enlisted with the National Guard 2 years after graduating high school and going nowhere and he's impressed with what a difference it's made. So he's thinking that, or perhaps the Navy, but knows he needs to research it more first. He has not spoken to Dad or Mom about this - especially because he mentioned the National Guard once to his mom and she freaked out, told him she would die if he ever did anything like that. But I told him, you are 18, you need to make whatever decisions you feel would be best for you. Plus, it would give him more time and a chance to grow up, mature, learn some skills, and hopefully earn some money for college afterwards. He is also thinking about some kind of trade school but again, not sure what he wants to go for. I did tell him about Americorps and later sent him a link to their website through FB so we'll see. Right now he's just happy working and not having any other responsibilities - he's looking for a second part-time job but doesn't feel ready for college or the military just yet. I just let him know that his Dad and I were willing to help out with the costs of college but the offer wasn't good forever - I hope that by the time he turns 20, he will have made up his mind one way or the other. Thanks again for everyone's advice!

Featured Answers



answers from Las Vegas on

It is kind of difficult because he lives with his mother, but I told my daughter to go to school or get a job and pay rent...elsewhere. She went to school.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

What is his plan on learning about different careers so he can decide what he wants to do? I would recommend going to get his AA and using the career counseling services at whatever school he chooses.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Honolulu on

I actually think your ss might be smarter than you think. I had a friend that went to community college and then transferred his 1st two years, only to find that the school he transferred to would only take 1/16th of the credit hours and he basically had to redo the whole shebang. He is now 30 years old and feels he basically took out a ton of student loans and wasted those 2 years of his life.

I also have another friend that went to college at 25 and lived in the dorms. He got through a four year program in 3 years because he finally matured, knew what he wanted now and nothing was going to stop him...

I would drop the college thing totally and ask him what he is doing to figure out what he wants to do. If he wants to be a doctor, he needs to shadow doctors, if he wants to be lawyer he should volunteer in a law office. Who knows, he M. want to be a scuba dive instructor and take people scuba diving the rest of his life.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Reading between the lines, he isn't ready. He is saying that he isn't ready--at all. Respect that, but give him guidelines--like : fulltime work, volunteer in different fields to get an idea of what he wants to do, take a test on his strengths/weaknesses etc. See if dad can talk with the mom and form a better plan together. Encourage him to try many new things and see if something sparks an interest. GL and hang in there~ You are doing great!


6 moms found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on

I think that your husband needs to stop helping his son. His son needs to start working full time and his mother needs to tell him to go find a room to pay rent to and stop living at home.

Tell your husband that this 18 year old has not figured out yet what it is like to NEED to go to school or WANT to go to school. Until he suffers a little, does without a little, has to take the bus because he can't afford a car, loses a job because he overslept without mom to wake him up, he will not appreciate Dad making him go to community college.

A kid needs to have a plan. Your son doesn't. He is making every excuse in the world why he doesn't want to go to college. Your husband would be throwing money away at this point.

Let him flounder some. Let him find out how hard it is to go without. Tell him to ask mom to make him leave the home and find someone else to live with. When he gets tired of this, THEN he can come to dad and ask if he can go to school. Tie his tuition money to grades. If he makes less than a 2.0, he will have to pay tuition himself.

When he wants to have a better career and job, THEN he will make himself complete what he starts. You cannot imagine how many adults there are in community college. They understand why they are there and they MAKE themselves work through it.

The only way for him to figure out that dad is making sense, is for him to FIGURE IT OUT! Dad can't make this magically appear in his head, no matter how much he wants him to.

I'm sorry - I can imagine how hard it is. I do have a son in his college freshman year who WANTS to be there and enjoys school with a passion. But I also have a 16 year old who knows he wants to go to college but has no idea what he wants to study, and isn't all that interested in general college requirements. We will be crossing that bridge in the coming years, and I hope he will just trust that he can get through it.

Good luck,

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

He doesn't want to go. That's my take. So I'd take the stance of, well, what DO you plan to do? What's next? Trade school? Volunteer work? Volunteering can help him decide what he might do for a career. I would work the "Okay, so what are you going to do past Burger King?" angle and leave the college discussion alone for a while.

I also suspect that if mom doesn't put a lot of stock in college/education and that's who he spends a lot of time with, then that's his primary example and no wonder he isn't worried about it. If she's willing to fund him/let him live there, then that's her concern.

