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“Adulting”: How To Parent Your Teen In This [Sometimes Very] Long Process

Turning eighteen is certainly a milestone, and yet most of us can agree that truly becoming an adult is a more gradual process.  It may be a longer process these days than ever before, as our teens and college aged kids have certainly been impacted by the changes in school and socialization due to the covid-19 pandemic; some may be behind academically, many missed out on “the normal” social skill opportunities.  Today’s blog is geared toward tips for things you can do to set your teen up to become an independent adult.

It’s developmentally appropriate in adolescence that teens spend more time with their friends and more time alone in their room.  Teens and young adults still need their parents, but they a: may like to think that they don’t and b: need them in different ways than when they were younger.  It also tends to happen that older teens are less receptive to what you as their parents have to say anyway, so how to make the things you do say count and, just as importantly, the things you do so that they learn the life skills needed to be build confidence and independence.  Parents do well to ease up on the reigns a little bit because kids will learn to do these adult things for themselves only when you stop doing them for them – so, whether that’s age 17 or age 25, etc.  The good news in that is that you don’t have to be their unpaid ‘personal assistant’ as they grow. 


Think of how you were as an adolescent/ young adult – I like to think I was pretty responsible, but I also know there were things that took awhile for me to master, and ways I needed my parents differently when I was in college/ a young adult.  I remember things like calling my dad from a payphone crying because my textbooks cost so much, calling my mom to ask how to cook chicken, and not getting my car tires rotated because, “well, Don’t they rotate every time you drive them?!” So, finding some of your own examples of areas you weren’t automatically competent in may help you empathize and be patient with your child. 

Teach life skills – Having your child start taking on more household responsibilities as they age helps it become a more gradual process.  Identify the things they’ll need to know when they live independently and gradually expose them to those things especially starting in their later teen years, such as:

  • Doing laundry,
  • Cooking basic things,
  • Grocery shopping,
  • Budgeting/ money management/ credit cards/ balancing a checkbook
  • Making their own appointments (doctor, dentist, etc)
  • Traveling/ making travel plans on their own (navigating an airport, etc)
  • Basic car maintenance: how to change a tire, recognize a problem, when and how to get oil changes

Become a coach instead of a manager or personal assistant – Adolescence is a great opportunity for them to take over some problem solving and decision making on their own, while you can be there for ‘coaching’ and as a sounding board. Your teen/ young adult is the pilot [of their life], you are a copilot.  Some key copilot coaching phrases include, “What are your options in this situation?” and “What’s your plan?”  Let’s say your child gets back a failing grade on a test.  Definitely in college, and for the most part in high school as well, they have outgrown parents getting directly involved with their teachers/professors.  Being a sounding board for your child and asking one of our magic questions of “What are your options?” or “What is your plan?”, letting them brainstorm some options, and helping them problem solve the situation [without taking over].  A coach doesn’t take over and do the work for them, that is your child’s job to do their homework, projects, organize their schedule, etc.  Backing off on purpose leaves room for them to develop skills to do things for themselves. 

Let them ‘fail’ in the small things, while they still have support – It can be so hard to see your own child make mistakes, but the more that they can be allowed those growth opportunities while still under your roof and have you as a safety net, they can gradually build their confidence and skills.  Allow for natural consequences whenever you can. For example, if your teen forgets to bring their lunch (or insert whatever here) to school, if you don’t bring their lunch to them then it’ll be something they’ll be less likely to repeat.  Experience is the most effective way for them learn and, unfortunately, they are not often as receptive to what we say as they are to what they experience. 

Encourage/ cheerlead them – Teens and young adults still need a lot of encouragement from their parent(s).  Praise them for taking on new and challenging situations, even if the outcome doesn’t come out perfectly.  Remind them that “adulting” is a process, that you believe in them, and that “[they’ve] got this!”  Humans tend to have many more negative thoughts and negative self-talk automatically, which is probably happening for your teen when they are struggling with a problem or novel situation.  Sometimes giving them examples from your own growing up experiences will help you come across as relatable, and may be encouraging that they too can become a competent adult, it just doesn’t happen overnight. Expressing your support, love, and reassurance can be helpful and build resilience.       

Manage your own anxiety and annoyance – I recognize that the above tips can be challenging at times for parents.  It is hard to see your child fail, get rejected, get their feelings hurt, etc.  Resist the urge to ‘swoop in’ and ‘rescue’ them out of situations that will be learning opportunities.  Remind yourself that you are teaching them valuable skills regarding independence and autonomy.  Talking with your spouse or coparent (if applicable), other people in your support system, and/or other parents of teenagers can be helpful for venting, commiserating, problem solving, etc.  Not only can your child’s “adulting” process be anxiety producing, it can also be quite irritating as they are learning to be responsible and may not do things the way you would like or recommend.  (read more in my blog entry on How To Be Less Irritated With Your Teenager https://hopeintherapy.com/how-to-not-be-irritated-with-your-teenager/


Here are some reading recommendations on the subject of “adulting”:

“How To Raise An Adult”, by Julie Lythcott-Haims   https://www.julielythcotthaims.com/how-to-raise-an-adult

https://grownandflown.com/  is a great website for parents of older teens and college students, with lots of relevant blog posts accordingly.


I love seeing teens and adults in my psychotherapy practice!  If you are a California resident and would like to talk about working with me or to having me counsel your teen, please contact me, I’d love to hear from you. I have an office in Sacramento, an office in El Dorado Hills, and I also provide tele-health through a secured platform.