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When your child turns 18, he will legally become an adult in the eyes of the law. This marks an important transition in your child's life and presents some parenting challenges that are different that when your child was growing up. Legal adulthood for your child does not mean that your job as a parent is over, but turning 18 does mark a new phase in your relationship with your child.
Legal Status Changes
Your teen will be able to vote, and you should encourage her to register to do so. In most states, your child will also be legally allowed to purchase cigarettes and pornography and may be allowed to enter under-21 clubs. Your teen will also be legally allowed to leave home and live on her own. If your teen runs away, you will likely have no legal recourse.
Responsibility for Actions
Though most states allow teenagers to be tried as adults prior to turning 18, turning 18 confirms added responsibility under the law. No longer will youthful misdeeds be treated as minor infractions. Instead, if your teen breaks the law, your child will be tried as an adult. Your teen must understand that you cannot protect him from prosecution if he chooses not to obey the law.
Preparing for Adulthood
The fact that your child is now an adult in the eyes of the law does not mean that she no longer needs parental guidance. The late teen years are a time when teens must make decisions about who they want to be as adults. Your child will need lots of guidance to choose a college or career. Be prepared to spend extra time with your child helping to prepare her for the transition to living alone.
Moving out of a parent's home is a major transition in the life of a child. Whether your child is going to college, studying abroad or preparing to start his first job with a new apartment, prepare him with the basic skills he needs to live on his own. Help him open a bank account and talk to him about basic money management. Teach him how credit cards and loans work because financial companies often take advantage of the naiveties of teenagers.
Encouraging Proper Behavior
Your child will likely turn 18 before she goes to college or moves out, which means you'll still be in charge of setting and enforcing rules. Respect your child's emerging maturity and give her some extra privileges, but enforce basic rules. Offering privileges for proper behaviour is a way to maintain order in your house. Though your teen may try to use the fact that she is an adult now against you, you can still take away privileges such as car use if she's not respecting house rules.
Becoming an adult is a process that is taking longer and longer, and most parents find that they still play the role of parent well into their child's 20s. Continue to provide emotional support and guidance to your child for the next several years. Child psychologist Richard Weissbourd has argued that a strong and close relationship with a parent can help children navigate the transition into adulthood and full independence.
- "Raise By the Courts"; Irene Sullivan; 2010
- "The Parents We Mean to Be"; Richard Weissbourd; 2010
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