Real Talk Podcast: Failure to Launch – Transitioning to Adulthood

January 25, 2022
real talk with susan and kristina podcast

In this episode of Real Talk, KJK Student & Athlete Defense Attorneys Susan Stone and Kristina Supler are joined by Dr. Mark McConville, a renowned clinical psychologist and author experienced in parenting and child development, as well as adult, adolescent, emerging adult and family psychology. They discuss the struggle many young adults experience transitioning from adolescence to adulthood – a phenomenon Dr. McConville has labeled Failure to Launch. The conversation includes how this struggle came about, tips for parents to help their children get through it and anecdotal advice.


Susan Stone:                    Welcome back to Real Talk with Susan Stone and Kristina Supler. We’re full-time moms and attorneys, bringing our student defense legal practice to life with real, candid conversations. Today’s topic is Failure to Launch.

Kristina Supler:               We’re so pleased today to be joined by Dr. Mark McConville. Dr. McConville is a family clinical psychologist in private practice here in Cleveland, Ohio. He’s lectured and published on child development and parenting across the country. And within his private practice, he has really earned a reputation as the preeminent psychologist for working with patients, young adults, primarily, who are struggling with this adolescent to adult transition, a phenomenon he’s labeled Failure to Launch. So we are so pleased to be joined today by Mark McConville.

Susan Stone:                    I do have to add, welcome, Dr. McConville…

Dr. Mark McConville:     Thank you. Thank you.

Susan Stone:                    … his wife was my daughter, Alex’s kindergarten teacher. Dr. McConville, we know you’re a famous author, but to me you are Mrs. McConville’s husband.

Dr. Mark McConville:     That’s right. It’s like being married to a rock star. We can’t go into a restaurant without some young person jumping up across the way and coming over and giving a big kindergarten hug.

Kristina Supler:               That’s so sweet.

Susan Stone:                    I love that. Kristina and I had the pleasure of ordering your book on Amazon. And I still remember Kristina coming in that morning, and when I got to the final chapter, and I read that letter you wrote to 20 somethings, and I read the excerpt from your mother, I just started to cry. I could not stop crying. I just want you to know that. And I said to Kristina, maybe it’s because I have two kids now out of college, and one who is a sophomore, but your book made me think about my own parenting, myself going through emerging adulthood, and then all of our clients, and it just brought just a torrential amount of tears.

Kristina Supler:               I so enjoyed the book as well. I have a son and a daughter, they’re younger. They’re not in high school, but nonetheless through our legal practice and what Susan and I deal with every day, sort of know what lies ahead. And I was so struck by your approach in the book. You demonstrated such kindness towards these young adults who are struggling. And while your advice I think was so rooted in sound psychological theories, I also love that it just had such an element of practicality to it.

Dr. Mark McConville:     Yeah. That’s what comes with being at any line of work for a long time, you begin to tease out what sounds elegant, but isn’t really useful. And you discover all kinds of things that are quite ordinary, but are very useful, put in the right context. And one of them, Susan, I certainly did not intend my readers to cry heavily.

But I really had in mind that people would understand more compassionately what these people are going through. If I put myself in the shoes of being a client, and over the course of my life I have done, several times. But if I don’t feel gotten, if I don’t feel that I’m talking with a counselor who gets where I’m coming from, they don’t have to necessarily agree with everything I say or think. But if I feel understood, I am so much more available for change.

And so that’s the part of the premise of the book is that these kids often feel, whether it’s true or not, they often feel that their parents don’t understand them. And they’ll come in and complain about that to a therapist. But when the parent can get to that place of, I can identify with what they’re going through. I can see the poor choices, but I understand them better, kids are much more amenable to the parents’ strategies and intervention. So, thanks for the shout-out.

Susan Stone:                    Thank you for that. Can you help our readers and listeners, because we do put it out both in written and we put our podcast out, understand, how do you define failure to launch?

Dr. Mark McConville:     Yeah. I first have to tell you, I objected to that title, but the publishers were adamant. They said, that’s what we’re calling it at the office. And I knew there’d been a movie by that title. My original title was Getting a Life, as in, get a life. But they said that’s a little too subtle. It’ll be lost on some people. There is a developmental transition from the world of adolescence to the world of emerging adulthood. And they are very different worlds.

Adolescence is organized largely around high school life. Even if you’re a disinterested student, it’s still in many ways, it’s the town square where you live. And that life is organized, plotted out and overseen by adults, by educators. It has evolved over the course of a century and a half. And so while they don’t know it, they’re living a little bit in The Truman Show. There’s a structure to the framework of their being. And when they transition out of that, they often find themselves at sea.

