Graduating from college is an important rite of passage, and these tips will help parents strike a balance between supporting young adults and fostering independence.

By Allison B. Kelly
June 03, 2021
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Many new graduates are navigating an uncertain future during the pandemic and may need a little more help while starting the next chapter in their life. "The likelihood is high that your college grad will be back under your roof at least for a while," predicts Susan Newman, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of Under One Roof Again: All Grown Up and (Re)learning to Live Together Happily.

The Pew Research Center found 52 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were living with one or both of their parents in July 2020—that was higher than the previous peak at the end of the Great Depression when 48 percent of them were living with their parents.

An image of a college graduate.
Credit: Getty Images. Art: Jillian Sellers.

While it may be common these days, that transition can still be difficult. "This idea of moving back home is hard for young people because they've been used to living on their own," explains Jill Tipograph, co-founder of Early Stage Careers, a career coaching service. In addition, the complexities of the pandemic are impacting an already competitive job market, and parents may not feel equipped to offer advice in the current environment. "It's not the job landscape it was when we were looking for jobs," notes Tipograph.

That doesn't mean parents can't offer a helping hand. Here are expert tips to help parents guide their young adults as they transition from college to career.

Create a Plan

A good first step is creating clear boundaries, suggests Newman. Work together to agree to expectations for this next stage of life, including what role parents will play in the job search. Keep in mind, though, young adults likely don't want to be asked, "How's it going with the job hunt?" every night. Alternatively, make a deal with your young adult: We won't bug you, but you agree to share regular updates.

And remember, your young adult may be a little different than you remember. "This is not the same person you sent off to college. His views may differ from yours now; her eating and sleeping habits may appear foreign. Be respectful of the 'new' grownup who has returned," says Newman.

Encourage Structure

Recent graduates have to adapt to a lack of structure, which may be hard after being so used to school-set schedules. Encourage young adults to create a schedule, focusing on smaller action items to reach larger goals. Give young adults the autonomy to design their own routine to feel a sense of control and improve focus and productivity. Routines can help with stress, sleep, keeping up with exercise and healthy eating habits, as well as making the most of one's time.

Nurture Mental Health

Many young adults report feeling stressed and anxious, and those feelings have only increased during the pandemic. Be prepared to offer support with empathy and understanding. During this fragile time, it's important for parents to be available for an open dialogue, to observe, listen, and validate what their kids are feeling. If they are really struggling, encourage them to seek help from a mental health expert.

Reinforce Other Interests

Young adults who are languishing may find fulfillment with outside hobbies and interests. Parents may suggest they volunteer for a cause that matters. In addition to paying it forward, engaging in civic-minded interests is an opportunity to practice skills and network with prospective employers who value altruistic traits. It can also be an impressive addition to a resume and a great conversation starter when employers ask candidates what they've been up to since graduation.

Teach Financial Literacy

New graduates can benefit from forming strong financial habits. Young adults can practice managing money responsibly by tracking expenses and creating a budget that includes savings. Agree together on a timeline of financial support and a plan to gradually phase out help.

Support their Job Search

Of course, parents can also help their kids in their job search. But parenting your young adult through the process is a balancing act. Here are ways parents can provide support.

Patience

Because "it's a job to get a job," be strategic about the process, says Tipograph. Offer to act as an accountability partner for regular check-ins or arrange assistance with a professional. The amount of time it takes to secure a good job depends on many factors, including qualifications, skills, and industry growth. On average, Tipograph sees recent graduates secure "right-fit" jobs within six to seven months of effort, so persevere and be patient.

Assessing career options

Remember, your adult kids are not just trying to find a job, they are launching a career. Urge jobseekers to be open-minded, but to make sure experiences are purposeful, and to look for opportunities that develop transferable skills.

For young adults unsure of career direction, parents can help hone their thinking. Tipograph explains, "It's not saying, 'Go find a job.' It's asking, 'How do your skills, interests, and experiences dovetail?'" Encourage forward thinking to identify "rising tide" industries that are suitable targets.

Enhancing skills

With a narrower focus, young adults can better analyze the skills and certifications employers are seeking. "Take additional courses," says Tipograph. "You don't need to know everything. You need to know enough." Many trainings are available online or in person for free or at low cost.

Networking

Successful networking means developing relationships, learning, and considering what you can offer to others. At least 70 percent of jobs are secured through networking because employers value the recommendations of internal employees. Tipograph suggests targeting Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) who have recently launched their own careers. New graduates can search strategically under their alma mater on LinkedIn for connections in their industry.

Creating a digital footprint

LinkedIn is the "most important job search tool for any individual," Tipograph asserts. She suggests job seekers attach their resume and portfolio and ensure all the components showcase a consistent message—including social media. "Make sure your digital footprint is clean. Google yourself. Recruiters will go online before they even consider you for a job," adds Tipograph.

The Bottom Line

It can be difficult for parents to see their child struggling to find their way, especially if they are motivated and successful in their own careers. But try not to compare your child to yourself or to others. Instead, focus on the present, support them as they transition to life after college, and offer tips that will help in their job search. Most importantly: Be patient—eventually they're going to get there.