Young Adulthood: an Underestimated Life Transition

young-man-unlocking-doorMany people may view young adulthood (defined here in the context of age, typically 18 to 25) as one of the most exciting times in a person’s life. Many young adults are graduating from high school and heading off to college—or graduating college and heading into employment. Some young adults are working full-time jobs and getting full-time paychecks for the first time.

Numerous opportunities lie before these young, vibrant individuals. Some are moving out of their parents’ homes and experiencing a new-found freedom—no curfew, no one nagging them to do chores, etc. Young adults are often making their own rules, and more importantly, they are expected to make their own decisions.

Within the transition of “kid” to “adult” lies a multitude of variables that influence how a young person is defined, almost overnight. The change in how a young adult is described semantically (“kid” vs. “adult”) implies and may even dictate expectations. For example, “kids” are not necessarily expected to be employed and earn money to take care of themselves, whereas employment is expected by society for “adults.”

Society has an expectation that young adults graduating high school should have not only decided which college to attend (prior to graduating from high school), but should also have chosen their major, which may dictate the career/employment that will financially sustain them until retirement. Young adults may also feel the pressure or expectation of finding the “perfect” job—or at least one that will pay the rent. This is not so easy in today’s economy.

Yes, the context of a young adult’s life can seemingly—and sometimes literally—change overnight. This change or transition can result in depression or increased anxiety expressed in the form of inability to make decisions or lack of motivation.

Although these new responsibilities and expectations are necessary in becoming a productive and self-sustaining individual, a degree of mindfulness and compassion for young adults should be practiced by parents, caretakers, and mentors. Society may sometimes take for granted that once an individual hits a certain age or reaches a certain milestone, such as high school or college graduation, he or she automatically gets this magical system upgrade and knows how to be an adult. While some individuals glide through this transition, others may have some difficulty.

So how can parents, caretakers, and mentors support this transition? Here are some tips:

  1. Acknowledge this important life transition. Don’t take it for granted.
  2. Give permission to make mistakes. Young adults are making important decisions about their futures for the first time, and they need to know they do not have to make perfect choices.
  3. Be a sounding board without judgment. Give advice only if advice is solicited. Though usually well-intentioned by the advice giver, sometimes the advice receiver can perceive it as doubt in his or her decisions.
  4. Step back and let young adults make choices and decisions, even if they appear stuck. If you make decisions for them, it may impede this new decision-making skill that is now required.
  5. Consider counseling. Having an outside third party to talk to may be beneficial for young adults who are expressing difficulty with the expectations of this life transition, especially if it is resulting in significant depression or anxiety.

Remember, even those who have been practicing adulthood for decades struggle from time to time. Mindfulness and gentle guidance are keys to support.

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Deanna Daniels, LMFT, Adjusting to Change / Life Transitions Topic Expert Contributor

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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  • Ana

    August 5th, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    Great article! Thank you.

  • Sashandra

    August 5th, 2013 at 5:08 PM

    I remember when I was this age. I absolutely loved it. Maybe it was because I had an early birthday so I was several month older than everyone else when graduating from high school. Maybe it was because my mom and dad had done a good job of preparing me for the future. Whatever it was, I absolutely loved going out on my own and being responsible for myself. I never partied, got drunk, did drugs, etc. I relished my responsibilities and executed them to the absolute best of my abilities. I guess this new-found independence was very empowering for me.

  • Marigold

    August 5th, 2013 at 5:10 PM

    that whole allowing your kids to make mistakes thing ain’t no picnic let me tell you. my baby girl just turned 19 and she makes all kinds of mistakes that I ain’t at all happy about. but you can’t tell her nothing. She got to make all her own mistakes if shes ever gonna find her way in the world. I just hope she don’t make no mistakes that will be the end of her future.

  • Nan

    August 5th, 2013 at 5:12 PM

    Sure do like the idea of getting a person this age counseling my mom did it for me and it made a huge difference i was really afraid to make mistakes and disappoint my parents and my therapist helped me separate my feelings out and helped me see that i am a different person that the child i used to be and my parents see me differently and expect me to do things differently that i did when i was a kid it helped alot.

  • Brendah

    August 5th, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    My son did great at this age. Soooooo thankful! :0)

  • Allie

    August 5th, 2013 at 10:39 PM

    Parents have a big role to play here.

    I remember when I was making this transition they were a major help and support and were there with me in every decision I made. I did not feel any burden of expectations and I think that is the way it should be.Thank you mom and dad!

  • Brantley

    August 6th, 2013 at 2:49 PM

    I guess that one of the hardest things for most any parent to do is watch your child make a mistake, and to willingly let them do it knwoing that this is going to fail. You understandably wnat to step in and say no, don’t do that, do this, this is what will be more successful. But then you knwo if you do that, then what will they learn? That you will always be there with the answers and that they will never have to reach a little and come up with something on their own? Look, failure is hard, and I know that as well as anyone. I hated it when my own parents let me do some things that hurt at the time and they probably could have saved me from them. But as an adult now, I appreciate that they allowed me to strike out a little on my own. I don’t think that I would have learned my lesson anywhere along the way near as quickly as I did had I not done the things that I did, and I want to be able to do the same for my own children.

  • Bryn

    August 7th, 2013 at 11:16 AM

    I hope that there are a lot of parents especially of kids getting ready to leave home for the first time this fall out there reading this.

    My own parents? I think that they thought that I was immediately an adult once I graduated from high school, and I was basically on my own from then on out. I am fine and we are oaky now but I really did resent then for a long time because they really gave me very little help and guidance during this pretty tough time when I could have used it the most.

    I don’t blame then but I think that I could have been a little more successful sooner had they at least been there for me more but it always felt like they were just ready for me to get out so they could get on with their own lives and still when I think about that too much, I have to admit that it hurts.

  • Mason

    August 8th, 2013 at 2:32 PM

    This is kind of a double edged sword because there comes a time we have to let the kids go, but we don’t need to let them go too soon. We can’t be like the parents of centuries ago who let their twelve year olds go off and supposedly be adults. But on the other hand all of these boomerang kids moving back home after college and still expecting mom and dad to continue footing the bills is kind of unacceptable too. There has to be some sort of happy medium that hasn’t been achieved yet.

  • Martha

    August 11th, 2013 at 4:29 PM

    Those young adults who chose not to go to college and/or choose parenthood at this time need parental guidance as well; college is not the only option. Additionally, vertical and/or horizontal stressors experienced by the family or young adult during this transition period can lead to delayed “launching.” The need for counseling may be much greater for these individuals or families in order for the young person to make a successful transition to adulthood.

  • Enraged Youth

    June 9th, 2014 at 3:20 PM

    I think another “tip” would be “don’t be condescending toward young people.” I’ve met way too many older people that view my problems as worthy of mocking, of little attention, of a smug “knowing” smile. I think adults should acknowledge that being a young person in the moment is rough. The problems we face are rough. And just because you didn’t commit suicide, you got through your emerging adulthood in the 60s, you got that dream job, does not mean you understand the particularities of what today’s young person is experiencing. It also doesn’t mean a young person’s problems are any less important or worthy of discussing than your own.

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