Recovering The SelfA Journal of Hope and Healing


Maintaining a Healthy Relationship between a Parent and a Young Adult

Family dynamics change over time, especially as children grow into young adulthood. Minors make the transition by teenager_and_fatherstarting to take on adult responsibilities and behaviors. This phase of life’s exploration can create tension in an otherwise lively parent-child relationship. In order to maintain a healthy relationship, parents should think about their expectations for the upcoming years and communicate in order to collaborate with their growing adult.

Tension is Normal

No relationships are perfect.  Most parent and child bonds actually carry a fair amount of emotional strain. Psychological researchers, like the team led by Kira Birditt at University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, prove that tension is a normal part of a parent and adult child relationship. Parents, keep this in mind when reflecting on family rapport.  In other words, expecting things to be a little on edge with your young adult children may be reasonable rationale to apply to the relationship.

Anticipating that tension will most likely be present helps parents prepare for situations common during transition to adulthood.  Stress levels rise when negotiating household duties, agreeing on boundaries and rules, and working out how much to financially support a young adult who is living at home. Tension certainly escalates when visions are not shared by parent and young adult. Think about the potential push-backs your young adult will present, like asking to remove a curfew or to be able to sleep over at their boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner’s apartment. As you prepare to either negotiate or set a firm standard, consider how the tension may rise depending on the outcome.  Ask yourself, “Will the worry be worth it?”

Communication Do’s and Don’ts for Parents of Young Adults

Do some research on what it is like to be twenty in today’s society.  Read up on the complexities of young adulthood by checking out books like, Not Quite Adults; Why 20-Somethings are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why It’s Good for Everyone by Richard Settersten, Ph.D. & Barbara E. Ray, an easily readable account of recent research describing the social, psychological, financial, and emotional states facing twenty-somethings of the new millennium.  Don’t assume young adults come into contact with the same conflicts and conveniences from thirty years ago.

Do open discussion about what is going on in a young adult’s personal life. This lets a young adult know you are interested in their life and makes them feel valued. Ask open-ended question, like “What’s been going on?” and take the time to actively listen to what your child has to say. Don’t pressure a young adult to get married or to have children. Bombarding them with questions like, “When are you and your boyfriend getting married?” puts unnecessary stress into the relationship.  These huge accomplishments take twenty-somethings longer to reach in the present day than they did in your generation.

Do get to know your young adult’s friends. As children emerge into adulthood, their friends play a big role in shaping their most major life decisions. Invite them to hang-out at your house, take them all out for dinner.  Form a relationship with them. And most of all, listen to them. Don’t try to pry information out of them by asking a thousand questions. Interrogating your young adult’s friends will make them feel like you are trying to snoop on them or police their moves.

Do encourage education or training after high school by discussing options like college or trade school. Research career paths together or set your adult child up with an experienced college and career counselor. Don’t assume that their assigned advisor at high school or college has the time or compassion to guide your young adult in making large-scale life choices. Don’t force them into picking a major because you think it suits them best or studying somewhere they don’t want, like, for example your alma mater.

About the Author

Jesse Viner, MD, Executive Medical Director of Yellowbrick, is a recognized expert in the treatment of eating disorders, difficulties resulting from trauma and abuse, and bipolar disorder, Dr. Viner has three decades of experience applying the knowledge of psychiatry and psychoanalysis to the challenge of creating meaningful and pragmatically effective treatment programs. Dr. Viner has served as Director of Adult Psychiatry Inpatient Services for Northwestern University Medical School; Medical Director of Four Winds Chicago and Director of University Behavioral Health. He is on the faculty of the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis and The Family Institute at Northwestern University. Dr. Viner is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.


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