How to Help Your 18 to 24-Year-Old Navigate Adulthood

Updated May 6, 2023

Dear Emerging-Adult Children:

Are you a parent of an emerging adult, aged 18 to 24? If so, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Many parents find themselves in the same boat, trying to find the best way to parent their adult children during this critical transition period in their lives.

To help guide your parenting journey, I’ve put together six thoughts that can provide insight into how you can be a supportive and nurturing presence for your emerging-adult child. From offering advice to providing emotional support during stressful times – these six points will help you navigate the often tumultuous waters of raising an adult child.

The Conversation

I called my husband Todd on my way in to work, telling him I had just made breakfast for our son who spontaneously came home from college for 24 hours. Our conversation went something like this,

 “Why are you making him breakfast? He’s twenty-two years old.”

I defended myself, “Because I want him to know I care about him and it made him my captive audience for a few minutes. We taught him to make his own breakfast when he was young, so he could learn independence. I made it now that he’s older, to demonstrate my affection.” 

I am not totally ready to put the rest of our conversation on the internet;      it was a classic parenting conversation.

When do we let go? When do we step in? How do we serve them without enabling them?  

Parenting in general is more art than science, but six of the children Todd and I are parenting are between the ages of seventeen and twenty-three, so we are regularly discussing or debating the best practices and principles of parenting these emerging adults.

Here are the hills I want to die on:

  1. While I want my adult children to flourish in my absence, I also want them to understand the value of touching base. It doesn’t need to be long, or even about important topics, but the little insignificant (and regular) check-ins pave the way for when the more crucial conversations are needed.
  1. They need to hear me confess my missteps and confusion– in real time. Being an adult is complicated and there are plenty of stories where I fake-it-until-I-make it.  That will be their default mode for a season, as they learn how to pay taxes, get along with weird neighbors, find a church community, negotiate a raise at work, find a mate… there are no manuals on any of that, so giving them an authentic example of someone who does the      best they can, and asks for help is important.
  1. I was once your CEO, but today I am, at best, your consultant. While a child, I chose everything from your bedtime to your elementary school. But today, you can choose your major, your screen time, your boyfriend… We all need to want to wake up and live the life we are in- so make the choices you are comfortable with. I am happy to be a sounding board, and even an influence, but that’s where it ends- you do you.
  1. I don’t need you to think/work/play/church/love/drink/spend like I do for us to be in relationship. I might draw boundaries about what happens in my house or with my money, but the relationship- our connection- is never at risk.
  1. My timeline of events won’t be yours. If I waited to go back to school, or got married early, or had kids at a particular time, that doesn’t mean you need to follow that formula. My advice will naturally come from the lessons I learned within my own experiences, but mostly hear me say- don’t settle, live as God leads you, not just as I have modeled.
  1. Be kind to your siblings.  This is a familiar refrain from me, but I will be singing it to you for the rest of your life. These people get you. They understand how weird and unfair your parents were, they laugh at your jokes and typically like your sports teams and your food preferences. They will be your longest earthly relationships, so protect those friendships as much as you can.

This list isn’t exhaustive, it’s a glimpse into my mind on this day- as your lives change and our world does, too.  I will have thoughts about politics, global pandemics, public schooling, theological topics, and much more.

Bottom line: protect your love of God and family. Seek first His kingdom and all these things will be added unto you.  


About Author

Beth Guckenberger is the Co-Executive Director of Back2Back Ministries and founder of the Reckless Faith Movement. Beth and Todd have a large family they’ve formed through biological, foster, and adoptive children. She is an author and speaker, sharing her experience as a mother, a missionary, and a student of God’s Word.