Just to give a simple example, there are so many things that growing up, even if you are, let’s say you are a highly responsible, effective 11th grader, still, so much of the administrative management of your life has been taken care of by adults. And then that whole college application process starts. And all of a sudden you’re expected to fill out forms, solicit teachers for recommendation letters, communicate with the college about roommate selection, et cetera, et cetera.

And we’ll see these highly competent kids just stall out, because it’s a new set of ground rules. And that is often their first introduction. Or for kids who aren’t college bound, maybe that first job, the job interview, having responsibilities that actually matter to a store or a restaurant. You really are transformed. If you make it through that transition by age, let’s say 25 or 28, you have a whole different sense of yourself, in a sort of fledgling way, but as competent, as knowing more or less what you’re doing. And in that transition, you are fraught with experiences of not really having a clue what you’re doing. And unfortunately, and this is true more for males than females, often resistant to the kind of support and guidance that would make things much easier.

Kristina Supler:               That’s really interesting, the resistance to support and guidance. And I love at the beginning of the book, you make this observation that’s just so insightful and in line with what Susan and I are seeing in our law practice every day. You say that kids today, they worry more and they risk less, which really ultimately contributes and leads to anxiety, depression. And I know, Susan, wouldn’t you agree, every day we’re dealing with students who are depressed, anxious. They have ADHD. They’ve been in therapy. I mean, don’t you think they’re-

Susan Stone:                    They’re frozen. We see kids who get to a point where they just freeze. They can’t get out of bed. They can’t go to school. And then we see the parents trying to overcompensate and say that’s okay. And then when you hear the okay, it reinforces it. And then they need a legal defense, and we need them to participate and help us. And then we’re told that they can’t because being with us is too upsetting. And we’re like, wait, we’ve got to be able to do our job with your child. And it leads to this cycle.

Kristina Supler:               I’m just curious to hear your feedback on what got us to this point or contributed to this trend where adolescents and young adults, they’re afraid to take risks and everyone’s anxious? How did we get here?

Dr. Mark McConville:     Yeah. Well, first a comment about the thing of parents, is supporting their kids and not meeting with the two of you. That’s very telling. I would not, having met the two of you now, I would not see you as particularly terrifying representatives of the adult world or the real world. I know you’re doing serious business, but you both seem to have a very receptive kind of gentle good listening sort of way. So for a parent to say, I have to protect my kid from that experience, tells you the equation is not balanced. There’s something out of whack here.

The question of how this came about is we could do a symposium on it, because it has a lot to do with how the world has changed from say the time that I was their age. When I was their age, 30% of high school graduates went to college. Today it’s more like 70%. When I was their age, had I chosen, I could have taken a bus across town, gone to the employment office at Kodak, and had been making a living wage within a month, bought my first car within three or four months. I could have down payment on a small bungalow by the time I’m 20.

I mean, those were options. Those really aren’t options today. The amount of education that you need just to get a foothold. And if you talk to kids with good four year educations from good schools, and while some of them land terrific, interesting jobs, many of them are extremely frustrated because the job opportunities, if they can find them, they don’t meet their fantasy. Remember, this is the generation that we encouraged dream. Laurel School, dream, dare, do. And it’s a wonderful inspiration that we’re giving.

And I think most kids absorb it and utilize it. You’re seeing the ones and I’m seeing the ones who that lofty aspiration becomes a millstone around their neck. I’m not going to live up to that. And so it’s harder growing up. Everything you look at, from the cost of housing to the salaries, wages have gone steadily down since 1970. You have to be a much more sophisticated being to make your way in the world. And because of that, your generation of parents, yours specifically, has been the most supportive generation in history. And that’s not a knock, that’s praise.

Because we do in fact have kids who are willing to soar. Why can’t I go to medical school? Why can’t I become an international business expert? Kids have lofty aspirations. Many of them meet them. I like to look at sports. I have a 13 year old granddaughter who just happens … Doesn’t happen to be, her extraordinary focus and hard work, is a tremendous soccer player, but she has her full parent, grandparent support, an extra soccer coach, leagues that are run by dedicated adults. And I think, boy, we had to go out and make our own team and coach ourselves and call somebody from another school to say, if they wanted to play us on Saturday morning. So the support.

So there’s a reason why, let’s just take this generation of women athletes, imagine them playing a team from 1968, it would be cruelty. It would be cruelty, because they are so much better supported. So there’s a lot to be said for support. We only hear about the helicopter parent, the snowplow parent. So parents get dinged for this. But in fact, as a cohort, your generation of parents has done an extraordinary job.

Susan Stone:                    I have to share with you, my mother was first generation American. My grandparents all came from Europe to escape oppression. And my mother had a different attitude. I remember saying, “I don’t want to do my homework.” And she would say, “Don’t do your homework, it’s your education.” And if I would wake up and say, “I don’t want to go to school,” she’d say, “Your education.”

