Parents of toddlers typically believe that this has to be the most difficult time of raising children. However, parenting an emerging adult child can be the most challenging time of parenthood. The period of development between the ages of 17 and 23 often creates dissension and turmoil in even the best of households, and leaves parents longing to go back to the “terrible twos.”
A child navigating the waters of life as they emerge into adulthood finds themselves in a frustrating position being stuck with one foot in the world of their childhood and one foot in the terrifying world of adulthood. On their 18th birthday, adolescents are anxious to run out and buy a lottery ticket, or go to a club or establishments that they weren’t allowed to go as a child. As parents who have instilled certain values and beliefs into this child for the last 18 years, many of these decisions can be alarming, and your natural instinct may be to correct these new behaviors. After all, you did not suddenly stop being a parent just because your child became an adult in the eye of the law.
This sentiment can leave a parent shell-shocked and feel as though in just one fateful birthday, their sweet, loving child has disappeared and replaced by this disrespectful, self-entitled, ungrateful brat! These moments can make even the best parents examine every past decision they have made, including about their parenting style, and try to pinpoint where exactly they went wrong. Take a deep breath, and examine objectively what is going on here, so you can figure out how best to navigate this world with your young adult.
As mentioned above, your child is now straddling two worlds. In their childhood, there was comfort in knowing that you would provide everything they needed, and always be there with unconditional love no matter how badly they messed up. Often, that unconditional love included you swooping in and rescuing them for whatever mess they created. In today’s society, parenting has become about giving your child the happiest of childhoods, filed with Pinterest worthy parties and a participation trophy for every activity. While these are lovely setiments and make for great memories, it is easy to fall into the habit of doing everything necessary to keep your child from experience anything uncomfortable.
Childhood is like a sand castly that is now slipping through their fingers, and the adult world can feel like the tide coming in to wash it all away. While there are exciting things that come with adulthood, such as independence and added freedom, the world as a whole looks pretty scary. When adolescents at this age start feeling scared and uncertain, the natural tendency is to lash out, hide away, and procrastinate all things grown up as long as possible. To parents, this is incredibly frustrating, as it feels as though they are only focused on the fun parts of adulthood and have no desire to start being responsible for themselves. When you address this concern with your child, you probably encounter a disrespectful attitude, which leaves both you and your child feeling stressed.
Chances are, you are now deeply into the years when parents know absolutely nothing. To your teen, you simply do not understand and cannot possibly imagine what it is like to be a teenager or young adult. Don’t worry, you become much smarter in the coming years as their young teen gets further into their 20s, and you will be a sheer genius be the time they are 30!
For the time being, for the sake of your sanity and your child’s future, it is important to think like a young adult. When you understand the “why” behind your child’s behavior, it is easier to create change in that behavior. Teens lash out because they feel misunderstood, unheard, and apprehensive. The natural instinct for most parents it to approach the situation with a “laying down the law” mentality, including the sentiment that “it’s my house, it’s my rules.” To be clear, this is not true or an unfair statement, and it is one that likely needs to be stated to your teen. However, your approach to the conversation has a dramatic impact on the outcome.
Right now, your teen feels they are now an adult being treated like a child. Choose a time in which everyone is clam, and set down to discuss their goals and your expectations. The best place to start is by acknowledging their accomplishment to this point and their new role as an adult. Recognize that with adulthood comes more responsibility, and that your job is now to guide them in becoming the most productive adult they can be.
Now is the time to address the non-negotiables of your home. Being an adult does not mean that core values and rules in your home no longer apply to them. these rules would include being disrespectful to others, lying, stealing, drugs, alcohol, etc. Be firm in demanding that as long as they are living in this household, they will have to abide by these rules. Explain that while they are legally an adult now, you are still their parents, and this is still your home. You have working hard, for probably decades at this point, to build the life that you have, and will not compromise your core values because your child is now 18 years old, just as one day they will run their household they way they want to.
Your child will likely have complaints about freedoms they feel should have now that they are an adult, such as no longer having a curfew. Acknowledge these thoughts and agree to revisit the ones that do not violate your household non-negotiables as they progress on the road to living their life as an adult. For example, when they have found a job and are maintaining it and paying their personal expenses, such as their cell phone bill and car insurance, you will recognize their responsible behaviors and compromise a later curfew. The more they show they are a responsible adult, they more can treat them as such.
Immediately follow this with your agreement that it is important that they are in the driver’s seat in developing their life as an adult. Explain that you understand the steps they need to take as an adult are intimidating. Discuss their education and career goals with them and develop a step-by-step plan for achieving those goals. Setting a goal to create a resume for at least tomorrow, and then until they find a job, is far less intimidating than being told to “get out there and find a job.”
If they are planning to go to college but are unsure of what career they are interested in, look at general studies classes at your community college or online courses. These options can be done affordably, and often financial aid is available. Again, break this down into simple steps. One day, apply for funding together, visit a local college, or explore available online classes together. If your child is not ready to go to college full time, take advantage of several online sites that allow you to do one or two ACE courses online that transfer virtually anywhere and are affordable.
Look that this process the same as when you taught them to ride a bike. You held on to the bicycle and pushed as your child gained the confidence to ride off on his or her own when you left go. When sticking to the steps of the plan you have built together, in a relatively short amount of time, your child will likely have found a job and/or will be starting classes. With this experience, their confidence will build and ignite more drive to keep going. With the right start and an active partnership with parents, a scared and defiant teen who is sleeping in until noon and playing video games all day can be spending their day at work and working their education in a very short amount of time.
Most importantly, while your child makes these positive steps, praise them along the way. If they get a job at a local fast-food burger joint, make a big deal out of it as if they just got a job working for NASA. Teach your child to manage their finances by having them pay you a small amount of money for rest on a routine basis. Set this money aside for them for their security deposit toward an apartment, or in a savings account toward the purchase of a vehicle.
Always keep in mind that they are in a phase of their life that is confusing and stressful, and do everything you can to build them up every step of the way, while remaining firm on your household non-negotiables. By doing so, you create a more positive environment and give your child the building blocks they need to make this transition successfully with your family dynamic intact,.
Craig is the founder of LifeGuider, he is dedicated to improving not only himself but also others in being more physically fit and mentally capable of handling life’s challenges. He is not your regular life coach, no fancy clothes or fast cars, just a regular “Ole Joe” who has experienced the ups and downs of life like everyone else.