Eighteen-Years-Old – Young Adult or Late Adolescent?


Young teen girlEighteen-year-olds like to be considered a young adults, but it’s more accurate to call them a late adolescent. While their physical growth has slowed, socially and emotionally they are first moving much further out of their protected environment and learning to function on their own in college and/or work.

Teachers and employers now expect them to be responsible. Parents have by no means, however, lost their principal roles as the foundations of security, love, and guidance as these late teens transition to this new level of independence.

Physical Changes

While for most growth has tapered off, it’s not uncommon for girls and boys to have a late growth spurt that surprises everyone. The six foot basketball player in high school finds himself at 6’4” in his sophomore year of college. This may build unexpected confidence in some ways but an awkward feeling as well.

Having an adult body does not give you adult experiences, they are just beginning. So parental guidance is still warranted as needed in a collaborative way where parents and older teens learn together.

Social and Emotional Changes

Eighteen-year-olds may be looking for some committed relationships though this varies considerably. Many have dated for several years, but others are just beginning to step out from group socialization to one on one personal commitments with a partner.

They may want to talk over their new relationships with a parent but may equally want to learn on their own. It’s important for the teen to feel their parents respect and trust them in making decisions, turning to you when they need nonjudgmental guidance.

It’s valuable to give them a sense of looking for their own voice and try out their own judgments. Their current decisions about school and work will affect them in years to come. Realistic evaluations of their abilities and future learning opportunities should be on center stage.

Social awkwardness often thwarts new learning opportunities. Given this possibility, they need to be encouraged to look for new challenges out of their comfort zone. They should be supporte and urged to find new discoveries about what they have not learned before and are capable of enjoying.

Intellectual Development

Older teens learn rapidly and develop passions about new learnings which should be encouraged. It is timely to be organizing these learning experiences on their own using resources at their high school and college.

Listen with great attentiveness to their new ideas, foreclosing no opportunities at this time. It’s a time to experience many avenues of learning before choosing a definite path. A few late teens already have their career path chosen that has been developing for a long time, but most flounder and experiment discovering there are subjects that they have never studied and people they have never learned from.

As they become increasing independent socially, they can be independent intellectually as well especially when they feel faith and respect from their parents with regard to their new endeavors.

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst with an upcoming book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior, to be released October 13, 2015.

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Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. is a psychoanalyst and author who does psychotherapy with infants and parents, children, adolescents, and adults. Dr. Hollman’s new book: Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Familius.com. She writes about infant, child and adolescent development, mental health, Parental Intelligence, and a broad range of parenting topics.


  1. What a great perspective. I didn’t ‘get’ life until I was 25, the idea that a child is supposed to automatically be grown up by 18 is stressful and outdated. Thank you


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