And so I took ownership early on, and I was a latchkey kid, so I would go to school, come home, make dinner, help my sister. I think about my own parenting. If my kid said, I don’t feel like going to school, I’d be like, “Of course you have to go to school.” The question I have is I feel like it’s very late. Are there earlier signs in middle school, early high school, before that senior year where you can see? And what can you do to prevent the struggling transition?

Dr. Mark McConville:     Yes. Yeah. So it’s just a little anecdote. I was doing a radio talk show, and a father called in and said, “I have a three year old. What should I be doing with my three year old?” At first my jaw dropped, but then I said, “Well, you should be sitting down on the playroom floor saying, ‘Come on over here, buddy. We’re going to pick up these toys together. I’ll get all the trucks, so you get all the puzzles.'”

That kind of parenting takes so much more time and energy than just picks the damn room up, and put the stuff in wherever it goes. But to sit down and work with that child, where you’re really paying attention to the sort of just emergent qualities of initiative and ownership, and that’s what your mother did brilliantly. Your mother was a good gambler. She was able to read her opponent.

Susan Stone:                    Still is.

Dr. Mark McConville:     She knew if she played that card, that you would pick it up. But what she was doing was challenging you to take initiative and ownership. Now, a lot of kids today need more fine-tuned parenting than that. And even when you say to your kids, what are you talking about? Of course you’re going to do your homework. That’s very efficient parenting, and most kids respond to it.

I’m watching my kids parent their kids, and I see that. We don’t make an issue of schoolwork because it’s not an issue. It’s taken granted that you’re going to do it. It’s out of the question that you wouldn’t do it. They don’t fight over a lot. But what if you get one of those oppositional kids who seem to come along on their own to nobody’s bad parenting, and they come along and say, yeah, it’s done. I did it in school. And of course they didn’t. And then that’s where parenting becomes high maintenance.

Kristina Supler:               I mean with the student who, Susie or Johnny, who’s been amazing all through school. Has these dreams of going on to a prestigious college. Involved in every extracurricular under the sun. But all of a sudden senior year hits that moment where there’s a total loss of initiative, motivation, the student starts to shut down from anxiety about the future and what lies ahead. When parents see that collapse coming on, what can parents do? I mean, what tips do you have?

Dr. Mark McConville:     Yeah. We call that senior year collapse actually. And it’s a very interesting phenomenon because it’s … Deep in the background of our consciousness, we all sense the passage of time and the passage of life’s ground rules. And that’s maybe, other than say leaving home for kindergarten or preschool where the ground rules change pretty dramatically, a lot of those kids feel the hoof beats of the future. Like I’m not going to have this support. And we see that more frequently with kids who have been on 504 plans, or they’ve benefited, because those are kids who have really utilized that support.

Some of them, in the context of a therapy session, will be quite insightful. Not all of them, but occasionally there will be a kid that says, I’m afraid of next year. What if I just don’t get up, and… Because after all, my mom wakes me up now in the morning. I always get my papers done, but it’s usually because there’s an email from my English teacher telling my parents that I’m a week behind, or something like that. And that get intuits, I may be in trouble.

So, how to respond to it. I’ll give you the template, the model. Younger, there’s a phenomenon called a school avoidance. We used to call school phobia. So you might have an eight or a 10 year old, they’re hanging onto the door jam. “I’m not going.” The protocol for intervention is by hook or by crook, you call Uncle Vinny. He comes over, picks the kid up, puts him in the car, you take them to school, whether they have to sit in the nurse’s office or in the library, doesn’t matter. They got to know that being in school is not a negotiable.

And the great majority of those kids, I’m going to guesstimate, 90%, they adapt. Their little brain says, well, well, I guess I have to do it, and then they do it. The other 10%, what they’re signaling us, and the tragedy is we often don’t know it until we put them in school, then the nurse or the counselor says nothing positive is happening. I came in my counseling office the other day, and he was hiding under the desk. Then we know we have more of a mental health issue. We have a kid that quite likely does in fact warrant a diagnosis and treatment intervention for anxiety, perhaps depression.

So it’s a hard thing for parents because the kind of gentle tough love thing is often necessary to clarify the diagnosis. I mean, there’s a lot of diagnosing that way. And we see that with the same thing with the high school senior, the parents who say, uh-uh (negative), I’m sorry, you are going to school. One mental health day a month, but no more. Something like that. And a lot of those kids respond. The one who don’t are telling us, I’m not ready to move on.

