I am not a strong advocate of booting kids from the home. While there is some behaviors that may warrant kicking your teenager out, this is not something that should ever be entered into lightly, or without great consideration for the consequences. When we have children we bring them into this world, and our families, for better or for worse and kids under the age of eighteen deserve a chance to make mistakes at home, where the consequences of their behavior doesn’t have to create nearly insurmountable challenges for their future.
When you ban your kid from the home, you are setting them up to opt for a few choices, and none of them are offering them a bright and beautiful future. If they are still in high school, they are going to have to secure a place to live. This is not an easy task when you aren’t living somewhere to begin with. Most kids who are given the boot stay with friends for a little while, but they can quickly wear out their welcome. They need money and they need it fast in order to feel as though they are surviving “this” and thus options such as prostitution and drug dealing suddenly become much more viable.
If we can consider kicking your teenager out to be the punishment, then we have to weigh it against the crime. Knowing full well that we are emotional beings, there is going to be a much more significant emotional impact on the kid than there will be a physical impact on him. What crimes can your kid commit against the family that warrants being homeless and out in the world alone without any preparation? We have to take this in two separate “crime lists.”
Let’s start with the crime of Being. The crime of Being includes those kids who are kicked out of their home for who or what they are. Whether they are told to leave because they are not like they were expected to be or can not be as they were expected to be, these kids suffer greatly because it’s not a behavior that was rejected, but who they are. Gay kids, kids who refuse to “follow the family footsteps,” and kids who are have to take large risks just to keep their heads above water are most likely to find themselves homeless before the age of 17. Kids who are pregnant or who have gotten someone pregnant fall into the realm of the crime of Being as well as the crime of Action. This is often because parents who respond this way do not necessarily see the result of the action as an error in judgment, but parents often refer to their pregnant daughters and guilty sons as sluts and well, worse. This leaves the child with the notion that it is not the action, but who they are that is being punished.
If you are dealing with the crime of Action, there are other methods of not tolerating a behavior than removal from the home. Kids may be seriously messing up left and right but there are almost always other answers. You’ve watched his grades slip, found all the evidence you need under his mattress, and of course, you can tell on the rare occasions that he talks to you that he is either stoned or high or both, and no matter what you do, he insists on bringing drugs into the home. You’re in the military, the police force, or any other line of work that would not only find you homeless but also out of a job should any controlled substance be found in your home or on your property. This makes for a pretty serious crime of Action, and it may even seem like to save the rest of your family, you have to push one out the door. Psychologists have found that kids who are using drugs increase their habit by nearly 30% if they are kicked out of their home.
What about the kid who is violent? Or the kid who is terrorizing the whole family? What about the kid who refuses to go to school, refuses to get a job, and steals money no matter how clever you think you are when it comes to keeping it hidden? These are tough cases. At seventeen, your kid should know better. How did this happen? If you kick him out, then at lest you know you aren’t enabling him.
These are tough calls to make, and there are good arguments for encouraging parents to take a hard line with their kids. Yet there is direct and solid evidence that shows most kids who are in danger of being kicked out of their own home are in these situations for a reason. The almost guaranteed result of kicking your teenager out is that the situation will get worse. By shunning them, you are telling them that they are not even worthy of being part of the family, of being cared for or cared about. By forcing them to leave, without a steady income, a reasonable place to go, and a way to take care of themselves, you are setting them up for failure and everyone knows it. You are literally telling them that you do not care what happens to them and that their problems are bigger than you and your family.
In our society we have available for every family, rich, poor, and in between, a place to get professional help. Even if you can’t afford it, there are places out there that can offer help. Most parents who kick their teenager out aren’t doing it because they don’t love their children, although that is exactly what the child will think. Kids get kicked out when the parents have reached the end of their rope and it is a last ditch effort to force them to get some help. The kid on drugs might need a warm place to sleep so maybe the harsh reality will jump start them into rehab, right? The kid without an education or a job will probably opt for one or the other, right?
Wrong. Kids in trouble stay in trouble and most often make their troubles much worse when they can’t do something as simple as live at home with their family. Stability is one of the factors that can help a kid come out the other end of a really rough time in his life. Kicking your teenager out is not only likely to exacerbate his problems, but leave you with an enormous feeling of guilt. At the same time, kicking your teenager out isn’t going to provide your kid with the boundaries they need to become the successful adult they still have the potential to become. Frustration, anger, resentment, and even uglier feelings like momentary flashes of rage or hate are common in homes with distressed teens. These are emotions that are momentary and that will pass. Forcing your teenager into homelessness is an action that can have irreversible consequences.