Stupid Young-Adult Children Tricks

“Did you ever get the feeling there’s a wocket in your pocket?”

Thus begins my youngest granddaughter’s favorite classic, named, appropriately, Wocket in My Pocket, by Dr. Seuss. You might think it’s just a silly book with goofy rhyming words that engages children so young they don’t understand a plot.

You know, just know, something’s afoot, at times, but can’t put into coherent language precisely what your child might be up to. It’s just that worrisome feeling that there’s a “zamp in the lamp.”I, having raised adult children, and counseled countless others who’ve been through the experience, think it’s a brilliant narrative commentary on the unsettling feeling of having young adult children for whom you’re still responsible.

And all too often, if you have exuberant children in their late teens or early twenties, well. . .that wocket or zamp just beyond the corner of your horizon turn out to be things you could never have imagined your child doing previously, but when you hear about them (hopefully not outside a jail cell), they sound suspiciously plausible.

As I hear the stories my clients tell, I sometimes wonder if their children are in the running for “Stupid-Young-Adult Children Tricks” winner of the week ala David Letterman.

If you recall, there were three pre-selected participants each their to demonstrate their, what shall we call it?, unusual talent? And Letterman would always proceed with the warning I bestow upon you:

 “Remember, this is not a competition, it is only an exhibition — please, no wagering.”~David Letterman about “Stupid Pet Tricks”


If Mr. Letterman set the bar so high, who am I to play to a rowdier crowd? There will be no wagering, my friends, on the Stupid Young-Adult Children Tricks you are about to see (well, maybe it’s ok, if you keep it quiet. . .). I think “fear and trembling before God” might be a more appropriate response.

Finally, before I introduce you to this circus, I ask you to think about how these stunts might be prevented from recurring–and we’ll reconvene tomorrow with advice on how to hold these Stupid Young-Adult Children Tricks to one-time-only performances.

Stupid Young-Adult Child Trick #1

This one isn’t all that scary on its surface–until you realize what it means for your checkbook. It’s also a pretty common one:

Gary and his friends are thrilled that the Counting Crows are coming to Chicago, and will play in the gargantuan venue of Soldier Field, home of Da Bears. It should be a fantastic performance, and, knowing there will be drinking, and might be some inhalation of some substances that former presidents denied inhalation of, they’ve arranged to sack out at a friend’s house after they get home, in the wee hours. It sounds good.

It makes sense to Gary and his friends that one person should pay for all the tickets, and recoup the money later. That way they’ll all be seated together and it’ll be just a super-fantastic time, so Gary pays–using your credit card–for 14 of his friends’ tickets.  At $110 per ticket you figure (add in Gary for 15, multiply, add, carry some ones, add again for the $6.50 surcharge, pull out your calculator) that you now have a bill for $1656.50 on your credit card for a performance you don’t want to see for a band you’ve never heard of.

Six months following this experience where Gary has “the time of his life,” you’ve recouped your money from exactly one person–Gary. Gary says he feels awkward asking his friends any more to repay him.

Thank you, Gary, for introducing us to the Stupid Young-Adult Children Tricks show.

Stupid Young-Adult Child Trick #2

Kary’s parents own a Chaparral SSi  Sport Boat that they dock in Belmont Harbor in Chicago’s Lake Michigan (along with what seems like, on a hot day, 84,024 other people, most of whom seem new to boating). It is a beauty and Kary’s parents take out not just their friends, but Kary’s friends, too–out to see the sights of Chicago, to get a sublime view of the Fourth of July fireworks, and–best of all– to go water-skiing and tubing.

But Kary’s dad is anxious and strict about the boat–he always seems nervous and sharp-tempered when he takes his wife, kids and extras out, and he, in what his family mocks as a nervous tic, continually checks the temperature of the Lake, known for its frigidity, lest the water be too cold for Kary to continue water-skiing or tubing. (“As if!” Kary jokes to his friends, but she’s been quietly relieved at times when dad has called it quits on days when the water was particularly unwelcoming.)

So it made the idea of getting the boat all to herself–something dad would never allow now, but says he’ll consider after his daughteer’s 18th birthday–a fantasy for Kary that takes on a life of its own when she and 3 friends sneak out at night, quietly maneuver the boat out of the harbor, and then go flying through the blackened waters of the largest of the Great Lakes.

They have 3 life jackets, 2 12-packs of beer, and a sense of adventure that only the young, foolhardy, and semi-drunk have.

It all seems a lark until Kary capsizes the boat, and the four are treading in what seem  to be ice-cold waters. One friend can’t swim at all–she gets a life-vest–and the other three rotate the remaining vests among them. They scream for help until they are hoarse, but it seems no one will ever come, and that they’ll end their young days in a cold and watery grave.

One of them must have had lusty lungs and lots of luck, though, because they finally wake up a couple sleeping on their boat in the harbor, who phone in the Coast Guard, who pick up 4 very frightened, cold, and tired young adults, responsible for Stupid Young-Adult Trick #2.

Stupid Young-Adult Child Trick #3

Jessica has been a mediocre student since her kindergarten days, but that would not put a lid on her college dreams. If her older sister went to Princeton, and her closest friend to Dartmouth, that bothers Jess not a whit–she knows she’ll have her ‘college experience,’ as she terms it.

After extensive SAT tutoring, a brilliant essay written by her Princetonian sister (ghost-writer of most of Jess’s major papers), and a concerted effort to actually attend class her senior year, Jess gets in to what her aforesaid sister calls a “summer camp private school.” Same sister feels it is a disgrace for their parents to pay that kind of money when Jess has somehow found herself accepted to her own state university, but Jess, if not academic, is winning in her persuasive abilities.

So Mom and Dad take out a hefty loan, spend significant time on the phone with the financial aid office, put together linens and hangers and school supplies from Target, and drive Jess down to the money pit, where she is so ecstatic and makes friends so quickly that it does their hearts good.

Of course they leave Jess with serious words: she is to study hard, she is to work to maintain at least a C average, partying does not come before classes, she is to actually attend classes, and–for real–she is not to have her older sister pitch in anymore on these college papers. She is in Comp 101, and she needs to finally learn how to write, it is a crucial skill , and (Mom had thrown in the towel and was headed for the car, but Dad had tremendous stamina). . .there is a strict honor code in this school. Cheating will end her college career in disgrace, and Dad can’t put together another chunk of cash to send her somewhere else.

I know you’re ahead of me here.

Handing in an essay from the internet was the trick for which Jess was kicked out of her pricey college, 7 weeks after her entrance into it, and told she could never return.

Stupid Young-Adult Trick #4.

Mikey was one for “fun” in high school. He was frequently grounded for sneaking alcohol into his parties, getting speeding tickets, and cutting classes.  His parents were relieved when he left for college,  even though they worried he hadn’t matured enough.  After one semester he was on academic probation, but they hoped he’d learn a lesson.  Soon, however, he returned to the old homestead.  His crime?  Buying alcohol for a group of high school kids, who “needed” it for their graduationj ceremonies.

Yes, parents, if you’ve ever got the feeling there’s a “jertain in the curtain,” it just may be your young adult child up to no good.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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