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Who is Holding onto Whom?

The young person whose development stalls as they move into their third decade is often understood as responding to parents overinvolvement and failure to hand proper authority to their emerging adult child. Autonomy limiting parenting that reduces independent decision making has been connected to internalising and externalising problems and difficulties in relationships. Parents involvement in the young adult’s life to provide help and support is valuable but this should not become a reliance on the parent to act in matters that their child should be managing. This linear explanation fails to consider the young person’s role in the relationship and a study by Kaniusonyte (2022) explores the consequences for the young person who maintains their dependence on parents.

The Young person who Limits their Independence

The authors describe a circular process whereby ‘emerging adults’ over-reliance on parents’ decision-making’ instead of taking their own decisions becomes problematic as it hinders the development of a sense of self-efficacy and clarity about who ‘I am.’ The development of confidence, competence, and clear sense of who one is as a person, are key to feeling like an adult and experiencing a sense of well-being in life. Overinvolvement by parents or a reluctance to take responsibility by the young person will interfere with the young people’s self-processes which then interfere with the emergence of adulthood.

The Role of Culture

The study compared young people in Lithuania and Italy with the hypothesis that in cultures that view the process of becoming an adult as occurring within the family context as compared to those that emphasise independence, greater dependence on adults may have a less negative effect. The authors suggested that culture may be ‘a potential moderator in the direct and indirect (via self-efficacy and self-concept clarity) associations between dependence on parents and the sense of oneself as an adult and on indices of well-being, respectively.’ The authors were surprised that the groups were not significantly different and concluded that regardless of culture, young people ‘begin to exercise greater autonomy during a period of development that calls for them to do so and how not doing so, regardless of culture, can hinder becoming an adult and harm a sense of well-being by interfering with important self-processes.’

In Conclusion

As practitioners it is essential that we maintain a systemic perspective when working with young people and their families where there is a reluctance by the young adult to step into the world. Neither the parent nor the young person is solely responsible with each person’s actions fuelling the other. Parents need to grant appropriate ‘autonomy for successful individuation to occur but, for flourishing in the transition to occur, young people need to assume appropriate responsibility for solving problems and making decisions.’ A recalibration on both fronts can see everyone freed to move forward into the next life phase.


Kaniusonyte, G., Nelson, L. and Crocetti, E. (2022) Not Letting Go: Self-Processes as Mediators in the Association between Child Dependence on Parents and Well-Being and Adult Status in Emerging Adulthood Family Process 61:392–407

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