PARENTS WHO DO decide to intervene in their adult children's problems should keep several things in mind:
* Your observations and offers to help may not be welcomed, at least at first.
It is often difficult for adults in serious trouble to admit that they have problems, especially when a parent points them out.
"The first thing I tell people is to put aside any guilt, blame or shame," said Dr. Joseph Mancusi, a former national director of psychology at the Veterans Administration. "Then recognize that your child will always see you as a meddler, intruder and controller."
* Mobilize other family members to help.
"If you don't do that, your child may say that you're the only one who thinks there's a problem," Mancusi said. This is especially true with children who are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
"Don't let the adult child come between you and your spouse," Mancusi said. "Form a united front. Talk to each other and work out an agreement before you take any action."
* Give your child an opportunity to suggest solutions.
Again, this shows your respect for the child's maturity and ultimate responsibility. Set clear limits on the type and amount of help, if any, that you can give. Will you co-sign a bank loan, pay for eight sessions of family therapy or simply help your child find a lawyer? Such limits are also a sign that you recognize that your relations with the child are now different.
"If you make a speech about what your children 'should' do, they probably won't listen, even if you're right," said Dr. Fred Gottlieb, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles.
"That's too much like the relationship you had when they were teen-agers," he said. "If you tread gently, your children may surprise you with their willingness to listen."