Are You Stunting Your Kids’ Transition into Adulthood?

mother with arm around daughterWhy 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 confidenceself-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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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Helen T

    July 1st, 2015 at 10:57 AM

    hahaha do you know how many friends I have who have adult children living with them that refuse to begin doing adult things for them selves and their parents allow this? Or even encourage it sin some cases?

  • heather

    July 2nd, 2015 at 1:02 PM

    If you give your children the right tools then they won’t be stunted, they simply won’t allow that to happen. You will have given them the strength and the motivation that they need to keep going, and there is nothing that you can do to stop them. I think that along the way every good parent realizes that and as hard as it may be, sometimes you just have to let them go and let them fly.

  • Abe

    July 4th, 2015 at 7:29 AM

    How did we come to this point as parents and how have our kids reached this ideal that they want to still be cared for by the adults in their lives? Not loved r something like that, but that they actually still think that it is ok to be supported by their parents pretty far into adulthood. I don’t understand that lack of independent spirit that so many have now because I guess my own parents raised me differently and I was quite eager to try living out on my own and being independent the first chance I got.

  • Caitlyn

    July 6th, 2015 at 6:58 AM

    I do not understand the parents who want to control every single aspect of their kids lives. Is it because they have no control over their own life so they are looking for something that they can reasonably have some input into and make a difference? I think that the better thing is to teach your kids the very best that you can and then let them go with it. Let them ave a feeling of achievement when they do something on their own, and let them learn to deal with some sort of failure when they are not successful. I think that letting them learn this and feel this on their own teaches them about the game of life.

  • Laura

    July 6th, 2015 at 7:34 PM

    I believe that we parents so desperately want to be (or seen as) good parents, that we see parenting as being more about us than about our children. This totally leads to enmeshment. We don’t want our kids to fail because that means that we have failed. Sad, but true. And the truth is…many of us are failing and we know it, so we try to cover it up by helping our kids too much–the care taking…rather than caring…having a real relationship…because we are somehow losing our ability to love and be connected to other people. We all need to recognize this in ourselves and try (with God’s help) to heal and grow our hearts.

  • Fiona cook

    July 8th, 2015 at 2:29 AM

    i think it would be helpful to leave examples of your tips. Eg give your child a bank card so they are responsible for their own money and an allowance for things like school lunch; toiletries deodorant etc and if they blow it they blow it. But they will learn how to use a card which in turn will teach them about a bank account and going without because you spent the money on something trivial is one of the best lessons in life. Don’t sort out their relation ships…ask them what they think they should do…give them back ownership of the problem and they will find a solution…lead them to work out what the could do…or what they could have done differently.
    I think a lot of the problem is also about how much pressure the media puts on parents to be a person advert family, particularly mothers.
    And please don’t forget that having full time working mothers has a huge impact. There isn’t the time or the energy to teach or allow mistakes. This is intrinsic to the way children are growing up. Furthermore, when we do everything for our children we are sending a very loud message that we do not trust them to do it for themselves. So why would they believe they have the capability if you as a parent do not?
    I would also like to add that the current economic and housing situation also contributes massively. If I was a young person about to venture into the world there is very little to aspire to…where I left school at 16 or have a fully fledged degree.

  • JT

    September 28th, 2018 at 8:03 AM

    As an 18-year-old in this transition, I find some of this to be lacking… Support is a good thing, parents reading this think of your parents, but too much of it can actually hinder the ability to adapt and overcome certain things in life. I love my parents but they won’t always be there, part of growing up is learning how to be effective in taking care of yourself. I personally have found that I have grown more as a result of having a relationship where my parents are basically there for me to just run by what my thoughts for a solution to a life issue is. They are older so they have more wisdom, I hope. They are not there holding me accountable at every turn… that hinders self-responsibility. sorry to ramble but that’s where I sit on this topic

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