Maxime is 20 years old. He dropped out of CEGEP a year ago without completing the program. He lives in his parents’ basement. He spends his days on Facebook and playing video games. His parents are distraught. “He had a part-time job as a waiter in a restaurant, but it didn’t work out. Since then, he hasn’t looked for a job and is literally living off us.” They feel powerless and don’t know how to get their son to stand on his own two feet.

And that’s not even the half of it. Maxime also racked up a $300 cell phone bill and had no way to pay for it. So his credit rating took a hit. His parents paid that bill and the dozen or so tickets he got while driving the family car. Maxime is pushing it, that much is clear. What can his parents do about it?

It’s never too late to encourage independence

Camille Beaudoin is the director of financial education at Autorité des marchés financiers. He advocates teaching children the value of money from an early age. He says children who’ve been given some financial autonomy grow up to have more reasonable expectations. “You have to take every opportunity to make them understand the real-world implications of money. For example, talk about how much cars cost or how much rent costs,” he says.

Claire Leduc is a social worker and marriage and family therapist. She developed the “coaching parent” method. The goal is to help children gradually become more independent. All while meeting their emotional needs and instilling good family values. “From the age of 16, children should start working to earn some money. For example, they can mow lawns or work as a day camp counselor. Their earnings should go toward certain expenses you decide on together, like their cell phone, entertainment, or video games. They’ll learn that it takes effort to earn money and buy things. And it’s a great way to teach them how to budget,” says Leduc.

Do you have young adult children who aren’t financially independent because they’re still in school? You may want to support them by covering their basic needs. Things like food, public transportation, and clothing. But let them pay for the non-essentials. “If they want a certain clothing brand, they should pay for it,” says Leduc.

Simone Bilodeau is a budget advisor at ACEF Rive-Sud de Québec. She points out that “what parents decide to cover depends, of course, on their financial means. But also the values they want to instill in their children, like hard work, the importance of education, autonomy, etc. So, while covering the essentials, they should work up to having their children pay for everything else.”

Set clear boundaries and stick to them

But how do you change the dynamic if you didn’t lay the groundwork early on? Or if it hasn’t produced the desired results? “The longer you wait, the harder it gets,” says Bilodeau. So don’t procrastinate; be proactive. As parents, it’s up to you to set and enforce clear boundaries. “Parents first need to think about their own values, what’s acceptable to them and what’s not,” she says.

“If the kids are in school and need a little financial help, that’s one thing. But if they’re going to the bar, their parents shouldn’t be paying for it,” says Leduc. She feels that young people tend to be spoiled and find it hard to take responsibility.

Parents should also make sure that the teens and young adults living with them help out around the house. For example, they could do their own laundry, vacuum, or cook dinner once a week. “It may take time, but stick with it and don’t give up. Young people need to learn that you can’t get what you want without working for it. Parents, on the other hand, need to learn to say no. And be prepared to deal with the backlash,” adds Leduc. “For it to work, they have to buy into the idea that their children would be happier if they were independent.”

This article is meant to provide general information only. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada does not provide legal, accounting, taxation, or other professional advice. Please seek advice from a qualified professional, including a thorough examination of your specific legal, accounting and tax situation.