The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 053 · Duration: 00:14:20



Why Isn’t My Son Happy?

Parents want their kids to be happy, but maybe trying to make them happy, is making them less happy.

Today we’re answering a question from Ron, a dad from Wilmington Delaware.

Ron writes:

Why Isn't My Son Happy?I’m struggling with how to help my 25 year-old son. He lives at home with his mother and me. He doesn’t make friends or do much other than go to work where he’s a checker at a local supermarket. When we ask him what’s wrong, why he is unhappy, he says he doesn’t know, but he’s okay as he is. We had him see his doctor who put him on an antidepressant I don’t think he has a drug problem, although I know he does smoke some marijuana. He’s on the computer a lot and might be addicted to that.
He may have always been depressed. His mother and I worked hard to make him happy. We did things with him, bought him the gadgets he liked, encouraged him to have friends over, but he just never wanted to do much.
He’s really smart but would never apply himself. Still, he got decent grades, went to college and has a degree in political science.
When we push him to do things, he gets mad at us and says he’s fine. What should we do?

Thanks for your question Ron, it sure sounds like you guys are stuck all right. Let’s take a look at where you are, how you got here, and where you might go from here.

It’s really hard for parents to know what to do when they see their child, teen, or young adult unhappy or depressed. They worry that if they push or take a stand, that they’ll make their son or daughter more depressed, or even suicidal. When things have gotten this far and this stuck, Ron, I’m here to tell you there has been a control battle in the family for a long time.

A Passive Control Battle

It’s not the usual control battle of kids fighting for more privileges and parents saying no, or kids wanting to do fun things and parents trying to get their kids to manage their responsibilities. This is the kind of control battle where kids who are generally not naturally upbeat kids, or are not highly social for one reason or another, have parents pushing or trying to get them to do more or feel happier. Then, the child or teenager resists the parents attempts and insists on their right to be unhappy and may actually work at resisting all the things that would make them happy.

This is crazy, right. All the parents wanted and in your case, still want Ron, is for your child, teen, or young adult to be happy. Nothing but good intentions!

Happiness Is A Skill

So what do we do? Well for starters, it’s great to do nice things for your kids, to love them, play with them, get them nice things that they enjoy, arrange things for them to do, even buy them things they need or want. That’s all great. But if you want your child, teen, or young adult to be happy, they need to be empowered, they need the skill set for making themselves happy. The reason for that is, we are all responsible for our own happiness.

We are all responsible for our own happiness.Click To Tweet

That’s certainly true for adults isn’t it? No one can make you happy can they? Would you go from being unhappy to being happy if you won the lottery? We all might think we would, but research shows that after the initial elation of winning, we go back to our previous level of happiness.

Would you go from happy to unhappy if you had a bad accident and lost use of your legs? Well, research shows that after a time of shock and grief, that people go back to their previous level of happiness. So, happiness is partially innate, some of us are born sunnier than others of us.

If we’re going to be happy, then we can’t hope to win the lottery, or wait for someone else to make us happy. We need happiness skills, and if our sons and daughters are going to be happy, they need happiness skills too. So, what are those skills? I’ll go over what I believe are 6 critical happiness skill areas, but if you think of one I left out, leave me a comment below!

Critical Happiness Skill Areas

Knowing and Accepting Ourselves: Nobody is good at everything, and everybody is good at many things. Knowing that and accepting that about ourselves is important. Knowing that we can grow and thrive in our area’s of strength, and that we can improve, is one critical area.

Passion and Goals: When we have passion, we seek to achieve goals and often having goals will encourage passion. Both will help us engage. With engagement, we find fulfillment.

Emotional Management Skills: We all have feelings, lots of them, all the time, even many at the same time. I can be mad at someone and be concerned for them at the same time. Being able to identify our feelings and not be overwhelmed by them helps keep us centered and under control.

We all have feelings, lots of them, all the time, even many at the same time.Click To Tweet

Ability to Manage Responsibilities: Our kids have responsibilities and I don’t need to tell you that we all have responsibilities all our lives. If we get overwhelmed by them, we can’t stay organized and don’t have a way to address them, then our responsibilities will be burdensome and life will be burdensome.

Relationship Skills: Of course we all need love, we all need friends and intimates, and we need to be able to work effectively with others who may not be either friends or intimates. We need to be able to engage with others so that we have the opportunity to get the love and support we need and offer the love and support that others need, as well as to engage in important necessary interactions with others such as in a work environment in a mutually satisfying way.

We need to be able to engage with others so that we have the opportunity to get the love and support we need and offer the love and support that others need.Click To Tweet

Faith that Things Will Turn Out All Right: That way, every problem won’t be a catastrophe and we can accept failures and life’s problems and move on. Maybe the concept is simply to have faith or have an accessible spiritual side.

How To Stop The Control Battle

So Ron, your son is missing some of theses skills and he isn’t moving forward. Pushing him or waiting isn’t going to work. So here’s a plan that might. We want to break the stalemate, get out of the Control Battle. Start with a conversation about the situation.

  • You may need to turn off the WiFi to get your son’s attention, so don’t be afraid to do that if that’s what you need to do.
  • Talk about how stuck things are and how staying stuck is unacceptable.
  • Be positive and acknowledge your son’s many strengths and talents.
  • If you are aware of ways in which you have been part of the problem, for instance fighting and arguing or criticizing or perhaps over empathizing and not putting enough structure and clear expectations in place, then do so.
  • Next, speak to those things that may be holding your son back, and clearly they include overuse of his computer and maybe video game addiction and very likely marijuana abuse as well.
  • Let him know that you expect him to address those issues and build any necessary skills to take his next steps in his life, to set goals and take clear steps towards those goals.

As part of this Ron, I suggest you set up a family therapy appointment with a well-regarded family therapist in your area to help you and your son make a plan together. The plan might include therapy for your son, family therapy, a time line for his moving out and a plan to support it.

One option you can consider is an out-of-home treatment environment, maybe a young adult wilderness program or an emancipation residential treatment program. I’d try therapy first, but know that this is an option that will be both safe and effective. Maybe even profoundly life changing for your son. If you do decide to move in this direction, please use a licensed placement professional so that you find the right therapeutic environment for your son.

Listeners, let’s all take a look at ourselves and ask ourselves the following questions:

Are we obsessed with happiness in our culture? Are we over-focused on making our children happy?

If we are, we might just be making them less happy. But by arming them with the skills to succeed in life, we just might be empowering them to live happy, fulfilling lives.

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks to Ron from Wilmington Delaware for his question.

I’m happy to announce that our Empowered Teen Parenting Workshop is up running and thriving. Parents are reporting a much-improved experience parenting their teens. If you’d like to get priority entry when we set up our next one, join the waitlist or send me an email.  

Please remember, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.


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Is It A Control Battle?
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