Your son is 18. Legally, he's an adult. Physically, too. He's at the tail end of puberty, so his hormone secretions and brain development are wrapping up. He's also putting the finishing touches on his identity.
But there are many more milestones to go. Eighteen is the start of early adulthood. This is the year he'll seek out intimacy over isolation. He’ll transition from his home and school routines to the ones he'll create for himself.
Here's where he is developmentally, what he's going through, and what he needs from you (whether he thinks so or not).
He's communicating like an adult … possibly with everyone but you. Your son talks with friends, at school and at work, so he may not feel chatty at home.
But when he does, boys at this age often fine-tune their identity by picking arguments that help them verbalize their thoughts on moral issues. He may be able to communicate those ideas clearly, but he still might not be able to explain why he left the front door open all night. Again.
Socially, your 18-year-old son is becoming more confident in who he is and the decisions he makes. He hangs out with his clique but is also starting to understand what it means to care for others. He's likely focused on a more long-term love interest and prefers to spend more time with adults than teens. This makes him more open to adult guidance.
He gets it: The world is opening up before him. Your 18 year old is starting to think in big-picture terms about things like future plans and goals.
And while he's becoming more realistic about his dreams, he's also more certain than ever that he's bulletproof.
Emotionally, he's separating from you as he relies more on himself for what he needs. He’s still dependent on family in some ways, but he's figuring out how to be an adult. That includes a greater capacity for intimacy and empathy.
He's past the growth spurt stage and his physical changes are winding down, so he's not as focused on what's happening in his body. He's likely as tall as he's going to be.
Your 18-year-old son has a better sense of his sexual identity and orientation than he has in years past. This opens the door to intimate sexual relationships focused as much on the emotional as the physical.
At 18, your son feels invincible. This boldness is helpful during the many new experiences he'll have at work and at school. But it can also cloud his idea of right and wrong when it comes to drugs, alcohol, sex, the internet, and the friends he chooses.
When challenges arise, he'll learn a lot about how to cope and about his ability to bounce back. Leaving home, not leaving home, and entering college or the workforce may bring up normal feelings of anxiety or sadness that level out after a few days.
Depression hangs around. Look for angry outbursts, loss of interest in favorite hobbies or sports, lack of energy, weight loss or weight gain, and academic problems.
This is a time of transition for you, too. When you look at your son, you may see both a child and an adult. While you straddle the line between being hands-on and hands-off, it's still important to take an active role in your son's life during this final stage of development.
Keep talking to him about drinking and driving, and the choices and consequences of drugs. Open his eyes to all the ways he can make positive decisions for himself.
Encourage him to stay physically active, especially if he's moved on from high school sports teams.
The pressure to be part of the conversation on social media may cause him to check his phone compulsively. If he's moved out of the house, he may need help figuring out how much gaming and screen time is too much. Talk to him about priorities like studying and sleep. Help guide him on how to balance screen time with sports, activities, and in-person communication.
Most importantly, be present and available when he's around. Create opportunities, like taking a walk, to create spaces where he feels comfortable to share what's going on with him or ask for guidance. Even if you don't agree with his opinions, be respectful of them.
You’re still his parent. And he still needs you to be a parent, not a friend. Model the adult you want him to be.