Repeat after me: Your children are wired to build a separate identity. "Most of us just don't notice it until they turn into teenagers," says Missa Murry Eaton, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Penn State Shenango in Sharon. Baby boomers -- who don't think much of aging themselves -- have sidestepped the issue by not letting their kids grow up. Only a generation ago kids in their early 20s were marrying, starting careers, and having children of their own; today parents are increasingly regarding young adults as overgrown kids, helping them out financially, even encouraging them to live at home. "We used to refer to people in their 20s as grown-ups," says Eaton. "Today psychologists call this period 'emerging adulthood.'" Some college kids are even referring to themselves as "adultalescents."
An acquaintance recently scolded me for letting my 16-year-old get her learner's permit, saying, "I'm making my kids wait until they're 18 to drive." (She's not alone in pushing for a delay: Massachusetts is considering raising the age of driving to 17 1/2.) In a heartbeat I went from feeling like a good mom, responsibly guiding my daughter toward an important milestone of independence, to a reckless parent.
Only later did I realize how warped this ever-escalating sense of protectiveness is. At 16 I was driving to an after-school job. My mother was operating tractors at that age. And my grandmother -- with no money, no job, and no English-language skills -- was hopping a boat to America by herself, knowing she'd probably never see her parents again. So how could I doubt my own daughter was capable of parallel parking?
Take-home test: Brainstorm with your husband for some new "rights" your child might be ready for: A later curfew? A checking account? Moving into an off-campus apartment? Then, talk with your teen about new "responsibilities" she could take on to earn those rights, such as doing more chores or making a small contribution toward family expenses.