Jeffery Jensen Arnett (from the Atlantic article below) is pretty sure adolescence ends at 18. But I’m not sure he, nor most experts agree when adulthood begins. For some, it’s a matter of when the brain finishes fully developing (around 26.) For others, it’s when people take on adult tasks in their community (marriage, kids, military.) And for many, it depends on when they participate in their culture's rite of passage (quinceañera, bar/bat mitzvah, graduation.) At 18 we can vote, enlist in the military, and leave school. But we can’t rent a car until 25 and the average age for getting married and having kids is inching closer to 30. So what happens between 18 and 26?
For the most part, teens are transitioning. They are figuring it out. And sometimes they are flailing. If parents and caregivers have been gradually giving kids more and more responsibility and freedom, by the time they graduate high school teens are probably pretty competent. If parents have been protecting them and supporting them and making life easier, they may have no clue and be scared to death. Your goal, according to Jensen Arnett, is to raise kids who can take responsibility for themselves, make independent decisions, and become financially independent.
Turning 18 isn’t a magical switch flooding teens with knowledge and insight. Just like having a child doesn’t endow caregivers with parenting skills. It’s a process. (I’m not even going to get into how much longer it take to be able to afford an adult life these days!)
In therapy, however, turning 18 does flip a legal switch. Clients will be asked to re-sign all those intake forms. And caregivers will go from getting regular updates from the therapist to hearing , “I’m sorry. I can’t talk to you without a signed release form.”
I suggest clients start talking to their therapist about 6 months before that 18th birthday. Decide how much responsibility they want and are ready for and what they may still want to share with caregivers. Then check in every few months and see how it’s going. Clients can always sign a release if they need caregiver involvement and it’s in their best interest, and they can revoke one if they are ready to go it alone or need the safety of a private counseling space. Clients can choose to include caregivers in only certain aspects of therapy, like billing and insurance, rather than the details of each session. Or perhaps, it’s time for that 18 year old to learn how to pay the bill!
For more in-depth thoughts on turning 18, check out these articles: