In this final article, let’s take a look at what helps a young adult assume the necessary responsibilities of adulthood. Most teenagers like to focus on the privileges they assume they’ll have once they turn 18.They often think that their parents will remove all curfews, let them go wherever they want, and in general become a “roommate”, just because they hit a certain age. And some families do move in this direction. This is something important to think about long before the big birthday, because it’s often a source of conflict.
However you decide to deal with the “rights” of being 18, what is undoubtedly more important is to help your teenager be ready for the responsibilities of making more and more decisions without you, and thinking about the consequences of those decisions. This isn’t something that a “crash course” at age 17 1/2 is going to provide.
While teens tend to focus on attaining the age of 18, sometimes a more important marker is high school graduation. In our society, for many teens, this is the dividing line between being a child and being a young adult. But without preparation, it is just as arbitrary a dividing line as turning 18.
I like to help families work towards the idea that after high graduation, their teen is either ready to go to college, some sort of work training, or to start full-time work. I think it’s important for parents to voice expectations all along about having a sense of direction if possible, and if not, making progress towards attaining that sense of direction.
Obviously not everyone knows what they want to do with their lives by the time they finish high school. Some combination of college, training, and / or work helps develop this. But while a student is trying to figure things out, it’s important that parents turn over more and more of their own responsibilities to them.
Taking care of one’s own body and possessions is one example of personal responsibility. By graduation, will your teen know how to keep a house or apartment clean (not just their room), buy and prepare food, and budget for and launder their clothes? What about paying for gasoline, car insurance and entertainment? And what about a car?
A suggestion I make to parents is that starting in junior high, they gradually give more and more financial decision making over to their teen, by helping them develop budgets and giving them money, rather than simply buying things for them. Having a quarterly clothing budget does wonders for teaching how much more expensive designer clothing is, and lets them decide what really matters to them. Working around the house at first, and a part-time job later, to provide for entertainment helps them decide between eating out and going to movies, or to save up during the week so they can do both.
Buying a car is a big landmark in a teen’s life. Too often, especially during college, they may want more car than they can really afford, and will burden themselves with car payments. I suggest that parents and teens start thinking about this very early. One idea is to have a teen save a portion towards a used car, and then match them in some way, if that fits the family budget. Have them think long and hard about the true cost of car payments, both in money and in time taken away from progressing in and enjoying college life.
This is such a giant topic, and there’s really only room to touch on these things here. Hopefully I’ve provided some food for thought.
If you’d like more, Dr. Shiro Torquato, a clinical psychologist practicing at Families, found a great resource published by the State Bar of California called “When You Become 18”. It’s a 16 page pamphlet, available for the asking, and full of great information.