Why is it that, in today’s society, parents have so much difficulty getting their kids to transition into adulthood? How is it that many parents find that their kids are seemingly incapable of becoming independent adults?
The simplest answer seems to be that our views and values on family life have changed. I believe much of this has to do with the way family life is depicted in the media: we do so much for our kids that it prevents them from doing for themselves and, as a result, prevents them from learning how to be independent. Many parents find themselves frustrated about the fact they have adult children still living at home, with a burgeoning sense of entitlement, because they supposedly can’t make it on their own.
If we go back 40 years or so, we see a time when kids typically learned the natural and logical consequences of the choices they made. If they did not do their homework, their grades reflected that. Kids performed chores without the expectation of an allowance. Kids were uncomfortable enough with their parents’ rules that they often looked forward to moving out once they were old enough so they could make their own rules and choices. Childhood and adolescence was a training ground to provide the opportunity for kids to learn the skills they needed to one day function as independent adults.
Fast forward to the present. Technology has exploded. So has the experience of and demand for instant gratification. There is less reason and opportunity for kids to experience the discomfort that often comes with the necessity to problem-solve or use their imaginations. And as parents, we have evolved to the point where many of us don’t want to see our kids be uncomfortable at all. It seems that every parent’s goal is to see his or her kids “happy.” While that’s not unreasonable as an ultimate hope, we have taken the idea of removing discomfort from our kids’ lives to the extreme.
As parents, we have evolved to the point where many of us don’t want to see our kids be uncomfortable at all.
We have confused the ideas of caring for our kids and caretaking. Caretaking is anything we do for our kids that they can do for themselves. Caretaking stunts our children’s growth because they are deprived of the chance to learn the skills needed to entertain themselves, solve problems, resolve conflict with peers, and to take responsibility for themselves and be accountable. Life skills that should be learned in childhood and adolescence are often postponed until kids are in their twenties and thirties, and sometimes, learning the life skills needed to function as independent adults are delayed indefinitely.
While caretaking typically comes from a spirit of caring, love, and the desire to see our kids to be happy and healthy, it can become unhealthy and a cycle can develop that looks a lot like this: kids find themselves dealing with stress and/or struggling, so they immediately go to their parents. Problem solved. Except not—not really. As the cycle continues, kids learn to look outside themselves for ways to cope. Over time, the cycle carries into adulthood.
So how can we break this cycle? The solution is to help kids foster internal coping skills, develop confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy, and allow them to experience discomfort in order to learn that they have the survival skills they need and can be successful at facing challenges and obstacles.
Some Dos and Don’ts for Helping Kids Transition into Adulthood
- Be aware of supports and resources that allow kids launching into adulthood to level the playing field in order to successfully accomplish tasks at hand. Kids need to learn how to advocate for themselves. Part of this process requires that kids learn what works for them and what doesn’t.
- Support adolescents in finding and using tools for organization. Such tools are crucial when working on big projects and juggling the many facets of adulthood.
- Teach kids how to talk with adults who are leaders. Learning how to communicate with those in authority positions is a life skill that will help kids understand how to negotiate effectively and get their needs met as they transition into adulthood.
- Instead of rescuing kids, parents need to teach them how to learn effective techniques for managing tasks at home, work, or school. Kids need to learn how to help themselves by taking responsibility for implementing techniques that will help them be successful.
- Instead of criticizing when kids make mistakes, parents need to focus on the emerging adult, focus on what he or she does well, and to talk to him or her about those things. It is helpful for parents to trust that kids will eventually get to where they need to be, even if it takes some kids longer to get there.
- One of the most difficult things for parents about watching kids transition into adulthood is the fact they make choices parents often don’t agree with. Still, kids launching into adulthood have not only the right but the responsibility to make their own choices. Parents need to trust that kids will transition into adulthood and create their own lives.
All of this is not to say parents should give up; it is to say, rather, that parents need to allow kids to have control over their lives as they enter adulthood. While parents need to avoid always rescuing kids when they mess up, kids launching into adulthood need to know that their parents have their back. Be sure to show plenty of compassion and empathy, while at the same time holding kids transitioning into adulthood accountable.
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