By DR. FRED HALL, LPC
QUESTION: Any tips on how to parent my 21-year-old college student who’s living at home?
This is an excellent and poignant question regarding parenting an adult … although we may not think of them fully as an adult. I would first bring your attention to the great work you have done in getting them this far. Don’t gloss over that. Parenting and getting kids through the toddler stage, the pre-teen stage, and the “lose your mind” adolescent stage is no small task. You did it. Celebrate them and yourself for arriving at 21 years of age. Help them see that this milestone is a significant accomplishment and that you recognize it and them.
Additionally, you will need to “upgrade” your parenting. Much like the latest smartphone that needs periodic updates to maximize the functionality and efficiency of the device, you as a parent will need to shift your parenting style to be more consultative and less directive. Your young adult children still need your guidance and wisdom and the occasional “that’s not a good idea” statement from you, but more importantly, they need you to allow them to figure some things out for themselves.
Typically, parents shy away from this because they think their children will fail. Spoiler alert: They will. This is perfectly OK. They need to learn to work, struggle, and fail in order to readjust and work smarter. Some things will only come from experience. If you hover or give advice on everything, they will become dependent on you. While that might sound good initially, it fosters co-dependency, enmeshment, or learned helplessness within your child. Allow them to think and try things. Give parameters if you must, but let them dream and try things.
Lastly, pray and create an atmosphere for their “adulting.” Adulting helps them make critical decisions about life that may or may not make sense at the time. With your prayers, support, and guidance, they will see you as an ally and resource, not just mom and dad. They will see you as another adult they can trust and feel safe with. Remember that you are growing responsible adults capable of making tremendous, healthy decisions. Give them a chance to demonstrate that even while in college. This might mean relaxing the curfew or not forbidding certain people within their friend group. Learn to disagree yet keep the lines of communication open. Remember that everything is new in their world, and they see what fits and doesn’t in their lives.
Allow independence and interdependence. You will come to appreciate both. Have fun with your adult child. Learn the fine art of silence. You don’t have to comment on everything they do. Learn to interact with them as adults. Have adult conversation and use adult consequence language in your talking. They will appreciate that.
Lastly, I leave you with the advice I received when my children started becoming adults: Be concerned but not consumed. Pray and work on balance with your young adult. They will respect you for your approach — either now or later.
Dr. Fred Hall is a licensed professional counselor (LPC), supervisor, life and leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, couples, families and organizations in training, speaking, consulting and clinical practice. He does clinical work at Cornerstone Counseling in Jackson.