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Relationships, trust, and privacy: what parents of young adults need to know

Life after high school is a time of great change for many young adults
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Your kid will have many relationships throughout their lifetime, some of which will be starting now, when they are young adults. As their parent, you may still play a minor role in these relationships; spending time with significant others, getting to know their close friends, meeting their roommates, and watching them go through breakups or changing friendships. Life after high school is a time of great change for many young adults; they may start redefining relationships from when they were younger and start navigating new friendships and romantic relationships. They may want to talk to you about it. When they do, that’s the time to listen carefully and offer some advice.

Build trust—and emphasize its importance by listening

Trust is the ability to confide and believe in one’s own abilities and those of others.

Trust is the basis of every functional relationship, including the one you have with your child. Your young adult’s ability to trust begins at home. Be ready to listen to your young adult with an open mind. By providing a supportive and nurturing environment, you are showing them what a trusting relationship looks like and helping them form the foundation on which their future relationships will be built. At times of struggle, they may just need to be heard and feel validated in their emotions. This is especially important at a time when your kid is probably feeling vulnerable navigating adult life. As your young adult gets older and has more experiences with relationships—both romantic and platonic—they are learning more about the role that this trust plays in their relationships and finding ways to apply it to their social interactions and friendships. “The best way to ensure that your young adult will return to you over and over again when they have challenges is if you demonstrate you can be their best listener,” education consultant Jennifer Miller says. Relationships will come and go, but it’s your job to show your young adult that you will always be there if they need someone to talk to.

Respect their privacy

Let them reveal what they want to about their relationships, and don’t press them if they don’t tell you everything.

“Tread carefully here and wait for opportunities to see if your child is asking for advice or not,” educational psychologist Dr. Michele Borba says. Don’t be too quick to barge in and give them unsolicited advice—it may backfire and they won’t want to tell you anything or worse, they’ll feel misunderstood. Wait for their cues. “You are building trust,” Miller says. “If they shut you out, don’t press too hard. Wait until they come to you. They need to trust that you won’t intrude or try to control their lives, but you’re interested and you’ll always be there.” If they are dating someone who you don’t particularly like or approve of, it may be best to back off. Unless their partner is causing your child harm, it’s not really your place to step in. This is an important time for self-exploration and healthy risk-taking, Miller says. As for friends, you can show that you are invested in important people in your kid’s life without pushing too much. “Offer fun opportunities to connect and engage with their friends,” Miller says. “But if they don’t take you up on it, try not to take it personally. Keep the door open, but don’t force it.” During this time, your young adult is establishing an independent identity and this may require some privacy. Parents don’t need to know all the details of their kid’s relationships!

Share your experiences

You may have done some of this already while your kid was growing up, but now that they are graduated from high school and likely out of the house, it’s a good opportunity to open your personal stories up for conversation.

“Start from a place of mutual respect and understanding,” author and parenting expert Ana Homayoun says. No longer is your kid really a “kid” and it may be more comfortable to share some of the more intimate details about your relationships with them. Share with them some of your first love stories, the good and the bad. Tell them what your relationships looked like when you were in college or when you were really busy working your first real job. Talk about how you fell in love. What made you love the person? What qualities did you like? How did they make you feel? What did you do to show your partner you respected and trusted them? Did you feel they gave you that in return? For breakups, talk about the challenges and learning experiences. How did an ex end it in a hurtful way? What could have been done better? Was there a relationship that ended really amicably? Why did that happen and what did you do specifically to make it so? These are all questions young people may have a hard time answering for themselves because they just haven’t had the years of experience with heartbreak and love yet. However, be careful not to impose your experiences on your kid. Hearing wisdom from your experiences can be their start in navigating love and friendship, but they ultimately will form their own unique relationships.

Talk to them about abuse signs

There are some extreme cases where you may have to step in as a parent. If you know that your child is in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, you should talk to them about it.

This can be a very sensitive and challenging topic to approach, and some young adults may be resistant to hear what you have to say. Listen to what they have to say and give support, and avoid accusatory language. It is not their fault. Talk about the behaviors you don’t like, not the person. Borba says parents can call out one specific behavior or trait instead of talking about the person as a whole. For example, you could say “you seem to get a lot of constant texts and calls from your partner,” instead of “your partner is controlling and possessive.” Remember that there can still be love in an unhealthy relationship and you should respect your child’s feelings. Proactively talking about consent, unhealthy relationships, and the warning signs of dating abuse are also extremely important. Dating abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual. Some of these signs include extreme jealously or possessiveness, unexplained marks or bruises, excessive texting and calling, and withdrawal from friends and family. Young adults should have some reference of these signs and also know where to go from more resources and support. Parents and young adults can contact for phone/chat/texting if any issues or questions arise.