Teens approaching their senior year of high school have a ton of work to do before they launch out into the world in 12 months. Parents often find themselves in major power struggles with their teen about college transcripts and deadlines, and this final year at home can be a real drag. Luckily, there are many things parents can do to help their 18 year old mange the challenges of this important transformational time of their lives. Consider the following ideas as your anticipatory guidance to best manage the next 12 months with your young adult.
1. Let go! This should be a life-long process beginning in the child’s 1st years, leading up to the big one when they graduate high school. Start letting go of things like checking their electronic messages, choosing whom they hang out with and whom they date, and especially knowing where they are 24/7. It’s hard to become independent and self-reliant when you are constantly tethered to your parents by never-ending texts and phone calls. A year from now they will be on their own and you will have zero control over their comings and goings, so prepare them and you for this inevitability.
2. Consultant: It’s time to shift your role from being a disciplinarian/teacher to more of what my friend and author Mike Rierra calls a ‘consultant’. Young adults still need to use their parents as sounding boards and mentors at times, and they will if you are a good listener and have let go of being in control.
3. Ask permission before you give advice: This shows teens a lot of respect, and allows them to be more open to your wisdom and suggestions when they are ready to hear it. This is one of the most important tools I have learned in working with teenagers all these years.
4. Start letting go of knowing what is best for them: This is a tough pill for many parents to swallow, but it’s time. 18 year olds need to be learning their own lessons in their own way and in their own time as they carve out their personal path and journey. Trust in the big picture, and hold the highest vision for their future at a time when they often cannot.
5. Support: Get clear with them about how they want to be supported in the process of picking a college or job. Their responsibility is to teach you how to treat them so that they feel loved and supported instead of annoyed and controlled. Sometimes teens need guidance from a 3rd party like a high school counselor who doesn’t have the emotional attachment that parents have. Above all else, avoid doing it for them, getting into power struggles, and creating unnecessary anger and fights. Also get clear about how you are willing to support them financially so that hey know what they will be responsible for.
6. Find new ways to connect: Create some new rituals to connect with them that work for both of you. It could look like going out for coffee or lunch a few times a month to catch up, or doing a hobby together like a cooking class. My sons and I started learning to play guitar together at that age, and it was fun sharing music and laughs. Maybe commit to going over college applications and info once a week and not nagging about it the rest of the time.
7. Debunk the college stress myth: It almost feels like a badge of honor to brag about how stressed out you are with the whole college process. Stress is a choice, so encourage your teen to do it different.
Letting 18 year olds start steering the boat at this time in their lives means that they will have more ownership and fulfillment when they succeed. Remember that you can let go of control without letting go of your love for them. You just love them differently in a way that feels more respectful. Sometimes the best way to support them is to get out of their way.