My SD didn't want to apply for various reasons. We said, "If you don't go to college, then you work and pay rent to live here. Not to be mean, but you need skills and a goal."

I would not hold the carrot of college out forever. If SS doesn't want to do it when it's offered for free, then he can figure it out on his own later. I would, later, have DH say, "I am only going to fund college if you start before x age. After that, I consider that you will either never go or you will be responsible for your costs yourself."

My SS went in with one degree in mind, didn't like it, took a year of random classes, changed his major and is now considering law school. There's a lot of ways to Rome. However, he knows that any post-grad work is HIS dime. Not ours. We're done. We have 2 more kids to worry about. He's 22. He can figure it out.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

I am sorry I did nto read this all, I skimmed some areas, but I am 8 years out of HS I did horrible my first two years of college before I had any clue what I wanted to be then bam I hit my desired choice and all my classes went better, I felt I had a purpose then and wasn't in a dead end road. I never did get to finish years ago because of having a child...I just recently started up again to finish and now it's even better I am caring and doing so much more.

What I am saying is for some waiting is the best choice to be made, doesn't mean then wont go and doesn't really harm them. Besides right now college is just getting a lot of kids into financial trouble.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Iowa City on

I guess I have a different take than on this than you and your husband. He is flat out telling you that it would be a waste of money if he were sent to college at this time because he will not apply himself. He doesn't want to. He isn't ready. He is being honest, so you should take that for what it is worth. I don't think there is any point in pushing him towards this when he knows he will not take things seriously. Even if your husband could make him attend college at present, all expenses paid, your step-son isn't going to do well. That would be a waste of his time and your money. Some people are not ready to start college level learning until they are in their mid to late 20s or 30s. Some people are never ready. Also, a lot of community colleges offer "career programs" in which a student earns an AA or AS and the gen. eds for those degrees vary widely and often the classic liberal arts gen. eds are not necessary.

I really wish I had waited to attend college. Maybe then I wouldn't be a returning student obtaining yet another degree. My sister also wishes she had waited. She got a degree in accounting and hated being an accountant so she returned to college and is now a nurse. She wishes she had waited, saved the money, time and effort, and just did the nursing in her mid-20s.

Best of luck.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

I have 2 children that joined an Americorps program right out of high school... it is a 10 month program called National Civilian Community Corps... (2 of my 4 children went through this program)

If he is accepted, he is assigned to a "campus", then assigned to a team that goes off to other states for projects lasting 1-2 months. Much of it is physical labor, like trail work and such, but it is a great time to "grow up" a bit and take a break before college.

Housing and food is taken care of, and they get a stipend (about $160 every 2 weeks), but they also get an education grant to use for college, etc. My son has a tuition grant for $5,550 waiting for when he starts Culinary School this spring.

It gives them some real-life experiences of being somewhat on their own, without being completely without a "safety net" ..... They get a chance to see a different part of the United States, usually, and also see things from a different perspective.


Take a look at this link.... maybe you can talk him into applying.

When my son applied, he was "waitlisted", and then called literally 1 week before he needed to report to the campus..... that was one crazy week getting things ready. Different campuses start at different times... there are probably 5 campuses throughout the United States. My son was stationed in Denver, and did projects in Missouri, Arkansas, Denver, and Tucson, AZ... he really had a great time!

You can PM me for more information if you want... I really believe in this program. (And no, I'm not paid for saying this.... I just know it was a great experience for two of my children, (#2 and #4), and wish #3 had done the program, also.)

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Well, you say that "lots of kids start out with the "basics" and figure it out as they go along" but I think that's what MOST kids do!
(My son is only 8, so I have not gone through this with him, but I have 2 college-educated nieces and nephews and a boy (18) that my husband & I are designated guardians...so we're involved with him & his mom.)
He needs to start somewhere.
BUT it IS his decision, right?
Is there a career counselor somewhere that he could talk to?
Could he take a career aptitude test?
Perhaps your husband could say that he is willing to help him with the cost of his education (be it college or trade) for the next 4 years & after that, he's on his own?
AND I might think twice about footing the entire bill--I think I appreciated college more & was more motivated to achieve because I was paying for it. I knew they were willing to take my money every semester for as long as I wanted them to! LOL
I think this might be a case of him NOT wanting to go for further academia, but PT work if he's not in school FT would not "do it" in my book. This kid needs to go & try to get a FT job.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

We told both our kids it was either college or full time work and rent out of our house. Part time was not an option. The problem is he is still acting like a kid in high school. Also, since his mother seems to be okay with this situation you really don't have much to say about it. Until and if he decides to grow up your hands are sort of tied. Has your husband talked with his ex about the son? If ya'll can get on the same page and present a united front with the boy then you have a fighting chance.


