Your Son at 18 and Beyond: Milestones

Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on March 06, 2021

Your son is 18. Legally, they are an adult. Physically, too. They are at the tail end of puberty, so their hormone secretions are wrapping up. They are also putting the finishing touches on their identity. And while their brain may still be developing in some ways, it's also maturing.

But there are many more milestones to go. Eighteen is the start of early adulthood. This is the year they'll seek out intimacy over isolation. They’ll transition from their home and school routines to the ones they'll create for themselves.

Here's where they are developmental what they are going through, and what they need from you (whether they think so or not).


They are communicating like an adult … possibly with everyone but you. Your son talks with friends, at school and at work, so they may not feel chatty at home.

But when they do, boys at this age often fine-tune their identity by picking arguments that help them verbalize their thoughts on moral issues. They may be able to communicate those ideas clearly, but they still might not be able to explain why they left the front door open all night. Again.


Socially, your 18-year-old son is becoming more confident in who they are and the decisions they make. They hang out with their clique but is also starting to understand what it means to care for others. They are likely focused on a more long-term love interest and prefers to spend more time with adults than teens. This makes them more open to adult guidance.

They get it: The world is opening up before them. Your 18 year old is starting to think in big-picture terms about things like future plans and goals.

And while they are becoming more realistic about their dreams, they are also more certain than ever that they are bulletproof.

Emotionally, they are separating from you as they rely more on themselves for what they need. They are still dependent on family in some ways, but are figuring out how to be an adult. That includes a greater capacity for intimacy and empathy.

They are past the growth spurt stage and their physical changes are winding down, so they are not as focused on what's happening in their body. They are likely as tall as they are going to be.

Your 18-year-old son has a better sense of their sexual identity and orientation than they have 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 they'll have at work and at school. But it can also cloud their idea of right and wrong when it comes to drugs, alcohol, sex, the internet, and the friends they choose.

When challenges arise, they'll learn a lot about how to cope and about their 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 them about drinking and driving, and the choices and consequences of drugs. Open their eyes to all the ways they can make positive decisions for themselves.

Encourage them to stay physically active, especially if they have moved on from high school sports teams.

The pressure to be part of the conversation on social media may cause them to check their phone compulsively. If they've moved out of the house, they may need help figuring out how much gaming and screen time is too much. Talk to them about priorities like studying and sleep. Help guide them on how to balance screen time with sports, activities, and in-person communication.

Most importantly, be present and available when they are around. Create opportunities, like taking a walk, to create spaces where they feel comfortable to share what's going on with them or ask for guidance. Even if you don't agree with their opinions, be respectful of them.

You’re still their parent. And they still need you to be a parent, not a friend. Model the adult you want them to be.

Show Sources


Michigan State University Extension: "18-19-year-olds: Ages and Stages of Youth Development."

KidsHealth: "Communication and Your 13-18 year old."

Children's Health: "Wellness by Age: 17-18 years."

Hunter College: The City University of New York "Late Adolescence (18-21 years old)."

Advocates for Youth: "Growth and Development, Ages 18 and Over — What Parents Need to Know."

Mayo Clinic: "College Depression: What Parents Need to Know."

Center on Media and Child Health: "Media Addiction Tip Sheet: Ages 14-18."

Young Men's Health, the Division of Young Adult Medicine at Boston Children's Hospital: "Communicating Effectively with your Son."

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