Parenting adolescents can often feel overwhelming and downright impossible. Behavioral changes, mood swings, and our child’s development of “an attitude” are a challenge to most parents in this universal transition. Who are these strangers who used to be our kids?

It helps to remember that adolescents are in transition from the role of child to the role of adult. It is an evolving process, with many tasks to be mastered along the way as they prepare to leave the nest. They work through the task of emotional and psychological separation even as they begin to experiment sexually. It can feel awful to the parent but they’re supposed to do this!

Teens must also learn to establish satisfactory relationships with peers. Learning cooperation, feeling comfortable in groups, and forming friendships lay the groundwork for future romantic and work relationships. As they move into the later teen years, adolescents begin looking outward, beyond family, friends, and self. They begin to develop a philosophy of life, a world view, moral standards, and a guiding belief. They begin looking toward the future. Educational and career goals take center stage at this time.

Throughout these stages, teens must learn flexible coping strategies and how to behave appropriately in different situations. Much as we might like to, we cannot prevent them from making our mistakes. Just as we had to learn from experience, so must they. But we can teach them how to make decisions, how to cope, how to behave. We do this by modeling (showing them, through example how we do it). They will close their ears when we try to preach, but their eyes are always open, watching how we manage relationships and life. They miss nothing.

As teens grow and change, parents need to be fluid. The parents must be able to change their rules, parenting methods, and ways of relating, in order to encourage teen autonomy. And they must do this without totally relinquishing parental guidance and control. If parents lose their control, the result is an adolescent who is out of control. The trick is to strike the proper balance between setting limits and allowing increasing independence at each stage of the child’s developmental process.

The years of adolescence can be hard on all involved, but with love and careful guidance, the transition can be a time of growth for the whole family.

College kids and other young adults often have a really tough time during this period of transition. And so do their parents. Anxiety runs high for everyone now that its time to lay down a path toward the future. Parents want to be sure that the destination is visible, safe, and secure. Kids…not so much. This too can create conflict within the family.

It might help to know that the majority of people do not arrive into young adulthood with all their life decisions already in place. Now is the time when they have finally left the nest and are just beginning to spread their wings. That heady feeling of flight understandably distances them from the ground and the flight pattern is unpredictable. Parents, take heart. This is part of the normal life cycle, mastering the developmental task of separating from the family. A simultaneous developmental task is creating a new, age appropriate connection with the family. It will all happen in due time.

Common issues for parents of young adults are:

  • Kids’ financial dependence upon them while hearing declarations of independence.The young adult who opts out of college.
  • Parental inability to let go, as evidenced by constant phone calls, visits, and worrying. This has the effect of clipping the bird’s wings…
  • Conflicts when he or she makes brief visits home from college–so many people to see in so little time! What about us???
  • Re-adjustment to living together again during summer vacations.
  • Difficulty negotiating a new, age appropriate connection with the young adult.
  • Lack of control over the young adult can feel terrifying to some parents.

Common issues for young adults are:

All of the above…with the added challenges of forming new friendships, learning to have mature, intimate relationships, doing well in school or work, and establishing goals for the future. If your child is not in school, you may feel like a failure. You are not, and neither is he or she. You do not ever want to convey that message because it will cause unimaginable damage to your child’s soul. It will also become a self fulfilling prophecy. Which brings me to my favorite question, anyway: How do you define success? Does success mean acquiring wealth? I personally don’t think so, but I’m in the minority. I define success as being my own authentic self (not what people or society expect me to be) doing work that I love, and living with someone that I love. It’s that simple. And that difficult. But I can tell you that the people I know who agree with my definition of success, and make it happen, tend to be the happiest people I know.

©2016 Maggie Vlazny

Maggie Vlazny

Maggie is a Certified Clinical Supervisor and Psychotherapist specializing in marriage counseling, EMDR, Imago therapy, anxiety & depression, women's issues, family therapy and grief counseling.