3 moms found this helpful


answers from Omaha on

I don't have children of this age yet, but I can tell you about my experience and my brothers. We all had different paths. I went away to college directly after graduating and enjoyed it immensely! I was an undecided major for the first year or so and then decided I wanted to be a teacher. I was in a sorority and became involved with many activities during my time at school. I loved those years and really found my voice there. I went on to earn my masters degree and National Board Certification. I taught for 13 years and now stay home with my kids. I just recently started subbing a bit and love it!
My oldest brother went to community college for a few years, dropped out to work for awhile and then went back in his mid-twenties and finished his bachelor's degree. He then went on to get his juris doctorate and is now a successful attorney. He loves it!
My youngest brother went away to a big college for a year, came home and went to community college, dropped out to work for awhile and then joined the military. He is now very successful as an officer in the Navy and plans to continue until retirement.
I am a teacher so obviously I am very pro-education especially pursuing higher education, but I do believe that every person has to find their own time and place to commit to it. I agree with the others that your DH and SS should devise a compromise of some sort-go now with Dad's help or outline a clear plan what his intentions are for the next year or two. This economy is rough, but there are jobs out there. My husband works in IT and is hiring people all the time right now, but those without a degree in programming and such, need not apply. It is not easy to, in fact it's nearly impossible to make ends meet working a minimum wage job like BK, but maybe SS has to learn that for himself first to truly appreciate it. Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

Sometimes the most important lesson learned is finding out what you don't want, but you will never know what that is until you throw yourself into something.
He's standing on the edge of the pool and he's afraid to jump in.
In the mean time, he's not getting any younger, and college prices are not getting any cheaper, and the longer he's away from an academic environment the harder it will be to get back into it.
If he doesn't want college, he can go to a vocational school - learn to fix air conditioning/heating unit, learn to drive trucks, become a car mechanic, etc - find something that will pay more than Burger King so he can save up for college or at least get his own apartment.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

It's OK to be lost at this age...but not trying is not OK.

In our family the post HS choices are: work FT or go to school FT, either community college, vocational school if not a university. So if he's only working PT, he has time to go take a class. He should look into the career guidance centers are community colleges where they offer testing to help him make an informed decision considering his likes and abilities.

What's up with knowing what you want to study already??? People change their majors an average of 7 times....that's just the average. He needs to be actively exploring either way.

Figuring out what one wants to DO with their life is the same as figuring out what you DON'T want to do as well. It's a process of elimination, but you have to get out there and dabble.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

You guys have given your opinion, and now you need to let it go. Regardless of how correct you and your husband are about college, you cannot force an 18 year old to do what they don't want to do. You husband has given his opinion, has made his offers to his son, has had his argument, and now he needs to let his son make his decision with the offers and information he has been given.

I agree with you and your husband, but your ss is correct as well. If he knows (or determines) ahead of time that he won't try, then he won't try, and there is no point in his going to school.

At that age - say it once and then back off. If you are going to have any effect on his decisions, it will be more effective the less you push.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Amarillo on

"You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink." This sounds like your son. He may want to go but it not ready to jump in. No amount of talking and pressuring is going to help right now. He is right he will just waste it away.

The Americorps sounds like a way to go. The paying rent is a way to go while working at BK.

If mom isn't on board with additional education for the future then he is not either. If she does not demand and enforce this need he doesn't care. I have a grandson in a similar situation (14) and he doesn't care. He doesn't know where he fits in between the two households -- mom has an apartment and nothing great inside; dad has a home and he has a room with lots of teen stuff and a great high school. Mom and dad or on opposite sides of the educational fence.

It is hard to know that your child needs more than he knows about to make it in the world today. But then again you have to let the chips fall where they may and know that you gave it your best shot even if it didn't turn out like you had hoped. Each person walks their own path in life. So we have to learn not to sweat the small stuff.

