How do you become an adult? By making the important life decisions that determine how you’re going to live.
“The central developmental task of adolescents and emerging adults is to discover who they are,” says Dr. Michael Losoff, a staff psychologist at Yellowbrick. “A self-defining decision is one that establishes your own identity and leads to independence from parents and family.”
Examples of self-defining life decisions include:
It’s natural for parents to want be involved in such life decisions, especially when they’re concerned about a son or daughter’s mental health. It can be scary as a parent to see your son struggle with depression and not have the initiative to apply for a summer job or to watch your daughter experience anxiety about what to do after college. And it can be even scarier when your son or daughter wants to make a big life decision — like bum around Europe for a year or switch from pre-med to pottery — that you think doesn’t make sense.
But over-managing your son or daughter’s life can deprive them of the opportunity to grow.
That’s why experts say the key is knowing how—and when—to help.
“In the same way we can’t get our balance on a bicycle until our mom or dad lets go of the bike, we can’t learn to identify our own values and desires unless we have genuine opportunities to make our own decisions,” says Yellowbrick psychologist Dr. David Daskovsky. “Just as it’s a parent’s job to judge when it’s safe to let go of the bike, it’s really helpful for parents to find places where their child can exercise their autonomous decision-making abilities.”
Parents can provide valuable information, such as what they can afford to pay for college or how much they’re willing to help with moving expenses. But as long as no one’s safety is at risk, they also need to accept their child’s choice, even if they don’t agree.
“At some point, parents need to step back,” Losoff says. “You might have worries, but your job is to be there to support your child, whatever they choose.”
Losoff points out, though, that parents of young adults who are dealing with mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and addiction may need to step in more than parents of young adults who are more on track developmentally.
“When that is the case, parents might become more active in expressing concern and directing the emerging adult toward professional services, or in more serious situations, seeking out services on behalf of both their child and themselves. When that is not the case, parents can feel more comfortable allowing their child to find his or her own way,” he says.
Yellowbrick psychologists offer this advice to parents whose children are facing these important life decisions:
“Making these decisions involves knowing our own mind and also taking into account the opinions and feelings of others,” Daskovsky says. Parents should feel free to share their thoughts and opinions, without expecting to get the final say.
“The decision itself is less important than the process of deciding and carrying it out,” Losoff says. Working through that process is what teaches young adults how to face all the other life decisions to come.
Yellowbrick collaborates with adolescents and emerging adults, ages 16-30's, their families and participating professionals toward the development and implementation of a strategic “Life Plan.” An integrative, multi-specialty consultation clarifies strengths, limitations, and risks, and defines motivations, goals and choices.
A mental health condition that’s characterized by intense shifts in mood including both manic and depressive episodes.
People living with Major Depressive Disorder, or MDD, experience episodes of depression and sadness that are debilitating to daily life.
Those living with anxiety disorders experience high levels of anxiety and stress that interfere negatively with daily life.
A mental health issue in which a person’s cognitive function is impaired, resulting in symptoms like experiencing challenges with conducting speech, reading and writing, and behavior.
Mental health disorders that negatively affect a person’s behaviors, thought patterns, and function. People diagnosed with these disorders experience challenges with managing relationships and understanding various situations.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that people can develop as a result of experiencing traumatic situations, characterized by symptoms including flashbacks, avoidance behaviors, and more.
A mental health condition that is characterized by specific symptoms of forgetfulness and lack of concentration, which makes it challenging to complete necessary tasks.
Mental health conditions that interfere with a person’s eating habits, thought patterns, and behaviors in negative ways.
A mental health disorder diagnosable with the DSM-5 that is characterized by both obsessions and compulsive behaviors.