‘To be nobody-but-yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you somebody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.’
The transition from child to young adult can be a hard and heightened time for you as a parent. The battle young adults wage to be ‘nobody-but-themselves’ can sometimes feel acutely personal against you. It’s difficult not to be caught in the crossfire.
It can be a challenge to remember that what your young person is trying to do is find their own identity. Part of the developmental task of this life stage is to separate – emotionally and psychologically – from the parents. How they go about that process is as unique as the young person. Some parents may find this separation process a natural and gradual move to maturity – while other young people may need to push hard at old boundaries in order to forge their own path. How you manage this separation process – and how you cope with that pushing – can have an impact on a young person’s self-esteem, so it’s vital to tread carefully while dodging any potential bullets.
The Cambridge English Dictionary defines self-esteem as ‘belief and confidence in your own ability and value’. In young adults, self-esteem can be incredibly fragile. They may not really know who they truly are yet. They may not have belief in their abilities, and they may lack confidence in how they look and how their body has changed. They may not yet know what it feels like to value themselves. They’re battling to be themselves but they may be casting around, seeking influences and inspiration from outside of themselves as well as grappling with changes going on within. It is indeed one of the ‘hardest battles which any human being can fight’.
Here we offer some tips for parents to support young adults’ self-esteem:
- Don’t fight back. Have compassion for their battle. Don’t join in with it. Allow them to push against you – within reason – and support them to take personal responsibility for their lives.
- Understand that they are trying to find their own identity. Their job is not to reflect back your thoughts and wishes but to become fully fledged individuals in their own right. Help them with that growth and developmental process by allowing this to happen – no matter how much it hurts to lose the adoring little child you once had.
- Don’t say ‘back in my day’. Young adults don’t care and are just not interested in how things were for you. They don’t want to be compared to you or hear how well you did at hockey, algebra, or securing your first job.
- Validate their frame of reference. Try to see the world as they do. Don’t impose your world view or values on them. They’re trying to make sense of things in their own way and it’s right that they should bring a fresh or original perspective.
- Don’t point things out – especially about their appearance. Don’t say they should eat, sleep, wash more/less. Leave it to the young person to work these things out for themselves eventually.
- Don’t give empty compliments. Don’t just say, for example: ‘Oh, you’re wonderful darling, don’t worry about that.’ They won’t believe you – or they’ll think you’re covering up and they do really have something to worry about. Praise them for the effort they put in, not their achievements – otherwise they might feel you only love them on condition that they accomplish something meaningful in your eyes.
- Be careful about throwaway comments. While your young adult may look as though they don’t need you or like you, they care deeply about what people say. They can take things to heart and hold onto them. That can be comments from anyone with influence in their life, which includes teachers, peers and parents. Your critique can stick, and that can be detrimental to their self-esteem.
- Ensure you have your own support network. It can help to have friends and family who have parented young adults themselves, or who have been through this stage too. Gaining tips from others, and knowing you’re not alone, can help you manage the challenges ahead.
If you could benefit from therapeutic support through this time of transition in your family then get in touch.
We have therapy sessions available seven days a week at our centres in Clapham and Tooting, and we’re continuing to offer online and phone sessions too. Call 020 8673 4545 or email firstname.lastname@example.org