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Helping a Boomerang Child

Merry Christmas from Parenting Today's TeensLet me share a desperate e-mail I once received from a father who was struggling with his 25-year old stepson, who was still living at home.  Here’s what he wrote:

“I have asked my stepson to leave our home six times now because of his disrespect for my authority (since we have two other teen children in the home).  He lacks respect for his mother, and fails to follow the rules of our house.  He never finished high school, was in the military, and also spent time in the Job Corps.  We had hoped that these experiences would help mature him … they didn’t.

Each time I’ve asked him to leave the home, he moves in with friends, only to take advantage of their hospitality.  He then eventually calls to tell his mom that he has no place to stay, and she repeatedly talks me into letting him back into our house.  He makes her feel guilty because of her earlier failures, and she feels horrible for not showing “grace” when he is in need.

He promises to do what is expected every time we sit down and discuss the expectations of him staying in our home.  In a matter of days, he goes right back to his old behaviors and the cycle starts all over.  He’s never really been repentant or ever turned from his ways.  We’re at our wit’s end!  Any thoughts?”

The problem this father is having is not uncommon in our culture.  According to the Pew Research Center, more than 21 percent of adult children ages 25 to 34 are currently living in their parents, or grandparent’s, homes.  We’re experiencing a generation of “boomerang” kids, that no matter how far away they fly, they always end up coming back to roost.  But that is not to say that sometimes kids have a very good reason to come back home.  They may have medical issues, and need time for recovery.  Or, they may need your support to get their feet back on the ground after a traumatic event or financial loss.  It could be they may be there to help you take care of sickly parents, or siblings, or need transition time between college semesters.  These are all good reasons to allow an adult son or daughter to remain in your home.

However, often these “boomerang” kids resemble “boarders,” like this 25- year old young man, who doesn’t have a pressing need to stay in the parental abode, but finds it easier to do so.  And in these cases there is lack of mutual respect, an unwillingness to engage in life rather than escape from it, and an absence of healthy relationships where people are communicating and understanding how the home will operate.  It takes a change in attitudes and principles to help permanent “boomerangers” to become “temporary guests” and successfully launch them into the next stage of life.

Developing Respect

The key to any healthy home is respect.  Everyone in the family, whether they’re eight or eighteen, needs to adhere to the rules of the house.  If an adult child either ignores or is unwilling to adhere to level of respect for your home or the people in it, then it’s time to issue a choice.  Either the child will work toward offering more respect or leave home.

This ultimatum may seem harsh to you and your adult child in the home.  But there must be respect in the house.  You can’t have one person undermining the rules and authority of the home.  It sets a bad precedent for the other members of the family, and can cause stress and turmoil in many relationships.  Of course, there could be any number of reasons why a child is acting out of disrespect.  But at some point, a young man or a young woman must realize that regardless of any wrongdoing in the past, they have to grow up, move on, and quit being controlled by something that might have happened years ago.  No matter what, mistakes from the past never give license to disrespect a parent.

Setting a Good Example

Just as children pick up patterns and behaviors from watching their parents, they also learn by watching older siblings in how they interact within the home.  So when a “boomerang” kid starts running amuck in their parent’s home, other members of the family are learning by observation, and soaking up ideas that manipulation works, respect is not necessary, and that Mom and Dad will bail them out when they get into trouble.  Parents have enough inherent issues to deal with without adding to the confusion of another adult at home who’s offering a bad example.  Even if this was the only reason not to have the older son or daughter at home, then it’s justified – especially when coupled with a lack of repentance and unwillingness to turn from his or her old ways.

Working Towards the Future

The young man mentioned in the e-mail had an unfinished high school education.  What could this be about?  Does he have some learning disabilities?  Perhaps high school graduation or a GED should be made a higher priority so that he can take better care of himself in the future.

I recommend asking that boomerang son or daughter what they want from their parents—where they want to end up, what type of help would they like to see, and how they’d like to see Mom and Dad involved.  If they are responsible enough to drive, vote, and rent a car, then those adult children are capable of answering some of these tough questions.  And if they can’t, then they need something to shock them into coming up with one.  In the parable of the Prodigal Son, found in Luke 15, the reckless youth came to his senses only when people stopped giving him things.  Change happened when he needed to stand on his own and be responsible for his future.

An out-of-control boomerang kid will never grow up if mom and dad always provide a place for him to fall back on, even when he shows no motivation to improve his life or make changes.  And because that young adult always has a place, he’ll never have to learn how to solve those life problems or work towards something better in the future.  They’ll continue in that foolish thinking until someone gives them the opportunity to think differently.  Proverbs 19:19 states that if an angry man is rescued once, he’ll have to be rescued again.

Resisting the Manipulation

Within the stepfather’s e-mail, I also noticed a trap that many parents find themselves in—getting manipulated by their adult children.  This 25- year- old man is not only playing with his mom.  He’s shaming her.  And Mom is falling for it hook, line, and sinker.  She may think that because of some mistake in her past she’s been the cause of all the trouble in her son’s life.  Thus she rescues him continually, justifies it with scripture, and is hurting herself and her son in the process.

To moms who have feelings of regret like this woman (and I’ve talked to hundreds) I want you to know that no matter what mistakes you have made in your life by your actions or lack of actions, your child is capable of growing through them.  If a child is using your past failures as a manipulative tool to meet his own needs, take action!  One of the best messages for your son to hear is that this manipulation is no longer going to be effective with you.

When parents allow their older children to become dependent on them as young adults, they aren’t doing themselves or their adult children any favors.  When a son or daughter chooses a lifestyle of escape, or continues in unacceptable behavior, the refining heat needs to be turned up in that child’s life.  It doesn’t have so much to do with the living arrangement as much as the bad attitudes and unwillingness to take on responsibility.

I often share with parents that the definition of lunacy is to continue doing the same things in the same way and expect a different outcome.  It’s unrealistic for Mom or Dad to think that they’ll get different results if they continue along the same path that they have been taking with their adult child.

If you are the struggling parent of an adult child still living at home, let me offer you some hope.  The situation and conflict can change for the better.  With the proper actions and attitudes you can turn that boomerang child into a high-flying arrow.

A special message from Mark

I do hope and pray that this holiday season is a wonderful time of celebration and reflection for you and your family.  It’s a special time for all of us at Parenting Today’s Teens, and the only time that we ask folks to partner with us financially to help support our work with teens and families.  If these newsletters, or any of the Parenting Today’s Teens resources have been beneficial to you, would you consider a gift to our ministry in your year-end giving?  You can do so by clicking here.

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Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.