60-year-old Steve, aka Dad: “You need go to pharmacy school!”
Katie, adult daughter: “I’m sorry, what was that? Pharmacy school? I’m not interested in pharmacy school.”
Dad: “You don’t want to be a teacher. There’s not enough security in that. You need to get into healthcare. That’s a better deal.”
Katie: “Dad, what are you talking about? I don’t want to change my major! I’m three semesters away from graduation! Why do you always try to run my life? You’re unbelievable!”
After role-playing the interaction, he stared at me. “Am I unbelievable? I just want what’s best for my daughter. She left in the middle of dinner. Why was she so angry?”
If it’s confusing to you why this daughter was angry, then this article is for you. Settle in and read on…
Sometimes parent’s advice is helpful to emerging adults, most often when that advice is wanted. But when parents barge in to the lives of still-figuring-it-all-out young adults and push unwanted advice on them, doing so is not helpful at all.
Starting out on their own, young people have big decisions to make. Decisions about education, career, relationships. One of the primary tasks of the teen and young adult years is to “find” oneself. In order to discover the self, young people need to be making their own decisions. When parents invade and offer advice on those decisions, not only can it create conflict, it can also stunt growth in young adult children.
Steve has had a difficult time understanding why the advice is damaging the relationship with Katie. Katie had a rough time through adolescence. Her mother died when she was twelve, and Steve raised her alone. He thought he was a pretty good father. He was lovingly involved, protective, and in his opinion, he had always given his daughter pretty great advice. In middle school and high school, she seemed to appreciate his input. But as Katie has progressed through college, she increasingly becomes offended by her dad’s unwanted advice.
Steve fails to see how Katie’s stage of life dictates a different relationship with her father now. Like so many young adults, Katie has taken the wheel and become the captain of her own ship. She doesn’t need her dad to tell her which decision to make anymore. In fact, when Dad jumps in with an unwanted piece of advice, Katie says she begins to doubt herself. What she craves more than anything is to have her dad say he trusts her judgment and he knows she will find her way through tough decisions with her growing courage and wisdom.
Unwanted advice can shut down the growth of a young person. Not only can the advice prove counterproductive, it can ignite conflict between the parent who gives the advice and the adult child whom he only wished to help.
If you are a parent whose kid is furious or withdrawing due to your unwanted advice, it’s time to learn to keep your silence.
Don’t be so smart anymore.
Stop knowing the answers.
Let your child be the smart one who comes up with solutions.
Assume your child has the answers she needs and decide you’ll be quiet so she can listen and find those answers on her own.
The last act of parenting is trusting your child to fly on her own. Trust and let go!
Dr. Deuter is a psychiatrist who specializes in the care of emerging adults.