Humans take an awfully long time to grow up! Even at a “normal” pace we don’t actually reach neurological maturity until our early twenties, meaning that we do not even possess the brain necessary for adult thinking, feeling, or relating until most of us are already well into adult life. The current generation of emergent adults seems to be taking this developmental stroll through childhood at a particularly leisurely pace, with many young adults staying at home or returning home well past the traditional 18th birthday. While this generation’s transition to adulthood is further delayed by economic and cultural shifts, a long childhood is, for humans, a developmental necessity. It just takes a long time to grow and grow into such magnificent brains.
Some researchers believe that our long sojourn in childhood has great long-term benefits and should not be rushed. Children’s developmental tendency to overestimate their own abilities, for instance, may help them develop the habit of perseverance, a critical coping skill for overcoming adult challenges. Children’s natural playfulness may be the foundation of effective adult social skills. Their restricted ability to process information may help them more effectively focus on and master language, and so on. It’s not until our 20s that we fully develop the neurological machinery for higher order thinking, i.e. the frontal lobe.
But in the U.S. a young person’s 18th birthday marks their sudden acquisition of adult rights and, often, an immediate push out of the nest to engage college and/or work with geographic and social independence. This means that in most cases we’re literally sending a child out to do a man or woman’s work. Because our culture lacks an established system of progressive, manageable, and instructive rites of passage to prepare young people for adulthood, this 18th year launch is not only developmentally premature, it’s often traumatically abrupt as well.
But the same researchers who point out the value of an unhurried passage through childhood also caution against coddling our emerging adults Coddling does not prepare our young people for adulthood any better (and maybe far worse) than the traditional insta-launch. Parental over-involvement along with other social phenomena may, in fact, be the cause of our current trend toward boomerang kids and failures to launch.
Somewhere between the traditional 18th year launch and the modern coddled crawl toward adulthood is a better way, namely a progressive and well-supported transition into adulthood. If your young person is soon leaving or has already left home, the following resources can provide critical support early in their transition into independence. This kind of support, available in most communities, especially college communities, can make the difference between a successful launch and a failure to launch.
Mentoring Services
There are many mentoring and transition services available that match an adult mentor with a young adult for in-person and/or telephonic support. Ideally, this support should be a combination of scheduled, regular sessions and as-needed emergency support. Many mentoring and transition services require or strongly advice that parents be involved in their own parallel process with a parent coach. These whole-family services not only help your child feel supported during their transition to independence, they can also help you more effectively support your child with the appropriate balance of support and freedom.
Specialty Dorms or Apartments
College towns often provide on or off campus living situations tailored to meet specific needs. Sober living dorms and apartments offer students a built in recovery community designed to help mitigate the risk of relapse. Other dorms are geared toward making the college or community seem smaller and more socially manageable. Many private programs are designed to support students who struggle with learning disabilities, emotional issues, social skills, or even neurological disorders like autism-spectrum disorder. Some of these programs are specifically for college students, some are for vocationally oriented young people, and some serve both. Check with a local college counseling department, a local therapist, your educational consultant, and/or the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) for options.
Faith-Based Communities
Churches, synagogues, and other faith-based communities are often well aware of the challenges young adults face when launching and offer highly supportive social groups for this population. Even for young people with nominal or no faith-based background, a faith community can provide a safe haven for building a social network and for exploring questions of meaning and purpose that naturally arise during this phase of neurological, emotional, and spiritual development.
College and Community Support Services
Colleges vary widely in the quality and breadth of their student support services. It’s always best to assess this in advance, getting to know the center’s director personally and orienting yourself and your child to available services. Municipalities also vary widely in the services they offer to community members. Some cities and towns have a variety of free services including recovery support, volunteer matching, community events, drop in clinics, life skills and vocational classes, etcetera. These services can provide a low-cost way for your child to find community and support away from home.
Local Family/Friends
If you have long lost family or old friends in or near the community your child is moving to, get reconnected! Just the presence of extended family and other safe adult relationships can help young people feel more secure during their transition to independence by giving them a haven in case of crisis. Active relationships with these trusted adults (occasional lunches, outings, baby sitting, even sleepovers) can help young people feel at home away from home and less prone to adjustment issues.
Rechargeable or Shared Credit Card
In 2010 laws were passed to prevent credit card companies from targeting young college students and emergent adults. Now a young adult has to be 21 years of age to quality for their own credit card without a co-signer. This gives parents the opportunity to be involved in their child’s financial education for a few more years. There are also a number of financial tools available now that can help parents teach responsible financial management skills to their young adult before they have full access to risks of credit cards.
These include low credit limit co-signed cards designed for students (beware the risks of co-signing), rechargeable credit cards (watch for fees), financial literacy websites, financial tracking tools like MINT, and joint checking accounts with a debit card and parent/child dashboard. If you are providing your child with funds, you certainly have the right to monitor and shepherd their use of those funds until their money management skills, and responsibility, are reliably demonstrated.