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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Helping Your Teen Manage Stress

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Stress is a normal part of life for everyone. It’s the body’s way of responding to any kind of demand and it can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on how it is managed.  Teens have their own sources of stress that adults may not always recognize or understand.  Some examples include:

  • Academic stress. The pressure to perform academically is one of the most common causes of high school stress. Worrying about completing school work and projects, studying for exams and applying to colleges can be extremely stressful.
  • Physical changes. Teens go through confusing hormonal and physical changes during puberty, which can be extremely stressful when they don’t understand why they feel and act the way they do.
  • Social relationships. Fitting in with peers and having a boyfriend/girlfriend is important to most teens, yet they are still learning who they are and how to communicate with others. Problems with friends and being bullied are common during the teen years and can be a tremendous source of stress.
  • Family problems. Unreasonable expectations set by parents, sickness, and strained relationships between parents and/or siblings can be stressful for teenagers.
  • Poor self-esteem. Teens have a lot of questions and doubts about all the physical and emotional changes they experience. When teens think poorly of themselves, they can become stressed trying to figure out how to meet the expectations of everyone around them.
  • Financial concerns. Financial problems within their family cause teens to be stressed because they cannot do much about it. Studies show that youth from low-income families experience poverty-related stress almost all the time. Even if they aren’t in a low-income family, teens may worry about college tuition and scholarships or being able to afford living on their own once they graduate high school.
  • Drastic life changes. Not knowing how to handle major life changes like a new school, new family members or the absence of a parent through divorce can be very stressful for a teenager.
  • Unhealthy competition. Competition between peers is healthy, but when it reaches the point where your teen feels inadequacy, jealousy or resentment, it adds to existing stress.
  • Sibling rivalry. Sibling rivalry is normal, to a point. If the rivalry disrupts the family dynamic and creates an unhealthy relationship between kids, though, it can be stressful for everyone involved.
  • Traumatic events. Abuse, life-threatening accidents and the illness or death of someone they love can have a severe impact on a teenager. These situations can create a fear of losing those they love and can add stress to whatever pain they already feel.
  • Poor time management. Because their brains are still developing, it can be difficult for teens to know how to organize their time for school, family responsibilities, extracurricular activities and everything else in their busy schedules. Adding in the distraction of technology and social media creates a stressed-out teenager.

Signs that your teen may be stressed include difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, increased irritability, isolating themselves, frequent illness, negative changes in behavior, difficulty concentrating and increased worrying. According to the American Psychological Association, teenagers experience extremely high levels of stress but are not able to judge how it affects them and don’t know how to cope with it in healthy ways.  Because their brains are not fully developed, teens look for ways to feel good and avoid pain but also act without thinking about the consequences of their actions.  When teens don’t know how to deal with stress, they are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol for an immediate escape from their problems.

Here are some ways you can help your teen prevent unnecessary stress and help them manage stress in healthy ways:

  • Make sure your expectations for your teen are reasonable. When parents have reasonable expectations for how they expect their teens to behave, everyone experiences less stress.
  • Be available. Make one-on-one time a part of your weekly routine so he or she knows they can always come to you for help with a problem.  When they come to you for help, ask questions and listen to what they say. This will help you guide him or her in working through the problem.
  • Don’t discuss financial problems in front of your children. While it is okay to let your teen know if you are trying to make both ends meet, do not burden them with too many details and keep the conversation age-appropriate.
  • Be mindful of how you treat each child. Teenagers can be difficult at times, but they need to know you love them just as much as their siblings, especially when there are younger children in the family.
  • Encourage healthy escapes. Teach your teen that it’s okay to take healthy breaks from stressful situations. Physical activity of any kind is great for relieving stress. Listening to music, reading a non-school book, working on a hobby and playing with a pet are other suggestions.
  • Laugh.   Encourage them to watch funny videos and get together with their friends. Teach your teenager to laugh at him/herself when they make normal mistakes.
  • Write it down. Buy your teenager a journal or diary and encourage them to write in it. Make sure they understand that you will not read it unless they ask you to. Journaling will allow them to express their feelings without fear of judgment or criticism from others. After the stressful situation has passed, they can look back over what they wrote and think about how they handled it.
  • Teach time management skills and help your teen learn to prioritize responsibilities. Be sure to acknowledge when you see them using their time wisely. Positive reinforcement goes a long way!
  • Build self-confidence. Sometimes it can be easy for parents to overlook the good things teens do. Make a point to notice something positive your teen does every day and tell him or her about it. When a teen has a strong self-esteem, they will be better able to handle stress.
  • Teach perspective. Keeping things in perspective is an important part of dealing with stress. Teens need to learn how to look at a situation from different points of view and how it fits in the “big picture” of their life.
  • Focus on the positive. Show your teen how to focus on the positive aspects of a situation. Even the worst situations can provide chances for growth and positive outcomes.
  • Seek professional help if necessary.   If your teen’s stress is interfering with school, family, responsibilities or friends, it may be a sign that your teen needs additional help managing stress. If you have concerns, talk to your teen’s physician.
  • Model healthy stress management. You are your child’s most effective teacher.

 Parents, talk to your teens. They will listen!

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