The post-high school years have a lot of changes in store for parents and teens. One of the biggest is when they move out of your home. Whether they’re going off to college or moving to a new town for work, the day they move out is a monumental one. Assuming you’ve lived with your teen the majority of their life, it’s a big adjustment for both of you. So as your teenager’s last day at home approaches, it’s normal to wonder if you’ll ever hear from them again. But don’t worry; chances are good that you will!
Parent Toolkit informally surveyed 11 members of Harvard University’s Making Caring Common Youth Advisory Board, some who are also youth advisors to Parent Toolkit. We asked how often they plan to communicate with their parents after they move out. All of the respondents are either current juniors or seniors in high school and the average response was a couple of times per week, with some saying more and some saying less. Those with siblings already living outside of the home planned to maintain the relationship their siblings had already modeled with their parents.
Jasman, a junior from Hightstown, New Jersey responds, “I think I’ll talk to them at least a couple of times a week. My brother is in college and he talks to them every other day or more often sometimes, and this is his fourth year in college, so I think I’ll still talk to my parents pretty often. He texts them every day so they stay updated. I’ll probably have a similar relationship with my parents when I move out.”
That’s similar for one of our parent advisors, Susanne Smoller. A social worker and mother of two from Long Island, New York, Smoller says her 22-year-old daughter calls two to three times a day from college. Those calls come mostly when her daughter walks to or from class. Mostly, Smoller admits, when her daughter is bored. During the first year away, she would text when going out or arriving home.
“It would be 2am and I’d think ‘oh my god,’” Smoller tells Parent Toolkit. “I was just hoping that they’re responsible and had a designated driver.”
With her daughter in a different state, Smoller welcomes the contact as it allows her to be supportive of her daughter despite the distance. On a recent call, her daughter talked about how she got a flat tire on the highway and had to get it fixed and pay for it herself. Smoller says it was a great way to see that her daughter is a capable adult who can handle herself. And when times are not going as well, Smoller is there to offer words of encouragement.
Similarly, the Youth Advisory Board’s open-ended responses added that they also hoped to be able to reach out to their parents for support.
“I would probably contact my parents three to four times a week. My parents always keep me accountable, and if I need an extra boost of motivation, I can come to them,” responds Ricky, a junior in Suwanee, Georgia.
But this time of life is difficult for parents and young (or emerging) adults as well. It’s a time when the relationship between parent and child has to change. As a parent, you may want to consider what level of communication and involvement is best for your family.
In her best-selling book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare your Kid for Success, Julie Lythcott-Haims devotes the first two parts outlining ways in which parents these days are overinvolved, at the cost of their children’s abilities to be independent thinkers and adults. In one chapter, “Being There for Them,” Lythcott-Haims provides example after example of parents who are too involved in their children’s lives. For example, parents of military cadets calling the colonel when their son didn’t make the cut for airborne school, and parents emailing teachers and even college professors to disagree with a grade or punishment their student received.
A clinical psychologist and instructor, Dr. Bobbi Wegner sees a lot of adult parents and students who struggle with the changing relationship between parents and their kids during the “emerging adulthood” transition. She recommends parents allow their kids room to be independent, and if constant communication is something that a parent wants, to identify the reason behind that. Is it for you, or your teen?
“Kids are actually managing a lot of the parents’ anxiety in some way,” Wegner says. “The kids are tuned into the fact that talking to the child, or having their parent call them, provides relief to the parent.”
Wegner mentions a student who calls her mother multiple times a day, even if she has nothing to talk about, just to keep her mom from getting stressed out. This is not an example of a student actively wanting to engage with their family, but rather going for the path of least resistance. Another student, a PhD candidate, must go home for dinner once or twice a week to avoid an argument with her family.
Dr. Shari Sevier, Licensed Professional Counselor and Director of Advocacy at the Missouri School Counselor Association, believes parents need to learn to let go. She went by the “no news is good news” mantra when her kids where in college. Her advice is to not fret over the “right” amount of time to communicate. She says that at the very least, teens will reach out when they need something, or when something has gone wrong.
“This type of communication is a good time to ask, ‘So what are you going to do about that?’” Sevier says. “In other words, don’t rush to rescue.”
Sevier reminds that your young adult is just that – an adult. There’s no better time for them to learn to stand on their own two feet than when they are out in the world on their own.
So when it comes to how often you “should” talk with your teen, the answer really relies on your relationship with your kid, and what feels healthy and comfortable for you both. Dr. Wegner says there is no right or wrong way to handle the amount of communication you have, but it is a part of negotiating your new relationship with your emerging adult. She recommends parents sit down and have a conversation about the parameters of your new relationship, including how often you plan to talk. Then, be flexible. Your emerging adult is navigating a whole new world and may need you more or less at times. That’s normal, and part of your changing relationship.