As a marriage and family therapist specializing in adolescents, I have had many adolescents as well as many parents of adolescents sit in my office and tell me how long--usually in months, occasionally in days--it is until the adolescent turns 18 and leaves home. It seems that both the parents and the children can hardly wait for this moment to occur. And yet, as the time draws near--as college acceptance letters come in, plans are laid, and commencement happens--tensions begin to rise as both parents and children are beset by a host of conflicting emotions. The teen cannot wait for the independence and freedom that comes with adulthood, yet is aware to some extent of the increased responsibilities that will come with it. Parents are excited to see a young one mature and fulfill potential, yet at the same time, are loath to give up a job they have had for 18 years. These conflicting emotions often make what is already a stressful time of planning, moving, etc. even more stressful, but there are ways to minimize their effects. By openly stating expectations, negotiating needs, and respecting the new roles everyone is assuming, families can make the transition of adolescents into adulthood much smoother and less rocky.
One area that can cause a lot of stress for families in transition is not stating expectations openly and clearly. Hoping that your parents or children will somehow be psychic and know what you want is a sure recipe for frustration and annoyance. Families who can say, 'Even though you are eighteen, I still expect you to check in before you go out with friends--at least as long as you live under my roof.' Or, alternately, a child may say, 'Now that I am 18, I do not think I need a curfew. I have a job and will be sure I get to work on time each day, so when I go to bed is my business.' Making such expectations clear will avoid scenes such as, 'Why didn't you check in?' 'I didn't think I had to!' and 'I won't be home till much later, Dad,' 'You'd better think again, buster!'
Not always will parent and child agree on the new roles and responsibilities, however, and that is where negotiating comes in. Trying to see the other person's perspective, and give even a little on issues that are raised will go a long way towards keeping home relatively stress-free. For example, in the first scenario if the adolescent finds checking in before going out 'too demeaning,, he might counter-offer that he will check in if he plans to be out later than midnight. In the second scenario, if the parent is not comfortable with letting curfew go, for fear of his sleep being disturbed when the child returns late, he might say, 'That's OK by me, as long as you don't wake me when you come in.'
It is important to keep in mind during these negotiations, however, that in most cases not only is the parent still the parent, the parent also pays the bills, maintains the house, etc. and therefore has final say. It is important not to lose sight of where the final power lies.
Lastly, for a family to make a smooth transition when launching a child, it is important for all to remember and respect the new roles that are assumed. While a parent should strive to recognize the child's increased autonomy and independence, the child must also recognize the parent's diminished responsibility for the child. Legally, a parent need not provide housing for a child after the age of eighteen. Few parents actually do celebrate their children's 18th birthdays by moving them to the homeless shelter, but it is good for children to know that this possibility now exists. Although the bonds of love make it very, very hard for parents to relinquish responsibility for their newly-adult children, it is key that all parties understand that is what happens. 18 is the legal 'magic number' at which parents are no longer obliged to provide shelter, food, clothing, etc. Parents are no longer financially responsible for their children's actions, because their children are now adults and responsible themselves. Although in most families it is enough to just be aware of this transition, in more troubled families it is worth spelling out to the adolescent. Respect is crucial to accepting these new roles. Although parents may be used to 'calling the shots' because they are the adults, if they can allow their children more freedom with their choices, it will make for more responsibility on the child's part.
With a little thought, negotiation and understanding, families can make the transition of a child to adulthood a smooth and easy one. A family that can work in all these aspects to its child's transition to adulthood will be getting that child off to a very good start for a happy and successful life.