How to Help Your Kid “Adult” After High School


Healthy Living - May 17, 2016
Mark Allen, MD - Acadia Hospital

Graduating from high school is a time of excitement and adventure for many young people, but also a time filled with uncertainty. In addition, the end of high school means transitions to college, into jobs, into the military, or out of the foster care system. All of these situations bring up things to think about regarding general well-being, health concerns and diagnoses, and medications.  Whatever this next stage in life brings, it’s important to be in charge of your own health.

In order to live independently and survive in the “real” world, teens will need a range of life skills:
  • Good sleep habits
  • Healthy nutrition and exercise
  • Handling increased social freedom and pressures: drugs and alcohol, dating and sex
  • Running errands (grocery, gasoline) and doing chores (laundry, cooking, and cleaning)
  • Money management (using ATM’s, credit and debit cards, checkbook, online banking)
  • Navigating public transportation and knowing how to get around new areas
If any of these topics weren’t discussed over the past 18 years, then the time is now!
One skill that is extremely important to instill is how to handle medical health.

What can parents/guardians do to help?
  • ​​Make sure that your teen has medical coverage after high school and teach your teen how to access and use it. Many teens and young adults are covered under their parents’ health insurance through age 25.
  • Become familiar with the local or campus health center and counseling center (hours of operation, services offered, fees, location) and what to do if the Center is closed (nights and weekends). Make sure your teen has an insurance card and knows how to use it.
  • Does your child have a mental health diagnosis, such as ADHD, depression, or an eating disorder? Be sure to ask the health center staff what kind of medical information they will need related to your teen, and how to set up prescription refills if needed.
  • Once your teen turns 18, you’ll no longer have legal access to his academic or health records.  After he moves on from high school to college or work, have frequent, one-on-one conversations with your teen as a means of staying in touch.
  • Encourage independence in healthcare management. Gradually phase in responsibility for: 
    • Scheduling, canceling, and keeping medical appointments
    • Tracking need for and ordering medication refills
    • Storing and keeping medications safely
    • Knowing and talking about their health history
    • Knowing what to do in an emergency situation
Specific tips for parents/guardians of college-bound young adults:
  • Develop realistic expectations and plans about academic workload
  • Have conversations about peer pressure, good decisions, and consequences.  Alcohol/drugs can make someone vulnerable to significant health risks (accidents, fights, date rape/sexual assault).
  • Once your teen is settled into a new routine, keep in close contact and try to get frequent readings about how he is doing academically and socially. This is especially important during the first month or so while teens are still trying to settle in and may not have made friends yet.
Is your teen going straight to work rather than college?
  • Even though he may be remaining at home for a time, his life will change dramatically from when he was in the structured environment of high school, having daily contact with friends.
  • Be sure to give him extra space as a young adult, but realize that he may need help navigating adult responsibilities like bill paying, taking on his own health care, etc.
  • Allow him to make mistakes and learn from them…as long as they are not causing bodily harm.
  • He may be missing his high school life and friends who have moved on.  Encourage him to keep up his friendships and to form new ones through work or other interesting activities.
  • It’s normal for young people starting at college or moving to a new place to have days when they feel sad, homesick, or a bit lost. If these feelings persist or interfere with their ability to work, they should seek help and know that it is normal to do so.
Warning Signs for Depression or Mental Health Concerns 
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Unexpected weeping or excessive moodiness
  • Eating habits that result in noticeable weight loss or gain
  • Expressions of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Paranoia and excessive secrecy
  • Self-mutilation, or mention of hurting himself or herself
  • Obsessive body-image concerns
  • Excessive isolation
  • Abandonment of friends, social groups, and favorite pastimes
  • Unexpected and dramatic decline in academic performance
  • Drinking excessively or using other drugs to feel better or help with sleep
Take-Home Points:
  • Parenthood doesn’t end when your child turns 18. By offering emotional support, you can make the transition from high school to the next life stage a smooth one.
  • Graduating from high school is a wonderful milestone. Developing independent life skills and learning to manage your mental health challenges will help ensure a successful transition.
  • Teens, most importantly, don’t forget about your family…they want to hear how you are doing!