Child Development and Parenting: Adolescence
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Discipline and Guidance: Older Adolescents and Young Adults (18 Years and Older)

Angela Oswalt, MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

By late adolescence (18 years of age and older), parents need to set clear boundaries about any assistance they will (or won't) provide while their children are becoming independent adults. Youth should have a clear understanding what their parents are willing and able to provide them during this transitional period, and what expectations are attached to these provisions. For example, parents should discuss with their maturing teens whether or not they will help to pay for college expenses, housing costs, and/or car payments; or whether they will allow the child to continue to live at home and if so, under what circumstances. Parents may require youth to meet certain requirements such as maintaining employment, or a achieving a certain grade point average at college, in order to continue to receive any financial assistance. For youth who remain at home, parents need to communicate their expectations about who pays for what (food, gas, utilities, etc.) and what rules will continue to apply while residing at home with their parents. Moreover, these maturing youth need to understand that their parents will not take care of them indefinitely, and that their parents expect them to take over responsibility for supporting themselves.

During a teen's transition to independent adulthood, family relationships will change regardless of whether an older adolescence moves out of the home, or remains at home for the first few years. Everyone at home will need to adjust to the young adult's increasing absence from the home and families may need to devise new ways to remain connected with each other. If a youth remains at home for a few years, families may wish to maintain a weekly family night, adjusted for work or school schedules. For youth who move away from their childhood home, the method of staying connected will depend upon the responsibilities of their new lifestyle and the distance from their childhood home. If youth live nearby their family home it may still be possible to maintain a weekly family night. These young adults may even enjoy the opportunity to host the family night at their new residence. If youth move further away, new traditions will need to form. Perhaps family night will now include a regularly scheduled video chat on the computer. Or, perhaps the sibling who moved away can remain part of the family's cell phone plan, so that siblings can talk and text with each other frequently without racking up a large phone bill. Furthermore, families will want to plan special family events during school holidays or during other times when the older sibling is able to visit.

As youth transition into independent adulthood, parents' relationships with their young adult children will change, as will siblings' relationships with each other. Parents' relationship with their young adult children will necessarily shift from a directive, authoritative relationship to a friendly, consultative relationship between equals. Parents will need to refrain from telling their child what they should, and should not do; instead, parents can learn to be supportive as they listen from a more passive position and only provide advice or feedback when asked. This is often a difficult adjustment to make, particularly when parents believe their child is making a poor decision. Nonetheless, if parents and youth previously enjoyed a good relationship with each other, their young adult children will often value and seek their parents' opinion, but parents can increase this likelihood by striving to provide advice, only when invited to do so. However, if parents are still providing a significant amount of financial or other supportive assistance, they should have a voice in decisions affecting the provision of that support. For instance, if parents are paying a portion of college expenses and their youth announces plans to change universities, parents have a right to express their opinion about this decision as it directly affects the amount and type of financial assistance they are able and willing to provide.

Sibling relationships will also change during this transitional period. Siblings that may have attended the same school, attended the same social events, and shared a bedroom, may now have to adjust to being apart most of the time or experiencing very different interactions, since the older sibling will now be attending a new school or working full-time. As siblings grow and mature they may develop different interests and activities, and this can cause siblings to feel a sense of loss as their relationship changes. Despite these changes, parents can encourage siblings to continue to spend time together, either doing things they previously enjoyed, like playing basketball in the park, or starting new traditions. For instance, parents may help a younger sib arrange transportation to attend the basketball games at their older sibling's new community college.

Whether older teens remain at home, or move away and return home for visits, there will be fewer rules that apply to them now that they are nearly adults and their younger siblings may struggle to understand and accept these perceived inequities in the rules. Younger siblings may petition their parents for similar freedoms and plead their case on the basis of fairness. However, parents need to remain firm and make sure each child benefits from the full 18 years of high expectations, consistent discipline, and unconditional love and affection.