Say a few prayers that he will mature and his head will pop out of the shell (turtle) and the light will come on. Maybe a few lower end environment visits to the homeless shelters and soup kitchens might help.

Good luck.

The other S.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

I have to say that your stepson is making a lot of good points, though it does sound like he is sort of set on this thought pattern.

It also sounds like your husband is reacting to his own experiences and/or disappointments regarding college and is pushing those thoughts/feelings onto the son.

I have a couple of suggestions:
* If he has things he's sort of interesting in, have him volunteer, in order to try it out. The easy example of this would be if he thought he might like to go into building houses/carpentry/similar, he could volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and get real experience and find out if he liked it.

* Instead of making this into an argument, have your DH start putting aside the money he wants to give his son, into a separate saving account. The money can accrue interest while it's waiting to be used. Have them come to some kind of agreement and write up a contract; example might be, DH agrees to give son $X toward college, if he's enrolled by Y date (and make it reasonable--like fall of 2014), and if son doesn't enroll in college or secondary school (like vocational school) by that point, then the money goes back to Dad. That way, it's there in writing.

If the above agreement idea is too hard-and-fast, then just have DH start setting aside the savings, and let the discussion go for a little while, and let both sides think about it.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

Here in VA, we have a community college program where you can get your core classes -- English, Math, etc. under your belt (as well as some electives) and get an Associates Degree in 2 years. Then - once you've figured out what you like, you can transfer to almost any college in state (providing your grades are high enough) and finish the last two years. It costs half as much and the kids who do it, swear by it.
I don't know anyone who knew what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives when they were 18. My son is majoring in Chemistry because he likes it. He has no idea what he'll do with that upon graduation except he may continue on for his Masters Degree...
I'd keep telling him to enroll in a couple of classes at the local community college if only to keep his study skills up. He might also go talk to the guidance counselors at the community college to see what they say. They might be able to convince him to just start...

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Eugene on

A gap year is a year of travel and exploring other cultures. Burger King and other fast food places won't teach a person anything.
My kids went to an excellent California Jr. College where they took their gap year after getting their AA's.
College is not HS. It's much more respectful of the students and you choose your own classes.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

Some jobs train people without college depending on what they will eventually go into. I think he should be able to wait until he is more ready to study and work hard at it and maybe a few more months/years at Burger King will help him decide that. Some of our kids went right to college and then dropped out and did something else like a year school, mainly the girls. One is a nurse and one does massage. One boy went right to college and one went in the military. Another finished college and works in his field and one found a job that trained him and he enjoys. I think it depends on what they enjoy and can live on, etc. One girl went to college and never finished but is working and married and one didn't go at all and is married and has worked and stayed home both at different times. I did not think they should be forced to decide at age 18 and go and then change fields like so many do and start all over. That's just my opinion. I know so many who went four years, didn't like it and started over at a new field. That too is fine if you change your mind but costs a lot and takes more time.

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answers from Dover on

Sounds like all of you have valid points. College is expensive and if he doesn't feel he would buckle down and do well, why waste the money? It's better to wait than to fail courses that you are paying for. You and hubby have valid points as well...lets get started with general courses so you are that much closer when you figure out what you want to do. It does sound like maybe SS is thinking he would need tech school rather than college and maybe that is why he doesn't want to take the basics now (in case what he decides to do does not require college at all...there are still a few things like that).

Compromise....maybe you and hubby can start a college fund now for him. Contribute to it what you would be willing to help him with and continue to do so until you are no longer willing to help. Also, maybe reach a deal with SS that he take the time he needs but if next year, he hasn't decided that he agree to at least start with the general courses...start as "undeclared" to get some of that under his belt. At that point, he will have some money in the fund you have offered to help him. Good luck!



answers from St. Louis on

seriously time for him to consider taking just the core subjects: government, algebra, English, & a few others. Any school, any counselor will be able to set him up! Most of these credits will transfer...& many are offered online!

has he considered the military? :)



answers from New York on

To me it sounds like your stepson does not want to go to college and is just making up excuses.

Yes, the longer he waits the more difficult it will be to go back to school.

IMO sending him to college know would be a complete waste of money, as he isn't interested. Instead suggest he take some classes. He can take an adult ed class or a class at a community college in something that he thinks he may be interested in.

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