SMF: What do young adults really want from their parents?
Jenny: Young adults DO want their parents in their lives, but in a new way. As children are growing up, parents play various roles in their children’s lives. For example, when children are babies, parents mainly play the role of nurturer and caretaker. As children grow older, the parents’ role and responsibilities grow, as well, to include educator, manager, advocate, etc. School-aged children look to their parents to provide them with the answers and most of the time view their parents as “all-knowing.” Parents, in this stage, are often telling their children what to do, and doing more for their children. And, usually, school-aged children are fine with that and even expect that from their parents. However, when children become teenagers, this style of parenting does not work anymore, hence the common struggle and conflict between parents and teenagers.
Developmentally, teenagers are transitioning from childhood to adulthood. The teenage brain transforms from concrete thinking to abstract thinking. This is the reason teenagers start to question more and rebel. And a healthy part of teenage development is just that: to question, to struggle, and to rebel. It is during this stage that these young people – who were once children – are now really thinking about who THEY want to be as they are becoming adults.
So what DO young adults want from their parents during this very important and difficult transition in their lives? According to the many teens and young adults that I have worked with over the years, they would love the space to think; to be respected for who they are and who they are choosing to become; to feel heard and understood; to be appreciated just for “being” without having to please anyone or prove themselves; to be supported, and feel capable and responsible so that they can enjoy healthy independence.
Many young adults are scared to enter the real and big world on their own, even though everything in their developmental being is screaming “I want to be independent!” In order to become independent in a healthy way, though, they want and require their parents’ guidance and support. Instead of being told what to do or be given advice, as parents were used to doing in the past, they want the space to think things through and to hear and listen to their own inner voice. They want the adults in their lives to ask them questions, help them to problem solve and brainstorm for solutions, and, most importantly, to show belief in them – often belief they do not have in themselves – so that they will become healthy, responsible, independent and successful adults.