Understanding and Supporting Your Emerging Adult
Anxiety is often accompanied by depression. An anxious emerging adult who is isolated, possibly unemployed, or having academic difficulty, is at risk for being depressed. Negative self-talk is a core feature of depression, and common examples include: “Others my age are way past me.” “I won’t like that job; I will be bad at it.” “It’s too late to do what I want to do.” “What do others think about me?” How we think impacts how we feel, and helping EAs shift negative thinking to more positive thinking is key. The place to begin is at home with a positive environment and the modeling of positive self-talk and forecasting a bright future.
For both the anxious and depressed person, there are many avenues for support, though one in particular stands out in its effectiveness–cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT helps anxious and depressed individuals shift negative thoughts and behaviors to more positive ones by helping them understand they are overestimating the likelihood that the future is filled with bad outcomes. CBT also encourages individuals to face their fears and engage their world in a more positive way (also called exposure and behavioral activation). The goal-oriented approach of CBT is apt for an EA population, as it can be concrete, relatively short-term, and allows for incremental successes that build self-esteem and momentum.
In addition to ADHD, anxiety, and depression, struggling EAs may experience a host of other mental health challenges, including substance use, eating disorders, autism spectrum disorder, and the newly classified social pragmatic communication disorder. If you are concerned about any of these, working with a professional can help clarify what’s going on and how to best move forward.
While understanding what is going on for your young adult is a key first step, understanding what is going on for you as a parent is a key second step. The expectations you have influence how you think about your young adult, your communication approach, and the types of support you provide. Having developmentally appropriate expectations is vital. Developmentally appropriate refers not just to the EA’s cognitive and emotional developmental status, but also takes into account the new norms of his or her generation.
Here are some key questions to ask yourself about your expectations. Are they:
● Developmentally appropriate?
● Observant of medical and mental health concerns?
● Realistic (meaning that your EA has been able to achieve them consistently in the past)?
● Communicated both positively and in advance, along with any consequences?
● Comprised of smaller steps the EA is able to consistently achieve that lead to the larger expectation?
● Consistent with your EA’s values, beliefs, and goals?
This is perhaps the most important question. Appropriately set expectations are healthy for both yourself and your relationship with your emerging adult.
Remember that we live in a new normal. In addition to the resources you typically use, you may need to think outside the box and consider ways to support your emerging adult that you never expected. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to communicate positively with your emerging adult. Recognize that no matter how upset, frustrated, angry, or concerned you become, he or she likely feels the same but to a much greater degree. And thus, they need more support and warmth than ever, as they are likely looking to you to be their secure base and guiding light (even if they don’t say it).
Michael Reiter, PhD, is a licensed psychologist in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area who specializes in working with adolescents and young adults. He provides therapy for individuals, families, and groups.