How to Parent a Young Adult

We think of “parenting” as something that’s done for children, but of course you don’t simply stop being a parent the moment your children reach adulthood. The quality of a parent-child relationship can make a real difference for emerging adults, at least according to a new study from researchers in Spain.

So what characterizes a good parent-child relationship when the “child” in question is a young adult? The authors of the study identified five hallmarks of what they called “high-quality family relationships” for emerging adults:

  • Parents encouraged autonomy in their children
  • Parents treated their children with warmth
  • Parents were involved in their children’s lives
  • Parents didn’t try to control their children’s actions
  • Parents didn’t try to control their children’s thoughts and feelings

In other words, high-quality parent-child relationships for young adults were ones in which parents were invested in their children’s lives while also nourishing their children’s independence.

With these defining traits of high-quality family relationships in mind, the research surveyed 1,502 emerging adults between the ages of 18 and 29. They found that those who had high-quality parent-child relationships also had better psychological adjustment overall.

There are some reasons interpreting this result may not be as straightforward as it appears at first glance. For example, maybe emerging adults’ levels of psychological adjustment influenced how they reported their parent-child relationships, or maybe levels of psychological adjustment were an effect of the parent-child relationships emerging adults had when they were younger.

But it’s quite possible that the family relationships people have as young adults have real implications for their mental health. If this turned out to be the case, it wouldn’t be so surprising – it makes sense that emerging adults would flourish when they have parents who support them emotionally while encouraging their autonomy.

According to the authors of the study, their findings suggest that “family plays a key role in the psychological well-being of emerging adults.” While parents’ responsibilities change when their children reach adulthood, it seems that at this age parents can still make a difference.