Question on Quora:
My fiancé says it isn’t cruel to kick one’s child out of the house on their eighteenth birthday, for no other reason than, “They are now an adult, and they have to be reliant on themselves.” Is this true?
My answer (which I may or may not post on Quora, but thought it would make a great topic for my blog):
Parents should be able to kick their eighteen-year-old children out of the house because they are legally adults.
This belief has become ingrained in today’s culture. But how true is it? Yes, I know, way back when young people were taking on apprenticeships and getting married in their mid-teens. But today is today, not back then. First of all, children are not raised with the same values and beliefs today. Our modern world teaches children that they are incapable little people until they reach their late teens. It also imprisons children in a system that drains them of all their creativity and motivation, starting at age five and not ending – at the earliest – at age sixteen.
We call this system “education.”
Way back when, children weren’t forced to succumb to this soul torture, so by the time they were in their mid-teens they actually still were brimming over with creativity and energy, and because of this felt confident to take on the responsibilities that today we don’t consider worthy of anyone under the age of twenty.
Of course, one might also argue that encouraging early marriage and other adult responsibilities was probably not the best thing for every single teen.
Neither is it now.
My brother’s story
My parents kicked my brother out of the house when he turned eighteen.
Let me give you some backstory. My brother has to have an I.Q. of at least 150. On a good day, mine is about 140, and I know he’s smarter than I. He has photographic memory. In elementary school, he shone academically. He could sing, and at one point started to teach himself to play the piano.
He could write brilliant stories and was a gifted artist. He was a decent – though teasing – big brother, too, until he reached about sixth grade. His personality changed. And not in a good way. I’ll get more into that in a moment.
Then he hit seventh grade, and found out that boys who played the piano, sang, or did art were “gay.” This was back in the ‘80s, so that was not a cool label to receive. So he stopped all of the artistic things he was so good at.
As he grew older, his behavior worsened. He and my dad were constantly fighting, in part because my brother seemed to drastically overreact to every perceived slight. For example, if he stubbed his toe on the leg of a chair, he would kick the chair and push it violently, all while cursing the poor thing out at the top of his lungs.
My parents viewed this extreme lack of self-control as misbehavior, and that in and of itself was reason enough to make him leave the house.
He knew that the flipping of burgers he’d been doing since he dropped out of school two years ago – oh, did I mention he dropped out of school at age sixteen? – would lead to a bleak future, so he decided to join the Marines.
A few months later, he was dishonorably discharged because he couldn’t submit to authority.
Long story short, he spent the next almost thirty years in and out of motel desk jobs.
Remember, this is a man with a photographic memory, who read voraciously and had all sorts of talents and abilities.
Long story short, a few years ago he finally went to see a doctor about all the migraines and dizziness he’s been suffering from…since the age of twelve. Turns out the chicken pox he had at age eleven destroyed one of his inner ears. This is why he had a personality flipped right around that time in his life.
He never told my parents about his physical problems until about ten years ago. Maybe he thought everybody suffered from them? Or that my parents wouldn’t be able to afford to give him proper medical care (because our mother’s mantra was a constant, “We can’t afford it”)?
A couple of years ago, I figured out that he is a high-functioning autistic. I’ll explain why in a moment. For now, let me go back to the assertion that all kids should be able to handle leaving the house at age eighteen.
My brother obviously couldn’t, because he hadn’t received the help he needed for his issues. Had my brother told my mom about his physical ailments, I’m not sure whether thirty years ago a doctor would have been able to get to the root of the problem and thus be able to provide any lasting help.
As for being autistic, well, back then there was no such thing as “high functioning” autism. A child was only diagnosed if they didn’t communicate and constantly engaged in self-stimulation activities. But had my brother been diagnosed when he was young, he could have at least received some counseling about how to effectively engage in society. How to get along with the other kids at school.
Of course, many of them were among the cruelest human beings who have ever lived. But then, knowing that my brother couldn’t deal emotionally with the horrific verbal and emotional abuse going on at the school, maybe my mother would have pulled him out to homeschool (he did get his GED taking night school classes, by the way).
In addition, my father was several years away from being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. If we had known why his memory was deteriorating, had been able to ameliorate some of the symptoms by good nutrition and a better diet, he may have been able to get along better with my brother.
What does my fifty-year-old brother do now? He sits in my mother’s old house, leaving only to go to the library, buy groceries, and visit my mom – who has to provide him with grocery money. His migraines and dizziness have apparently gotten worse as he’s aged, making it hard for him to find a job.
I don’t fault my parents for not knowing what wasn’t possible for them to know. I simply offer my brother’s story as exhibit number one against the rationale that every eighteen year old is ready to leave their parents’ house.
The next story: even closer to home
Exhibit number two is my son. The reason I figured out my brother is autistic is that I began to suspect that my son might be autistic. There was something going on with him. His emotional sensitivity has always rivaled that of my brother, plus he has physical sensitivities, is an extremely picky eater, and engages in stimming (self-stimulation) to a moderate extent. (Like spinning around in circles while he’s talking, or constantly brushing the bottom of his feet.)
I knew, at the very least, that B was dyslexic. He also didn’t retain any information that he didn’t deem important. Couldn’t memorize math facts worth beans. Had to have his name called several times before he realized somebody was speaking to him. And until about the age of eight, couldn’t for the life of him connect his behavior with ensuing consequences.
Has always had a witty sense of humor, and remembers facts and ideas that interest him for a long time after hearing them. He also goes wild when he’s bored.
I searched online, “criteria for diagnosing autism.” I found a page that was geared toward professional. BAM! A minute later, I had an autistic brother. But though B fit some of the criteria to an extent, he didn’t fit enough in order to be categorized as autistic.
Long story a bit shorter, I finally realized that he would qualify for the diagnosis of not only dyslexia, but also ADHD.
Turns out that people diagnosed with ADHD, autism, and dyslexia simply think differently than the rest of the 80% of the population. They think in pictures rather than words, rendering them naturally artistic and good with their hands. Their brains are wired in such a way as to make them much more sensitive emotionally and physically as everybody else.
And for the child who is wired in the way that would lead to the ADHD label, his brain development is two to five years behind that of his average peer. In a school setting, he would additionally be labeled as “developmentally delayed.”
B is nearly twelve now, but he acts and thinks much closer to your average nine-year-old boy. I know this because I taught elementary school for thirteen years at several grade levels. Add that to the fact that the average person’s frontal lobe – the decision making part of the brain – isn’t completely formed until the age of twenty-two or twenty-three, and J and I are looking at having B at home with us until he’s somewhere in his mid-twenties.
No way am I going to plan to boot him out of the house in six years. It would be a case of neglect, if not abuse.
Some children need more time to grow up and become self-reliant, and that’s just the way it is.