Let me see how well I can explain what's going on without telling our entire life stories...
I became a teenage mom 18 years ago. I had my son when I was not quite 18. Because I was a young mom, naturally, my son and I had kind of a tough road at times. He was diagnosed as ADD in first grade, I struggled with drug addiction until he was about 12, I was in a very toxic relationship, we changed school districts, moved around a lot, etc. The recent past has been very very solid, however. I've been clean for 7 years, the toxic relationship has been over for 5 and I'm now engaged to an awesome guy (who gets along very well with my son), we've stayed in the same school district since 8th grade, and he's been in counseling and taking meds for ADD for a couple of years too.
Because of the issues we've dealt with, my son's progression towards autonomy/independence hasn't exactly run the "usual" course. He's never had an allowance. He has only gone out with friends a few times as an young adult (his choice - he'd rather play video games). He has had a job (and sadly just lost it a couple of weeks ago).
When he was younger, he couldn't get or stay organized, so his school work was constantly getting lost. He needed constant reminding for the same things over and over at home. He would not self-regulate, and it was a point of tension for us for a long time. I would try to give him free reign to manage something himself, things would blow up, and I would attempt to give him boundaries and manage a cause/effect type system. I admit that it was very difficult for me to be consistent, both with expectations and with consequences. My fiancee being in our lives has really helped me set an expectation and stick to it, as well as stick to any negative consequences diligently as well. His negative consequences have almost always been the loss of privilege type. So in recent years, I have learned that consistency was best for both of us, and a predictable structure was immensely helpful for him. Him taking meds regularly was a cornerstone to managing the chaos, and all-in-all, things have been getting A LOT better for the last 2, 2 1/2 years.
He is only allowed to play video games if his grades (all of them) stay C's or better. And then he's only allowed to play on the weekends (he also has the option of midweek video games if he kept all A's and B's). The video games/electronic privileges were basically the only leverage I could find that he cared about. We have online access to his grades, so we can check them instantly. Last school year, we were constantly micromanaging his assignments, and he maintained a solid A-B average. This year, we've backed off with the micromanaging and he misses assignments, but he's still keeping a B-C average.
He also has an imposed bedtime of 11. I don't think that's unreasonable for a high schooler, but it does feel a bit juvenile to tell my young man that it's bedtime. It's in place for a reason, though, because (especially if video games are involved) he will easily stay up until midnight or 2 and then be too tired to wake on time in the mornings. He still has trouble getting ready to leave on time, so the bedtime is something we're fairly strict about.
So these rules (they're basically the only ones we have) are there for good reason. His life gets woefully out of control/unmanageable if we don't follow up and monitor his behavior in these areas. As he matures, he has required less monitoring, yes, but still monitoring.
He doesn't drive. He took driver training last year, but he is required to drive a certain number of hours with a parent. Since June, he has accumulated less than 2 hours of driving time. I think he would have needed ~30 hrs. to qualify for the next level of learning permit, but now that he's 18, he could just go and take the tests if he chose. Except that he's not remotely ready!
Last night as we were discussing a number of issues (his driving, getting up on time, the way we communicate guidance and corrections), he was very insistent that some of our control needed to be removed. He really feels that he should be able to play video games, unrestricted. He understands the need for a bedtime, but he wants to manage it himself. He wants to solely monitor his grades online. He has felt for a long time that he needed to be more independent (not relying on us to wake him in the mornings, for example), because that's what was age-appropriate, and we agreed, for the most part. I am more than willing to let him manage certain areas of his life, and even make mistakes.
I tried to explain to him that while he is 18, the dynamic in the house does need to change from parent/child to more peer-like, but that I will always be his parent. I try not to get into dogmatic "I am the parent and what I say goes" kind of language, and I really try to encourage an open exchange of ideas, but it's really tough for me to think about not having ANY control or involvement in his school work.
When I put it in adult terms, my manager evaluates my work, gives me feedback and there are consequences from that (more money/responsibility or less/corrective action). His school is basically his job, and I am in the position of being his manager. It's not a realistic system for him to perform any old way at school and for there to be no consequences from that.
My fiancee and I did agree that if he were driving, there would be a lot of physical independence that he would feel (he could go anywhere with anyone, within reason, he's trustworthy in that way) on a daily basis, and then perhaps his schoolwork wouldn't feel so remedial. Also, we will give him the option of paying us for his text messages so that we stop managing how many/when he sends them, to increase his sense of autonomy.
Do you have any suggestions for how to gently ease into autonomy for a young man with such a scattered past? I know that he will have to make mistakes that I can't save him from. I am looking for experiences or thoughts on how a kid who has truly required so much oversight grows towards autonomy...
Thanks in advance!