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Emerging Adults – Supporting the Transition into Adulthood

There’s a newish term for the period between ages 18-29: emerging adulthood. During these years, emerging adults travel a path during which they want to pull away from the struggles of their teenage years and feel more responsible for themselves, but are also still closely tied to their parents and family.   According to the American Psychological Association, emerging adulthood is defined as an:

  • Age of identity exploration.Young people are deciding who they are and what they want out of work, school and love.
  • Age of instability.The post-high school years are marked by repeated residence changes, as young people either go to college or live with friends or a romantic partner.
  • Age of self-focus.Free of the parent- and society-directed routine of school, young people try to decide what they want to do, where they want to go and who they want to be with – before those choices get limited by the constraints of marriage, children and a career.
  • Age of feeling in between.Many emerging adults say they are taking responsibility for themselves but still do not completely feel like an adult.
  • Age of possibilities.Hopefulness is unlimited. Most emerging adults believe they have good chances of living “better than their parents did,” and even if their parents divorced, they believe they’ll find a lifelong soul mate.

Many emerging adults have more choices than ever before. They may find themselves continually searching for the absolute “perfect fit” when it comes to career, marriage, or parenthood. Parents, though, may feel frustrated or impatient with the slow progress of their emerging adult’s development. Peers may want to help but might not know how, as they are trying to figure out their own path. This leads us to the important question:

How can parents and peers best support emerging adults?

  •  Try not to offer advice about higher education, career directions or love interests. Let your emerging adult come to you when he or she is ready for advice. Allowing time and space for young adults to sort out their choices will be best for everyone involved.
  • Be curious about your emerging adult, but avoid interfering. When they share details about their upcoming choices and plans, help them to discover their wants and needs, not yours. It helps to ask open-ended questions (which can’t be answered with “Yes” or “No”). The goal is to open up space for them to explore their ideas and become more confident in their decisions.
  • Support them in finding organizational systems that work for them. This age brings bills, budgeting, increased responsibilities, a busier social calendar and additional belongings to keep straight. Good organizational systems will help your emerging adult feel more in control and capable of meeting the demands of this new life.  Remember, what works for you may not work for them.
  • Help them learn how to talk to those in authority. Navigating the world as an adult can be difficult and anxiety-causing for emerging adults if they don’t know how speak to adults as peers/colleagues or respectfully advocate for themselves. Brainstorm and role play situations when this skill might be necessary.
  • Don’t rescue your emerging adult. Watching your emerging adult make mistakes is tough. He or she will make decisions you don’t agree with, but they legally have the right to do so and must be allowed to have the responsibility of accepting the consequences of their actions. Experience is often the best teacher.
  • Don’t belittle them when they make mistakes. No one responds well to criticism. Look for what your emerging adult loves, what they do well and what they aspire to do, and focus on that. Remind them that you believe in them and that they have the ability to accomplish their goals.

It is important to trust your emerging adult to create their own life.  After all your hard work of building a solid foundation for them, it’s time to sit back and watch them fly.  It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it. It’s not giving up, it’s giving them control.

Parents, be there for your emerging adults.  They still need you!

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