Young adults may need additional support while adhering to stay-at-home orders, says K-State youth development specialist Elaine Johannes.
Stuck at home? Crisis may help young adults emerge stronger
Parents can help adult children feel at ease even during tough times
April 15, 2020
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State University youth development specialist Elaine Johannes says the current outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, has brought on a new dynamic as young adults come back home to study and shelter with their family.
Many of those young adults would normally be exploring their independence at college or even high school, Johannes said, but instead are adjusting to an environment in which they might feel trapped by local stay-at-home orders.
“What is probably most difficult for that emerging adult – which is what we would call somebody between the ages of 19 and 25 -- who is now back in their home is feeling instable,” said Johannes, who is also an associate professor in K-State’s College of Health and Human Sciences.
“There are certain tasks that the emerging adult thought they would be working on,” she said. “They were involved with finding what their identity is…what their career path is and what their passions are. They may be feeling and have been feeling like they’re in between being that high school student or moving on to a career path.”
Listen to Elaine Johannes on the radio program, Sound Living
It can feel like an emotional gut-punch when suddenly their growth is stunted by recommendations to stay away from crowds of friends and people who are helping them in their future plans, Johannes said.
But, she adds, “what’s interesting about this particular part of the lifespan is that emerging adults are usually optimists. They consider that part of their DNA and they believe that there are possibilities galore.”
Johannes said that same group tends to be loyal, compassionate, thoughtful and responsible.
“They consider ‘we,’ over ‘me,’” she said. “They look at how we all function together and they care about their community. So maybe that younger group can help us persist and get through this and they may actually be stronger after all this is over. Maybe this is the generation we can look at to see how we can re-connect socially and how we can move beyond what is happening now.”
Another group, often called millennials (who are typically between ages 24 to 39), may have a different reaction to the current pandemic. Johannes said this is the generation that has lived through numerous high school shooting massacres, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2008 economic recession and the United States’ war in Iraq.
“The millennials have been hit time after time, and no wonder they are kind of focused on themselves,” she said. “That’s reasonable given everything that has happened during their lifetime.”
Parents who understand those dynamics may be better able to help adult children stay balanced through this crisis, Johannes said
She cited information from the Child Mind Institute, a non-profit organization that provides support for children and families struggling with mental health and learning disorders, as guidance for families while sheltered in their homes.
“The first thing is that we need to emphasize that social distancing is not a penalty or a disciplinary action,” Johannes said. “It’s for health. (Young adults) understand health and they understand the need to care for others. So if parents emphasize that social distancing is for health and for caring for friends and other people in the household, their children may be more likely to do it.”
Other ideas for parents helping young adults adjust to being back at home include:
- Let them know you understand the difficulties and you’re in it together. For kids still in high school, recognize their disappointment in losing such treasured memories as prom, graduation, theatre productions and sports events.
- Support their remote work, whether it be for classes or a job. Set up a spot in the home that is for them only.
- Maintain a routine. Everyone in the house should schedule time to work, time for entertainment and time to be physically active.
- Practice mindfulness, or “slowing down the worry,” Johannes said. “Learn to value the immediate moment and the feeling around it.”
“We can’t take away the anger or the frustration and disappointment that all of us feel,” she said. “But we can have those who are younger start to understand why that feeling happens and start to own it.”
Johannes said she hopes that families might “take the longer view that being closer-knit in our family and communities may actually strengthen us in the longer term.”
“Then, we can focus on how we support the younger people as they look to us to learn, how we handle stress, how we handle commitment to the community, to our households, and to ourselves,” she said. “I think the lesson is that we can come out stronger, more positive, as we get through this phase and we learn from it.”