They've left the nest. They're living with college friends or high school buddies. They're moving toward financial independence. They've thrown off the yoke of parental control and are making their own decisions.
We can step back and move on with our empty-nested lives. Or can we? They're adults--but not quite. Carl Pickhardt, a psychologist who who writes about adolescence, likens the 18- to 23-year-old stage to Trial Independence--what some call Emerging Adulthood. For our "emerging" kids, it's a stage rife with trials and pitfalls. For us, Pickhardt says, the parenting may be "the hardest stage of adolescence."
Here's his run down of the stresses, emotions, and the “emotional thinking” that can get in the way of a successful launch--and may require our parenting attention:
Sudden liberation: "Somewhere during the process of adjustment most young people abuse this increased latitude of choice by acting unwisely -- indulging in excess, giving way to distraction, neglecting obligations, seeking escape, and taking undue risks for the sake of excitement, for example. It’s when the costs of this abuse mount that stress begins to build – there are so many ways to experiment, overdo, ignore, avoid, fall behind, feel exhausted, and struggle to catch up. Now independence becomes a state of over-demand in which young people can feel out of control and under ongoing duress."
Being in charge of their lives: "At the outset of adolescence the battle cry was in opposition to external authority: “You can’t make me!” But in this last stage of adolescence it is in desperation at lacking sufficient personal authority to responsibly self-govern: “I can’t make me!”
Signs of trouble: "The young person can become depressed (“I feel hopeless”), anxious (“I feel scared”), angry (“I feel mistreated”), frustrated (“I feel blocked”), disappointed (“I feel let down”), incompetent (“I feel like a screw-up”), guilty (“I feel it’s all my fault”), ashamed (“I feel disgraced”), shy (“I have nothing to offer”), apathetic (“I feel indifferent”), lonely (“I feel alone”), hurt (I feel injured), or helpless (“I feel powerless”), for example.
The fallout from the "troubles": "Feelings of depression can advise “give in and give up” instead of “take initiative and get moving.” Feelings of shame can advise “punish myself” instead of “focus on the positive about myself.” Feelings of loneliness can advise “just withdraw,” instead of “reach out for company.” Feelings of anxiety can advise “avoid what is scary,” instead of “engage with what I fear.” Feelings of shyness can advise “shutting up” instead of “speaking up for myself.”
What's our role when these kinds of emotional crises hit? Here's Pickhardt's advice:
Stay in touch: "Because this is such an emotionally vulnerable time, it’s important that parents regularly check in so she or he knows they are still there and care."
Be encouraging: "Sensitively listen and thereby provide important empathetic support, give encouragement, and even (if asked) suggest ideas for how to constructively proceed."
Get help if things deteriorate: "If it sounds like the young person is digging themselves into deeper unhappiness by acting on the advice of her or his emotions; parents can suggest seeking short-term counseling to restore better judgment to its rightful place."