March 26, 2001
Teen Angst at Twenty-Five?
Strategies for "raising" your adult child
mouthy, too old for curfews, and ready to party until 2 a.m."
-- that's how a seasoned social worker described her adult son
who still lived at home. "I can't say anything unless I want to
suffer through his childish insolence. He's 21 going on 16. He's
making me crazy all over again!"
State of Mind
By Nancy Duncan, M.S.W.
If this scenario sounds familiar, you're not alone. According
to 1998 Census Bureau figures, nearly 22 million young adults
(ages 18 or older) continue to live at home, up from 15 million
in 1970. There's no definitive age at which children should leave
the nest; however, a few rules prevail when it comes to establishing
healthy bonds with your grown children. Interactions with your
adult child don't have to be emotional strained and fraught with
"Egalitarian communication is essential," says family therapist
Larry Stockman, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., and author of Adult Children
Who Won't Grow Up. "Adult children want good relationships
with their parents." Establishing appropriate boundaries in conjunction
with mutual respect is another key ingredient, according to Stockman.
Creating an arena that is both supportive and nonjudgmental is
a crucial step toward a young adult's autonomy.
Lillian Robbins, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Rutgers University,
explains, "Ongoing parental support and genuine friendship can
only develop if there has been input and interplay all along.
At the same time, as children become adults and, hopefully, increasingly
independent both economically and socially, the balances do need
One of the ways to help get your adult child to grow up and cope
with the consequences of his or her actions is to remove yourself
from the disciplinary authoritative role while maintaining your
boundaries. For example, if you don't want your adult child to
bring home a boyfriend or girlfriend for an overnight stay, keep
that rule in place while being careful not to intrude on or criticize
your child's relationship. And being a good listener helps build
the trust that will encourage your child to listen back. Bethany
Murray, a therapist and a parent of grown children, advises, "Listening
to our adult children tells them they are important. It's essential
to remember they are adults now and that making mistakes is one
of the best ways to learn."
"Egalitarian communication is essential," says family
therapist Larry Stockman. "Adult children want good
relationships with their parents."
Strategies for success
boundaries. All relationships require healthy boundaries.
As a parent, limit your advice to the most important issues,
and you'll avoid overstepping personal boundaries. We all learn
without judgment. Adult children will talk and confide in
their parents if they know it's safe.
patient. Like toddlers and teens, young adults require a
great deal of understanding. Though your adult child might not
admit it, he or she may be fearful and confused. Wisdom and
maturity come with age. Remember your own young adult years?
back. Disconnect yourself from your child's problems, and
allow him or her to grow. This can be hard for parents to do.
Try to remember that the world is full of wonderful and wise
people your adult child can benefit from and that having many
experiences, even the occasional frightening one, can be beneficial.
are a process. Mistakes are healthy if they're utilized
in a manner that is constructive. Remember, it's your child's
life -- not yours -- and consequences are a reality.
Effective communication is an art, and it's the key to building
strong bonds between people. Talk openly about your concerns.
Speak from your heart and avoid phrases like "You should have"
or "I told you this would happen." A judging tone only creates
tension. Subtle, supportive input can work wonders.
guidance. Share examples of your own youthful struggles
as lessons. And as Stockman advises, "Don't give commands. Get
a contract. A contract that spells out household rules and
financial arrangements is a healthy foundation for a good relationship.
Young adults should not be wholly dependent upon their parents,
but rather should be financially responsible and contribute
to the household expenses.
Life is a process of small steps toward autonomy and healthy
parent/child relationships. The most important thing to remember
on both sides is that growing up takes time.
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Nancy Duncan holds a master's degree in social work and works in
the state of California with children and adults of all ages.