A Graduation Guide for Parents – 5 Tips for Supporting Young Adults

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Graduation is a time of new beginnings.

For some graduates, it’s a time of excitement and, sometimes, worry over the future. 

For some parents, these new beginnings can be fraught with a struggle between holding on and letting go.

Up to graduation, parents have thoughtfully and lovingly guided their children through the milestones of growing up, like falling off a bicycle or their sports team losing a big game.

The issues presented by adult children often prove more complex than those early hurts, as does the relationship between parent and child.

While the bond between child and parent survives the transition, it’s not without a few growing pains on each side.

For young adults leaving home, parents must balance their advice and actions with the knowledge that their carefully crafted humans will have to make their own decisions. The baby bird, so to speak, must leave the nest.  

Traditional research has pointed to the downside of what’s been dubbed “empty nest syndrome” by showing evidence that parents become depressed and listless without the presence of their children (Bougea et al., 2019).

However, these ideas are based on the antiquated notion that parenting ends when the child leaves the nest. Today, that’s not always the case.

More recently, researchers have written that “it is thought that the parental role can change, or adapt to the new situation, but by no means can it be lost” (Thoits, 1983 as cited by Bougea et al., 2019).

Over the past few years, events have caused the nest to be not so empty anyway.

According to Pew Research Center, 52% of young adults aged 18-29 lived with their parents (2020). Of course, some of these younger adults haven’t yet moved out. Still, the number also includes the so-called “boomerang” generation or adults who have moved out of their parents’ home only to return temporarily or permanently (Pew Research Center, 2020).

Regardless, any stage of parenting comes with its challenges, and guiding their child through the maze of adulthood means switching gears and possibly even moving into the backseat as their child takes charge of their life plan. But that doesn’t mean parents can’t offer support along the journey.

Surveyed first-year college students said emotional support outweighed financial support.

Indeed, compared to financial support, low-income students who reported higher emotional support from their families were also 19 percent more likely to achieve a 3.0 grade point average and earn at least 24 credits in their first year (Whitford, 2018). Those same students were 24 percent more likely to complete a sophomore year of college (Whitford, 2018).

Parents must also adapt if graduation doesn’t go as planned. Parents can help their children navigate awkward exchanges with family and friends if graduation is delayed and their teen doesn’t graduate with their classmates. Support can look like offering general explanations to friends and family without blaming the child.

Whatever their plans are, here are some things to remember as you enter the next phase of your relationship with your young adult.

1. Listen. Lending an ear can open avenues of communication with an adult child.
2. Offer advice, not instructions. Forceful opinions and instructions can sometimes have an adverse effect other than the intended guidance.
3. Be an Emotional Support. Your teen/young adult is facing unprecedented change. Be there for it.
4. Create a Plan. Whether graduating high school on time or on a different timeline, understanding what needs to be done and helping form a plan.
5. Stay Vigilant. Being away from home can be tricky, especially if mental health issues exist. Look for warning signs of depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol use.

For more information on transitions and how to handle them, reach out to our counselors here.

    Bougea, A., Despoti, A., & Vasilopoulos, E. (2019). Empty-nest-related psychosocial stress: Conceptual issues, future directions in economic crisis. Psychiatriki30(4), 329-338.
    Pew Research Center. A majority of young adults in the U.S. live with their parents for the first time since the Great Depression. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2012/03/15/who-are-the-boomerang-kids/#:~:text=The%20Pew%20Research%20survey%20found,own%20because%20of%20economic%20conditions.
    Thoits P. (1983) Multiple Identities and Psychological Well-Being: A Reformulation and Test of the Social Isolation Hypothesis. Am Sociol Rev 1983, 48:174–187, doi: 10.2307/2095103
    Whitford, Emma. (2018) Parental Support Key to Student Success. Inside Higher Ed https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/07/11/emotional-support-families-makes-difference-low-income-students

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