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How to raise a competent young adult — Part 1

I keep reading articles these days on how the “new normal” is for young adults to remain financially and emotionally independent on their parents, long into their twenties.  The articles quote studies showing how much more common this is, and give lots of reasons why this should be so.  They go on to cite positive benefits for parents and their grown children, such as feeling connected, time together, etc.  But is postponing independence really such a great idea for the young adult?

As a family therapist for over 25 years, I don’t think so.  This is a trend I’ve seen developing and increasing over time, and I think there are lots of reasons for it, most of them not positive.  I have a very strong bias that what makes any of us feel good about ourselves, besides the relationships in our lives, is how competent we are at the tasks with which life presents us.  Young adult who aren’t able to live independently of their parents aren’t able to feel competent at the tasks of adult living.  And, until they are, they are stuck between childhood and adulthood.

It wasn’t so many years ago that adulthood truly began at 18 for all but the privileged few.  In some order or another, people finished high school, found someone to marry, a job to support themselves and began their lives.  We know that they didn’t always choose well, and that they certainly didn’t have everything they might wish for, especially not at first.  But from that point on, they were responsible for themselves and later for their own families, more or less.

As going to college became more common, we began to see more writing about college as “prolonged adolescence”, and in some ways that is true.  One of the hallmarks of an adult is the responsibilities they are able to handle, and this requires having an “adult” job.  If one’s career path requires a college education, then it makes sense that adulthood might be postponed until after graduation.

It seems that in the last 10 or 15 years, that even graduation from college doesn’t mark the beginning of independence.  Labels like “the boomerang generation” or “bungee families” began to be used.  What is causing our children to take longer and longer to “launch” and be adults, and what can we do to help them?

I think there are two main areas where parents have gotten off track.  One area is regarding helping their children plan financially, and the other area is in helping / requiring their children to gradually assume real responsibility, beginning long before their teen years.  Both areas are vital, and one interacts with the other.   I’ll take a look at each of these in subsequent posts.

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