I have an ongoing quarrel with society about this. I have a piece of advice I’ve given a hundred times. Maybe once it was followed. And the advice is, look, you’ve got a kid that’s really ready to go to college from an academic standpoint. He or she is a good student. Their SATs, their scores are perfectly acceptable. They’re telling you they’re not ready to graduate. Let them not graduate. Let them walk across the stage and get an empty piece of paper. It won’t kill them, and it’s easy to recover.

How do you recover? You take a six week English course at the local public school, and you start college in January. And really in most cases, unless we’re seeing real emergent mental illness, or a serious drug problem that has just sort of crested. Other than that, they get their act together. The alternative, and I sent one of my kids to college on this. The alternative is they send the kid off to college anyhow. Two semesters, academic probation, six incompletes, two F’s and two C’s. And the school is saying, sorry, or they’re saying … I call it academic rehab. It doesn’t have a hundred percent hit rate. It maybe is, in my patient population, maybe 60%. But it usually means take two courses at tri C, get a job.

The job is an important part of the therapy, because it changes how you feel about yourself. The produce manager told me how much he appreciates the job I do. And they need me this weekend because it’s a heavy shopping weekend. I’m beginning to feel a little more like I may have the stuff it takes to become an adult. And for that kid who then goes back to school the following year, there’s a much higher success rate. And my point is a lot of that could be avoided if you let the kids flunk English, and then rehab over the summer.

The other thing is, if you do the two semesters and out, your self-esteem and self-confidence takes a massive hit. All kids this age feel like phonies, but these kids feel it more. Whereas the embarrassment of telling your friends that you’ve got summer school, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday is just big whoop, as they used to say. It’s not hard to hide. It’s not hard to do. You kind of get tired of… I had one kid who I mentioned in the book who the parents couldn’t get him to come out from under his bed. Well, you get tired of being under your bed, after a while.

Susan Stone:                    Well, I want to challenge you on something.

Dr. Mark McConville:     Oh, good.

Susan Stone:                    I’m wondering whether the system today is setting kids up to fail because we have them in high school, in this highly structured environment. And now college has absolutely no boundaries until a kid violates the code of conduct. There are no visitation rules. It just seems like there just needs to be some better way to transition students. And I went to college, look, I’m 55. There was some sort of visitation in the dorm where everyone had to be back, and you couldn’t have members of the opposite sex in your room-

Kristina Supler:               We still had those rules and restrictions, and it was a big deal. It was really enforced.

Susan Stone:                    Yeah. I didn’t know that. Is this even fair?

Dr. Mark McConville:     It’s a great question. And I don’t know that I have a good answer, because I was sort of a witness to the culture wars that led to all this openness. One of my dear friends in high school went to college. I was from Rochester, New York. He came to John Carroll, and after a semester he transferred. I asked him why he transferred. He said, “It was 10 o’clock one night. I was in my dorm room, lights out at 10 o’clock. I have the covers pulled over my head, and I’m reading my biology textbook with a flashlight.”

And I said to myself, “What’s wrong with this picture?” The structures that were carried over from the 1950s were the other edge of the pendulum arc. And then through the cultural transition of the 60s and the 70s and feminism, you’re looking at so many of these restrictions as just not useful and appropriate.

And you are certainly right. It is at an extreme where, when you go off to college, you better have a fair amount of self-discipline and self-regulation. And the kids who do, are fine, the kids who don’t, are not. Now, one thing, this may not be the most elegant solution. Colleges do differ in the amount of structure that they impose and the ground rules. I’m not sure that’s the basis on which I’d want to choose a school. But if I had a kid who I thought was a pretty loose cannon, that might go high on my priority list.

Susan Stone:                    What about a gap year? Because I’m a big-

Dr. Mark McConville:     Oh, I love gap years. I love gap years. There’s a book by a scholar named Jean Twenge, came out a year or two ago. She’s what you call a demographer. She studies generations. And she makes a very plausible research case for today’s generation being a new distinct generation. She calls it iGen. They were born after the introduction of the iPhone. And then she goes through all the ways that that and technology generally has changed her life.

And one of the things she noted that was fascinating, that this generation of high school teenagers, less drug abuse, fewer pregnancies, fewer instances of diagnosed oppositional defiant disorder, like everything bad about adolescences is settling down. It’s not unusual for a 16 to 17 year old today to say, “I’m going to stay in and watch a movie with my parents.” Or, “Yeah, I’ll play Scrabble, give me a board. I’ll participate.”

And the initial interpretation, Twenge says, is that these kids are growing up faster. They’re seeming more like adult-like in their late teens. But she said as the research piled up, they came to the exact opposite conclusion. They’re actually growing up slower. So they’re more comfortable with attachment and dependence, and the sort of mandatory distancing from your parents. You remember the book from 25 years ago, mom, would you please drive me and Sally to the … Oh, mom, I hate you. Get out of my life. But first, please drive me and Sally to the shopping center.

