In this issue, we look at the fourth step of the series for parents on how to empower and launch your child into adulthood. The key point from our introduction was that the underlying goal of healthy parenting is to prepare sons and daughters to be self-reliant, independent individuals who are at home on this planet and in the culture they plan to live in.
4. Treat adolescence as a necessary temporary multi-chaotic identity phase.
There is no doubt that the transition from puberty into young adulthood is a mixed bag of tricks. Many parents watch in dismay as their little boy or girl turns into a stranger they barely know. Normal life is sometimes turned upside down as the young person makes the dramatic physical, emotional, mental and spiritual shifts necessary to become a mature adult. It is typical to see a young person act out, do stupid things and say things they don't really mean. Understanding these shifts as part of a normal transitional process can help parents to detach and not personalize the behavior.
It is easy to see this awkwardness on the physical level. When a boy or girl is in a growth spurt, they start to become uncoordinated and clumsy. They trip over their feet and knock things over at the table. What's more difficult to recognize is that the same types of stretches are happening on the mental, emotional and spiritual levels too.
Children naturally start to distance themselves as they struggle to develop their identity separate from mom and dad. They may start by asking you to drop them off a block away from the school, instead of at the front door. Kids want to look good in front of their peers and to be seen with their parents is embarrassing now. Unfortunately, many kids will jeopardize their own safety just to fit in and be one of the "in" crowd.
As hormones surge, so do their emotions and their interests in the opposite sex. In their effort to individuate kids may start dressing creatively, get a tattoo, dye their hair or get multiple piercings. Usually, the less the parent reacts to these types of things, the better. In the 60's we had the hippies who had their ways of dressing and expressing themselves too. This generation has just found a new way of doing so. It might be helpful to remember that many hippies are now highly successful people.
Your young adult may also challenge the values of their family, religion and culture as they struggle to find their own identity. Making their own choices, (even if they are wrong) is their way attempting to take control of their lives. It is natural for a parent to react because they may not agree with the choices their children are making and may see them putting themselves in danger.
As mentioned in our last article, each phase of childhood requires an adjustment of parenting roles. As kids mature, keeping the communication lines open may be one of the most empowering choices a parent can make. Even though kids are struggling to separate, they also need and want your guidance. Staying present and listening without reacting or judging can be your most important line of defense.
Having other adult mentors around can also be helpful. Sometimes young adults can hear things from other people and share more openly when it is not their parents. That's because it is difficult, under the shadow of their parents, to become their own person. That's where utilizing wilderness programs, boarding schools and multi-cultural expeditions can be helpful. Rebellious young adults are allowed to mature under the guidance of people who understand the needs of the transition and who can remain emotionally detached.
It is helpful to remember that those who challenge the status quo are often the ones who will bring in the vision of what the culture is to become. The education these children are getting in the programs they are attending is incredible. Remember, growth rarely ever comes without some pain and that things will get better.
About the authors:
Randy and Colleen Russell direct Parent Workshops for Empowering Young Adults and lead workshops and coaching for families and individuals. For more information call 208-255-2290 or visit www.empoweringyoungadults.com.