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Why Parenting Doesn't Stop at 18

How parenting can continue past the age of 18 in healthy, productive ways

Parenting into adulthood

Think back and remember yourself at the age of 18. Did you know everything you needed to know about life? Were you prepared to support yourself financially? Did you have the emotional support, encouragement, and discipline to make your decisions confidently?

For most adults, the answer to those questions is no. Even though children may legally be considered adults at 18, that does not mean they are fully grown and developed, physically or mentally. In this stage of limbo between dependency and self-sufficiency, it can be challenging to find the right level of parenting for your child.

It's essential to adjust your parenting process as your children grow

Helicopter parenting

The New York Times reports that modern parenting continues well after age 18, regardless of a household’s income level. A Morning Consult survey for the Times found that most parents with children ages 18 to 28 were significantly involved in their children’s lives. Of the parents surveyed, over half said they give their adult children some form of financial assistance every month. Most parents reported that they often remind their children about important deadlines, schedule their appointments, and provide advice about life or even romantic relationships.

A reporter for the Times refers to this as an age of helicopter parenting when parents feel the need to “hover” and manage every aspect of their child’s life. One speculated cause of this phenomenon is economic anxiety due to the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor. Outside of financial concerns, parents who experience anxiety or perfectionism may be more likely to engage in helicopter parenting.

Does this mean that parenting beyond 18 is harmful to your children? Being involved in your children’s lives is related to positive outcomes, but it can be damaging if your involvement is inappropriate for your children’s age or developmental level. One researcher studied the effects of helicopter parenting on college students’ well-being. The study revealed that college students who identified as having over-controlling parents reported feeling less satisfied with their family life and had lower psychological well-being.

How much parenting is too much?

A Psychology Today therapist shares that many parents engage in over-parenting simply because life can be busy, they can complete tasks faster than their children, and they prefer to see their children succeed. An easy-to-follow, two-step method can give you the perspective you need to reflect on your level of parenting. The first step is to pay attention to everything you do for your children and ask yourself these questions to determine if you might be over-parenting:

  1. Why are you helping your child with a task?
  2. Are they capable of doing it for themselves?
  3. What would happen if you didn’t do this for them?

Once you assess your level of involvement with your children, the second step is to experiment with giving your children a greater level of autonomy and responsibility. Let your children know they should not expect some of your typical assistance. Stop providing reminders or assistance, whether it’s asking if their homework is done, bringing something they left at home to school, or helping them finish a last-minute project.

Even though making mistakes and experiencing failures or disappointments are inherently uncomfortable, they are necessary experiences and feelings that help children learn to improve. Children need to understand that these negative feelings and events are a normal part of life and an opportunity for growth, and allowing more autonomy gives children more opportunities to experience shortcomings. As a result, your children can develop and practice essential life skills like time management, self-discipline, and overall independence.

Parenting is about teaching our children the skills they need

Find a balanced approach

The key to parenting, like anything else, is finding the right balance between helping and controlling your child through day-to-day life. A child’s level of self-sufficiency can be affected negatively by parents who apply over-controlling or helicopter-parenting tactics. When parents engage in over-parenting regularly to protect their children from disappointments or failures, they don’t teach their children the skills they need to be self-sufficient adults.

Even though it is crucial to support your children’s physical, mental, emotional, social, and intellectual health from infancy to adulthood, you must balance protecting your kids and allowing them to grow and experience life. It’s essential to adjust your parenting process as your children grow, and you can modify your parenting habits to support your children in several ways.

Give your children more responsibility

Review your children’s habits and see where they have opportunities to work on their own. If they refuse to learn, it may be a chance to step back and let them experience independence. As long as there are no risks of physical or emotional danger, giving your child more autonomy can be an excellent opportunity to let them make their own decisions and accept the consequences of their choices.

Avoid giving unsolicited advice

Reminding your children to complete their homework can be helpful, but there’s a chance they will become overly dependent on your assistance and awareness of their responsibilities if you consistently intervene. Older children must learn that they will become responsible for their commitments as adults, and unsolicited advice and reminders can be counterproductive. Let your children learn to handle tasks and ask for help independently.

Treat your children with respect

When teaching your children how to be respectful, it is crucial to treat them respectfully. Treating your children with respect shows them that people should treat each other with consideration and care. You can show your children that you respect them by:

  • Valuing their choices
  • Speaking politely
  • Giving them a voice in decision-making
  • Resolving conflicts thoughtfully
  • Giving your full attention in conversations

Love unconditionally

Even though your children may require less physical support as they grow into adulthood, they still benefit from emotional support at any age. Be there for your children to answer questions, listen to concerns, encourage interests, praise accomplishments, and provide advice when prompted. Your children are unlikely to outgrow the love, attention, interest, and approval of their parents, so do everything with a nurturing approach in mind.

For parents with shared custody, it can feel like your children may need extra attention and guidance because of your reduced time together. As a result, you may feel more inclined to overcompensate and engage in helicopter-parenting habits with your kids. Maintaining a consistent level of parental involvement is essential to support a healthy environment for children in shared custody situations. Ensure that you and your co-parent consider your children’s needs, both emotionally and physically, and follow a consistent approach to parenting as your children grow and mature.

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