That kind of teens, they must rebel. You don’t see it so necessarily today. And so that gap year is exactly … I wish it was like Israel, where you have to do two years of civil service, because there’s so much growing up that takes place. And you’re not being measured every time. You’re not on a timetable of assignments handed in and quizzes taken. I just think it does more to change how you feel about yourself. My kids go the gap years the year after college. They did a thing called Jesuit Volunteer Corps. And so they were doing social service work, but it was so useful in giving them a taste of being viable and useful in the adult world.

Kristina Supler:               It sounds like what you’re saying is that this transition into adulthood really requires adolescents and young adults to have a sense of responsibility, self-discipline, self-reliance. And so for parents, when you have an 18 year old who’s really struggling to take on any sense of responsibility for oneself, what are parents supposed to do now? I mean, a hard line approach of, get out of my house, get a job. You got to pay your own bills and make your way. Do parents have to let their kids crash and burn fail? Or is there a softer approach to helping foster that sense of responsibility in your child?

Dr. Mark McConville:     Yeah. I call that the Archie Bunker Approach. It used to be called tough love. I’m not a fan of tough love, partially dispositionally. It’s not in my character. I mean, this is the argument my book makes, you can set limits and boundaries, and have expectations and consequences. And you can do that in a way that conveys tremendous love and support.

Kristina Supler:               That’s beautiful.

Dr. Mark McConville:     I’ll give you an example. This is just so garden variety. Not this summer, the summer before, I had a kid I’d seen off and on in high school. And he has to come back, because he was doing a lot of headbutting with his parents. And it turned out his mother had driven him to the session, so she was in the waiting room. He was 19 years old, a college student. Their argument du jour was, she’s saying, “You have a dentist appointment on Friday. It conflicts with your work schedule, call the dentist’s office and reschedule.” And he just doesn’t do it. “I’ll do it. I’ll do it. Get off my back.” But he doesn’t do it.

And I said to him, “Would it be okay if I brought your mom in?” And I talked him into it. So she comes into the office, and I watched them go at it, just to kind of witness the argument. And finally I turned to him and I said, “I have a question. What do you think happens when you call a dentist office to cancel an appointment?” And he says, he looks down, he grumbles a little, he says, “They get pissed.” Now, anyone who has ever called a dentist office, they are the most canceled healthcare providers. If you call them to reschedule, they want to send you roses. They are so delighted.

So I said to the mom, “Would you be willing to call on speaker phone and cancel the appointment for him and reschedule?” She said, “Sure.” And of course, you know what happened. “Oh, Mrs. Jones, thank you so much. Oh, no problem. We’ll see him a week from Thursday.” And I turned to the kid, and he looked down, first of all, which is what you do when you’re a little embarrassed. And he goes, “Oh, just that. Oh!” That’s a little microscopic bit of the psychology of the transitioner.

There’s this adult world. I sense that it has protocols, rules, structures, dos and don’ts, but it’s like … You may appreciate this. One of you said you’re Jewish. Personally I call it my synagogue effect. When I go into a synagogue, I have this, and my background is Roman Catholic, where there are all kinds of rules.

Susan Stone:                    We have rules.

Dr. Mark McConville:     Okay. So I have this thing of like, I’m sure there are things I’m supposed to do and supposed not to do, but I don’t know what they are. And so I get this strange, sort of youthful, portent of shame, like I’m going to do something stupid. Everybody’s going to turn … And I know, it’s like, oh, there’s my old neurosis. I guess I could have used another year of therapy. But that’s where they live all the time.

Like the kid who comes in and says, “My mom wants me to fill out this check for you. We owe you some money.” And he takes out the checkbook and he stares at it. And after a minute I say, “Have you ever filled out a check before?” “No.” And of course he so embarrassed. He’s so embarrassed, as if we didn’t all go through that exact same kind of experience. Kids don’t often enough come and say, “All right, mom, I’ll call, but what do I say?” They don’t come for that. Like tell me the piece I don’t know.

Kristina Supler:               So let me ask you then, how do we instill in these transitioners like the idea of what you’re getting at. Like, it’s okay, just ask for help. Don’t feel shame. Don’t feel embarrassment. Just ask for help.

Dr. Mark McConville:     Yeah. If they would listen to that kind of straightforward advice, I wouldn’t have a job.

Kristina Supler:               We probably wouldn’t have jobs either.

Susan Stone:                    You’re right. We’d be out of business.

Dr. Mark McConville:     Right. There are a couple of things you can do. I think for no rational reason, parents are often the least … If I’m your kid and I take your advice, somehow the very active doing so makes me feel more childlike. And keep in mind, I’m only 20 years old, where childhood is nipping at my heels. I mean, I’m a kind of fraudulent adult at that stage. And so I am loathed to do anything that makes me feel like a kid.

