Transitioning Into Adulthood

College/Adult Transitions

Traditionally in the U.S., a child ceases to be a “child” and becomes an “adult” at the age of 18, an age that coincides with graduating from high school. Many young adults decide to continue their education, and go on to college, where they assume at least some level of personal responsibility and independence, at least while away at school. Some students, however, struggle when away from their primary support system—their family. Once at college, even previously high-ranking high school students may realize that they are just one of hundreds of talented students. There are also those young adults who may have drifted through high school, never really gaining a sense of what they wish to do with the rest of their lives. They find themselves faced with a dilemma: work the same low-paying job from high school, seek some sort of vocational training to improve their job prospects, or perhaps attend community-college. Even the fortunate young adults who graduate from college may find a less than welcoming job market, depending on the major chosen, and be forced to return home to their family, and determine how they will begin to pay off a mountain of student loan debt. In addition to school and career choices, the desire to connect with a significant other can cause distress, especially in a time when casual relationships and hook-ups are promoted in popular culture and on dating apps. Signs that your young adult child may be struggling with the transition to adulthood include: anxious or depressed mood, staying up late and sleeping all morning, binge drinking/drug use, poor or failing grades, denying the reality of his or her situation, lack of direction in life, chaotic intimate relationships, and excessive spending.

Helping With College/Adult Transitions

A young adult who is struggling with college or adult transitions may become anxious and/or depressed, leading to a choice to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. If a college student, his or her grades may begin to slip. He or she may think a change of major will “fix” things, and hastily begin a new academic plan, losing credits for classes that no longer apply, increasing the number of semesters needed to graduate, and incurring more student debt. If not attending college, he or she may drift from job to job, and frequently ask to “borrow” money from friends and family.
Yong adults lacking a strong sense of “self” may find themselves cycling through a series of unsatisfying, shallow, and even abusive relationships that erode their self-esteem.

Counseling can help young adults struggling with transitions. Recommended interventions include individual counseling, and if desired, family counseling, incorporating cognitive and behavioral techniques. Techniques may include coping strategies for dealing with anxiety or depression, suggested lifestyle changes, exploration of career options, identifying supportive family and friends, and assertiveness training. Together, these techniques will increase a young adult’s confidence in his or her choices about the future, lead to improved decision-making, and feelings of optimism.

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