13-30, The Road Toward Adulthood

I’m surprised by the numbers of families that seem unprepared for progressive stages of adolescence and young adulthood. Parents are shocked by rebelliousness and rejection; the age-old steps kids take toward leaving their parents.

Kids don’t magically leave home in a moment. The progressive steps in the path toward leaving the family begin way back in middle school. Here’s a quick map for the parent of a 13 year old who asked me last week, “What am I supposed to expect from here on out?”:

Friend groups, school dances, and homework:
•    Early steps toward leaving home begin in middle school.
•    Teens begin to cling to their peers. 
•    They develop an identity apart from the family. 
•    In adolescence, they develop a skill set for independence: 
     o    Through gossip, close friendships, conflicts, and heartbreaks, they learn to navigate intimate partnerships and understand their emotions. 
     o    Through independent schoolwork or other problem solving pursuits, they learn to work responsibly, without parental oversight. 
•    When impulses cause them to act thoughtlessly, they learn that their choices have consequences. 
•    By the time kids reach legal adult age, they have acquired a wide range of precursor skills for relationships and occupations in adulthood. 
•    Parents allow kids to experience greater levels of independence and unsupervised time. We begin trusting them to figure things out on their own.

Stepping out the door and into the larger (sort-of) world:
•    Whether they step out after high school to start higher ed, or begin a job and try to support themselves, leaving home gives kids their first glimpse of the bigger world.
•    But usually the world of a new adult is comparatively small (so don’t worry Moms and Dads, they can handle it).
•    Living outside the parents home allows new adults to learn managing their time and money and other resources independently.
•    They choose a path, and often need to change course, teaching them they must make mistakes and learn.
•    Early life away from parents often becomes difficult.
•    Sometimes young adults return home to regroup after the reality of grow-up life hits too hard.
•    Parents let them come and go, even amid fears that they don’t seem fully ready to go.

When the skillset is big enough to fly unassisted:
•    After acquiring the requisite skills and bouncing closer and farther away from parents, they finally truly take over. 
•    They stop needing reassurance from parents that they’re doing things right.
•    They trust themselves and make decisions confidently.
•    They fly out on their own entirely.
•    And then parents let them go, and turn attention fully to their next phase of life as empty nesters.

Of course, this is a broad sketch. There’s always more. Comment and tell me: What would you add?

Posted on February 9, 2015 .