So you might find an individual that doesn’t exert the same response for me. Like it might be the other parent. It might be an older sibling. It might be Uncle Joe, cool Uncle Joe. The Uncle Joe that everybody thinks is funny. And he flunked out of college before he went back, so he may be more approachable. It may be a therapist. It may be attorneys like you who are not mom and dad. So that’s one approach.

If you have a hit, if you find someone you do, if you don’t, you don’t. But the other thing is to be a sort of a buddy. Like the mom in my office who essentially showed him how to make that phone call. It would’ve not been good if she had just made the call without him around. But she did it in a framework that was kind of tutorial.

Susan Stone:                    Well, within a therapeutic environment. Because I don’t know that the student or child would’ve stayed, had she said house.

Dr. Mark McConville:     You’re right. Might not have. Might not have.

Susan Stone:                    I mean, you were a great facilitator for that process. One of the questions that I had on your chapter about becoming relational. If you see that your student is hanging out with a group you don’t like, or maybe dating someone that you don’t want the student to date. I know that the kiss of death is to say, don’t hang out with that crowd. That’s like a invitation. In terms of you want students to become relational, and I love those chapters, how do you handle it when you know the peer group isn’t the right peer group?

Dr. Mark McConville:     Yeah. Well there’s no single fail-safe argument. You’re so right. If you say I don’t like that group, even if the kid were to obey you and to distance from them, that just means he’s being childlike. Like mommy doesn’t approve. It’s kind of a no-win approach. But you can do, there’s a kind of questioning that therapists learn. I recently heard it referred to as motivational interviewing, but it’s almost entirely made up of questions.

So what do you like about this group? Tell me how do they compare to other friends you’ve had? How do they make you feel about yourself? What do they do that’s interesting or funny? Where do you think they’ll all be in five years? What do you get from them that you don’t get from other people? That’s the kind of questioning I do with pot smokers. Because if I tell them to stop smoking pot, I’m just fired.

But I will say something like, “I don’t know, like in health class, have they said anything about what they think pot does to your brain? I’m just curious.” So I’m not asking a question about pot, I’m asking a question about health class. The kid will engage in that conversation because it’s a little more oblique. So that’s one thing a parent can try. It’ll work with some kids, not with others.

Another thing you can sometimes do, is you invite them over. You try to pull them into your circle, where you can assess them a little better. It’s also very diagnostic. Like if he brings the girlfriend over, and she won’t talk in your presence, and is nudging him to get down in the basement where the two of them can be alone. I mean, again, it just tells you like, yep, I trust my antenna. Again, there’s no guarantee you’re going to exert some positive influence. At least you’ll have more of an idea.

And often if they are, if I could use the word generously, bad kids, they’re into bad stuff. They’re not growing up. They’re doing a fair amount of drugs. They’re lost in their video game universe. They won’t want to come over because you represent a frightening part of the adult world that they need to insulate themselves from in order to feel okay about themselves.

Kristina Supler:               That’s really interesting. I like what you refer to as the motivational questioning, because Susan and I, in a different way, we have to sort of implement the same strategy a lot when we’re talking to our students. Because if we just come right out and dive into the big stuff, they feel judged or they shut down and are just afraid to be open. I think that’s a great technique that you’ve provided for parents to try to use as well.

Susan Stone:                    And for us. Sometimes we need to spend a little bit more time with each student to tease it out. Kristina and I often do intakes together. And a lot of people in our own professional development have suggested that, why don’t you guys split up more? You could cover more clients, make more money. In fact, all throughout our career, people have tried to separate us.

And we say, there’s an advantage to both of us being with a young adult, because maybe they’ll connect to one of us and not the other, or we can tag team and play good cop, bad cop. And sometimes I wonder if there’s that psychological transition because there’s two of us. We think it’s a better model and we’re not abandoning it.

Dr. Mark McConville:     No, I could not agree more. We used to do that. When I started my career, we did a lot of family therapy, and we always used two therapists whenever the institution would allow us to. And for exact that, it gives you so much more latitude of role, how you play. You see somebody really needs an ally, so one of you can do that without compromising the larger agenda.

Kristina Supler:               Yes, Susan, our decision is intentional and rooted again in psychological theory.

Dr. Mark McConville:     Well, you are two smart cookies, I got to say that.

Susan Stone:                    Oh, geez.

Dr. Mark McConville:     I have three brothers. Two of them are attorneys. One has his own law firm up in Rochester, and he just by virtue of his personality, because he’s actually an estate lawyer, but every one of his high school friends, and I have to say me and my three brothers, when our kids were in college and got in trouble, we called Uncle Mike. And Uncle Mike was just a genius at sussing these things out. Now, back in the day, it was not sexually related. It was open carry on a campus, or getting in a fist fight in a bar. He was just elegant of the way he would help people and connect with them. But I think what you guys are dealing with is much more complicated.

