Parenting older adolescents and young adults

Dr Asha Pemberton -
Dr Asha Pemberton -


Parenting adult children – one of the most challenging yet least discussed life transitions. As a parent, navigating toddler tantrums, picky eating, puberty and teen emotions were not smooth sailing. That said, resources, support and guidance are relatively accessible for those stages. But suddenly, as your child approaches and passes age 18, there is remarkably less guidance for the changing parental role. For young adults themselves, the legal ability to make decisions and choices is met with much bravado, despite the fact that many remain in development and do not have the capacity to consistently make wise choices. They require their parents. Adulthood is less about an age, and more about holistic maturity.

Young adults live in a rapidly evolving world. Constant social engagement and comparison to peers via media. A highly competitive and less accessible job market. Many more options for creative and novel careers which is overwhelming. The pressure to perform – and succeed – early on. Changes to childhood parenting leaving them less equipped to function independently. In a sense, many young adults are expected to do more – to perfection – with fewer skills. As a parent, despite your relief or ambivalence about this stage, you simply must embrace your adult child’s independence and find ways to successfully engage this new phase of parenthood.

Resolve conflict. If you and your young adult-child had conflicts well before adulthood, a birthday or graduation will not solve them. Whether related to personality, choices, disappointments or wider family dynamics, there is no time like the now to make efforts at resolutions. Accept your young person for who they are and release your prior dreams and hopes for them. Many parents are unaware of the ambitions they cast unto their children that were simply their own unfulfilled dreams. As they grow and are more independent, take the time to achieve these dreams for yourself. Learn the language, play the sport, join the club. Having an adult child frees up time for you to live your own adult life. You may not always agree with their life choices, but as their independence grows, find joy in connecting without conflict.

Share wisdom. Young adults require the guidance of their parents. Parents have the luxury of life experience and a goal of this stage is to impart this knowledge in a calm manner that is best accepted. They are different and live in a different world. However, some aspects of adulthood remain the same. Young people do not respond well to “suggestions” it they sense criticism. Some shut down completely, and with the new found ability to move out or not return calls, the relationship can break down. Learn how they communicate and be mindful to accept the things they want to do while gently offering suggestions and options. They will ultimately make their own decisions but with well-presented information, influence is possible. Think of yourself as a consultant and not the CEO of their lives.

Setting Boundaries. For a variety of reasons adult children may remain in the family home for many years. Some parents enjoy this prolonged time of parenting while for others it can be a source of stress. In either context it is important to remember that as adults, young people are required to learn roles of money management, contribution and self-care. Ensure that they assist in the running and management of the house. If employed, encourage them to make contributed to shared bills, utilities, shopping and wifi. It should not be that they are enjoying the perks of your labour while spending their money on themselves only. Set ground rules for things like arrival times at night and communication. Parents will worry when young people are socialising at odd hours. It is simply respectful for young people to take the time to check in and keep their parents updated, especially if they live in the same space.

Respect their partners. It is hard to share your children with their new significant others or partners. These relationships are important in their launch toward independence. Be open-minded and gracious as you meet and find ways to get to know them without being too pushy or critical. Youth need the space to grow, have experiences and learn from them at their own pace. They will model their own relationships based on what they saw in their earlier and current life. Be sure to model the behaviour you hope them to continue.

Be a mindful listener. Create an atmosphere in which your children always feel like they can talk to you. They may not always seek advice, but simply want you to listen. Not every parent and adult-child have a happy relationship, and adulthood can widen that gap. Look for opportunities to foster a healthier relationship than you had in the past, now that the dynamics of authority may have shifted. Try to find common interests, rekindle family time and offer yourself in a supportive role to find ways in which the relationship can be supported.


"Parenting older adolescents and young adults"

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