Overcoming the challenges of your child’s transition to adulthood


Overcoming the challenges of your child’s transition to adulthoodThe 10 years between ages 14 and 24 is a time of tremendous opportunity and risk for both parent and child!  Parents need to remain present and involved while letting go of the reins so that their kid can take them up. Kids who seemed pretty perfect at 10 can go “off the rails”, and kids who started off as ‘challenging’ can become even more difficult for parents, especially if issues were not fully addressed in those younger years. It’s scary for parents because we love our children and want them to grow up without any major disasters. But, there is no guarantee. The outcome is not entirely in your hands and all you can do is your best.

The challenges

We want our children to become mature, responsible adults who can self regulate and form healthy relationships with others. Why is it so difficult sometimes? Parents going through this stage right now could answer this question easily.  Difficulties can arise because of the feelings and worries of both parents and teens. Going through the process of becoming an adult is uneven; two steps forward, one step back is difficult.  Each child is their own unique person who matures, mentally, physically and socially in their own way. This can be confusing for parents especially when you find it difficult to relate with your child for whatever reason. At this time, a child may trigger parents to reflect on their own passage to adult hood and what was helpful (or not) in their relationship to their own parents.

Overcoming the challenges

As parents we need to encourage and empower kids during this stage. We need to learn to see them as young adults and relate to them as such. This includes recognizing their need to relate to us in an adult way. They will be exercising their new ability to be critical thinkers and use abstract reasoning.  At the same time we continue to have a role as parents in nurturing, comforting, providing structure and limits. Getting the right balance is a challenge. Being rational is part of being an adult but acting rational at this stage in your child’s development, though essential, may be the biggest challenge! Finding parental support and maintaining your sense of humour can help tremendously.

Let’s look at some of the self-talk that can get in the way of navigating the journey to adulthood.

Negative feelings and thoughts that can undermine a parent’s ability to help during this transition include:

  • He should be able to do this on his own.
  • I don’t trust my kid.
  • If I don’t take responsibility, she will fail and this will be a disaster!
  • I am afraid to be assertive because…
  • I am sad, scared or angry that we won’t be as close as we once were.
  • When I was his age…
  • I don’t like my child any more.
  • I feel guilty about what I have done in the past
  • I am worried that my child will never grow up successful in life.

Negative thoughts and faulty beliefs that can hold kids back include:

  • I’m afraid that I don’t know what to do with my life.
  • I just want to feel good now and that’s all that matters.
  • No one likes me; no one loves me.
  • My parents think I’m lazy, bad, irresponsible, stupid, etc.
  • I’m not smart enough, good looking enough…
  • I don’t need to get more independent.
  • I’m very worried about my parent(s).
  • My parents are idiots.
  • I am angry with my parents for …. and cannot talk with them

When things are going wrong, we tend to place blame or become discouraged. We may blame ourselves, blame another or blame the circumstances. In counselling, we know that blaming gets in the way of change and finding solutions. Your ability as a parent to tolerate conflict and disconnect is important as it’s an inevitable part of any kid’s transition into adulthood.

We also know that you can only change yourself and not another person. Sometimes you can change an environment and this can be effective in certain circumstances. But when you can change what you are doing, you set up a situation that allows other people to attempt change too.  Change brings hope.

Most kids make it into adulthood. There is very little choice and adulthood happens one way or another. And probably some of those failures that turn out to be disasters (the ones you’ll worry about) are experiences that will help your kid become an upstanding citizen.

In the meantime though, when the road gets tough, help and support are available through your Employee and Family Assistance Program.


Helpful resource:

Teen Brain Teen Mind; What parents Need to know to Survive the Adolescent Years. Second Edition by Dr. Ron Clavier key Porter books.2009