Susan Stone:                    And scary. Really scary.

Dr. Mark McConville:     I had a kid, he was actually a high school kid at a little sibs weekend, and he was urinating against the side of a building out of the way.

Susan Stone:                    Got to go.

Dr. Mark McConville:     Campus security guy saw him, and they had to lawyer up so that he didn’t get charged with sexual, whatever, he had sex crime. It was just ridiculous.

Susan Stone:                    Well, let’s talk about lawyer ring up. Kristina, we have a good question about that.

Kristina Supler:               Yeah. I mean, we sort of were often asked like, did hiring a lawyer for my child make my kid look guilty? Or am I enabling my child by spending my hard earned dollars to hire these brilliant women to defend my child? What Susan and I know is that in this day and age, it truly can be life altering to not have your child ever experience a disciplinary proceeding or some sort of criminal investigation without having a lawyer there to protect the student.

And so what would you suggest or how could parents approach this idea of, okay, this is serious. You need a lawyer. I’m going to pay for the lawyer because you make minimum wage. But also not sending the message to your child like, well, if you just screw up, we have the resources. We’ll hire a lawyer, and lawyers can make this go away.

Dr. Mark McConville:     It’s a great question. It’s kind of like riddle of the stinks. The hypothetical or theoretical question is, is this scenario likely to prove in retrospect to be a learning experience? Or will it prove in retrospect to be traumatizing? Now, that’s a theoretical question. And as you know, sometimes it’s fuzzy and gray and you can’t quite tell. In which case I personally would err on the side of intervening and supporting the kids.

But I do occasionally see parents who lawyer up when really the kid needs to have his hand slapped, and it’s not going to be a felony and he’s going to have to do service or something. And he would get the idea that there are consequences. That choices have consequences. It’s like a differential diagnosis where you kind of … I often think of things like that. Like if I’m going to make a mistake, what’s the one I want to make? And I would rather make the mistake that said, I maybe didn’t need to intervene as much as I did. Okay. Chalk it up, learn from it.

The kid I mentioned to you earlier, the 21 year old who went through this legal nightmare when he was 18, he’s been traumatized by it. He’s only now stepped back into the educational world. This is a very bright young guy. That’s the mistake I don’t want to make.

Kristina Supler:               Yeah. Susan, when we were talking about the book, you were sharing with me how much the ATM model just really resonated with you.

Susan Stone:                    Oh my gosh, you read my mind. We’re mind-molding through computer screen, Kristina. So I got to tell you, that chapter struck such an internal chord, because I have actually had teenagers, my own say, “You’re like a bank. Just stop being a bank.” And how do you communicate, yes, I work for my money. I’m paying for this. I get a say without being a bully, because that’s the reality. You take someone’s money, my way or the highway, baby.

Dr. Mark McConville:     Yeah. It’s a really great question because there’s two things involved. One is how do you as a parent change your thinking about money? And the other is how do you then get your kid to begin to think of you … My kids are grown. They’re closer to your age. If I pay for-

Susan Stone:                    Well, Kristina’s age.

Kristina Supler:               My daughter’s 10, so we’re just starting to get into that period now where like fashion and other things and being cool and all of that. So like I see what lies ahead.

Dr. Mark McConville:     Yeah. Right. If I pay for the girls summer camp, my daughter could not be more appreciative. She falls all over stuff. “Dad, you don’t have to do this. Are you sure? Are you sure?” Yeah, I joke around with her. I say, “No, really, this is the way that I would love to be helpful.” Now my daughter makes more money than I do. So it’s not like she needs, it’s more like I have a need to participate. I have no worries about it.

But if she took it for granted, “Aren’t you going to pay for camp this year?” I would have a whole different … Like, whoa, I don’t want that relationship. She’s over that hump. But you guys are dealing with kids who are not, they’re in the middle of it. And so as parents, first, you’ve got to undergo the change yourself.

I remember when my daughter was a junior in high school, and her French class or something is going to Paris. And I am a fledgling psychologist building a practice, and I can’t afford to send her to Paris, but I could not live with myself not sending her. It was the old, I’m working my own guilt agenda, my own self-esteem agenda. Am I a good enough father? That’s all my stuff. I should have gone and talked to somebody about it.

Until I got over that, which I did more when she was in college, until I worked that out, I wasn’t able to have the conversation with her that said, so tell me why this expense is necessary? Tell me why it’s important? I want to know what I’m investing in. Now that you’re in college or grad school, I don’t throw my money away. I don’t help you out, out of obligation, but let me know what I’m getting into? Where is this going to lead? Tell me why this is a good idea?

