The moment has arrived – your child is a child no longer. Or has it? You might think the child you’ve nurtured from their first few moments of life to near-adulthood is ready to be independent and doesn’t need you anymore, but that isn’t really true.
Physically, your child is nearly mature. Boys mature later than girls and will continue to put on muscle and develop more body hair, but the struggles of puberty are pretty much over for both sexes.
Emotionally, your child is mostly independent, but this doesn’t mean your support is no longer needed. This independence can lead to conflict, especially within the family, and it can be difficult to walk the fine line between being supportive and your child feeling you’re being controlling. They’ll have more serious relationships, some romantic, and a stronger sense of sexual identity. This can cause additional conflict if there’s a mismatch between how they see themselves and your perception of who they should be. Their emotional maturity leads them to be more concerned about the practicalities of being an adult such as how they’re going to support themselves, where they’re going to live or what they’re going to do with their lives. If they’re going to college, they may have additional concerns about living away from home for the first time or coping with a different academic environment. They’ll have a stronger sense of personal identity and may reflect on their experiences more, perhaps by confiding in a diary.
They may show a greater interest in family and cultural traditions recognising the important role they play in who they are. They’re likely to focus more on peer, rather than family, relationships, and as their social networks expand so will their social life. They’ll have a greater concern about others and you may find some of their questions revolve around issues their friends have.
Cognitively, your child has made huge strides since those first faltering attempts to understand the world around them. They’ll have a better idea about their goals and the ambition to work towards them. Improved planning skills, more foresight and a deeper understanding of potential consequences are all vital skills for a life of independence especially since they’re focused on the future and near-future. They may be a little self-centred and, despite their developing a moral sense, might consider their viewpoint to be right even though they understand that others will have their own views. Their study skills, memory, organisational skills, time management and abstract problem-solving abilities are at a level where they can tackle further education and environment where they won’t have the same external framework and direction they’ve had so far. This is also the time when risk-taking behaviour may emerge, if it hasn’t already, especially around drinking, drug-taking, sexual or physical activity.
There are a number of ways you can support your soon-to-be-adult. Encouraging them to talk to you, not just about their concerns but about their aspirations as well, and being supportive rather than judgemental will let them know you’re still there for them. You can give them some practical help, such as teaching them about domestic finances and debt, how to cook or do their laundry if you haven’t already done so. They’ll be facing some huge changes, perhaps starting work or college or moving out, which can dent their confidence, and encouragement and positive feedback will help them maintain their confidence and self-esteem. They may not admit it, but they’ll still look to your example when it comes to how you behave; learning to be treated like an adult who has responsibilities and must face the consequences of their actions can take a little time. Most of all, you can still provide a safe, emotionally secure haven for them when they become a little overwhelmed at this adulting thing.
You’ve seen your child through to adulthood and your years of hard work have borne fruit; you have a well-adjusted, socially capable adult human being to be proud of. Whilst the nature of your relationship has changed, adult-to-adult rather than adult-to-child, they’ll still need you for years to come. The difference is now they’ll choose to come to you.