So I really am being this small business banker saying, you need to make a case for this. And you need to know that if I write this check or help you get this apartment or pay this tuition bill, that I am expecting a commitment from you to hold up your end of the bargain. So you’re trying to get the kid to see it more as a transaction. You know that word’s gotten a lot of bad press in the last four or five years, everything being transactional. What I’m concerned about is the relationship that the kid begins to see the parents as people. You’re no longer to be taken for granted, but you are people who have stories and worries.

And that kind of maturation, what the psychologist, Robert Kagan, calls it mutuality. Like I see you as a person just like me. And so your needs, your financial concerns are just as real. It’s actually easier in families that have more limited means where the parents say, “Well, we just can’t.” In families where the parents are really people of means, and the kid will say, “Well, I know you could afford it,” it’s a little tricky argument, but I still vote for the argument, which is, “That’s not the issue. The issue here isn’t whether I can afford to put you up in an apartment in San Francisco. The issue is, I’m a grownup, and I like to know what I’m investing in. I don’t throw my money around. So if you’re going to be a full-time student, and you have some aspirations, if not goals, then sign me on. I want to help. This is a 50/50 arrangement.” So it takes a lot of-

Susan Stone:                    I’m sorry to interrupt, but isn’t that how people horizontalize the relationship and make it more even?

Dr. Mark McConville:     Exactly. Easier said than done. But if the parent doesn’t get into that frame of mind, the kid most certainly will not get into that frame of mind. The record, I know I shouldn’t keep records like this, but I have one parent I’ve talked to whose daughter who’s very bright, well educated, and is 49 years old, and lives entirely on the family dole. And it’s because, how do we change it after all this time? Which we agree to disagree, but I’m just saying it will perpetuate itself if the parent … And you’re lucky if you’ve got a kid who is a step ahead of you. “Mom, I want to earn that on my own.” That kind of thing. God bless them. Your mother parenting you.

Kristina Supler:               So I guess one final question that Susan and I both, we felt there was so much practical advice in your book, but also a lot of nuance that really invites parents to be thoughtful and find the right messaging. I guess my final question to you is the message of parents telling your children, you don’t give up, and parents communicating that.

Susan Stone:                    Never give up.

Kristina Supler:               How do you message this idea of, okay, I’m scaling back financial support, but I’m not throwing you out, picking up on you. We have confidence that you are going to gain responsibility and succeed and all of that.

Dr. Mark McConville:     If I could push a little further, you may have a child that you don’t have that confidence.

Susan Stone:                    Sure. So true.

Dr. Mark McConville:     It’s like finding the love language for any given kid. I’ll answer it with a vignette. I had a dad, a guy I just love, whose son was in his early 30s, and was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, barely functional. Often in and out of small town jail cells, being held for a night or two. Sometimes staying in places where you can stay for the homeless downtown, sometimes under a bridge. And the dad had done, he’d done lawyers, he’d done psychiatric treatment, like a lot of paranoid schizophrenics. He would sometimes be cooperative, sometimes not.

But his bottom line was, this is my son. And so what he would do every other week or so is he would buy a carton of cigarettes, and he would make some calls to see where he was. And he would go seek him out and sit down and give him a carton of cigarettes and just chat on a bench for an hour. And that was what he did, because that was something the kid could take in, that said to him, I still have a dad.

Now, will that help or not help? I don’t know, but it’s the right thing to do. And it leaves open the possibility that I think any of us, if we feel connected to our parents, we feel loved by them. Even my parents have been gone 40 and 50 years, respectively, but I still feel loved by them. And it still matters. However you can for an individual child to get that message, and it’ll be very straightforward with one kid, and it might be a carton of cigarettes with another.

Susan Stone:                    There you go, making me cry again.

Kristina Supler:               I think that’s a beautiful message to end on. Dr. McConnell, thank you so much for joining us. This was really a pleasure, this conversation. Susan and I were so looking forward to reading your book, and this conversation has just been wonderful, and hopefully really beneficial to our listeners as well.

Dr. Mark McConville:     Well, thank you so much. It’s really been a joy to meet the two of you. I can’t wait for my next college student in trouble to come into my office. I got just the answer for you.

Kristina Supler:               Thanks to our listeners. We’re so glad you’re able to join us today for Real Talk with Susan and Kristina. And if you did enjoy this episode, please do subscribe to our show, so that you don’t miss any episodes, where you’ll find more content on a regular basis. You can also follow us on Instagram. Just search for the handle @stonesupler. And there’s resources available online, Thank you so much for being a part of our Real Talk community, and we’ll see you next time.