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The Sink or Swim Philosophy:

Why It Does Not Work

***Trigger Warning: Discussions of Mental Illness, Suicide, Homelessness, and Violence


As most kids do when they are young, I used to fantasize about adult life. I couldn't wait to turn eighteen, go to college, start a career, and become independent like I saw on Friends or Sex in the City. But what you fail to see as a child, while watching those shows, is how long it took Rachel or Carrie to find their footing in life whether it was financially, romantically, or regarding their journey of self-discovery. It took Rachel ten years, several mistakes, and a baby to really grow up. Consequently, I had this romanticized view of adulthood that eventually knocked me on my ass when I went to college. The shit was hard. I turned 18, and a short year later, I lost sight of who I was, what I was doing, and who I wanted to be. Three years later, I'm finally figuring myself out, albeit quicker than I expected, but that is because my parents allowed me to utilize their resources while I trial and error my way through these initial stages of adulthood. I am grateful I was able to regather myself and actually work towards one day becoming that person I fantasized about when I was younger.


Many parents think their job ends when their kids turn eighteen, but I can tell you from personal experience- it's arguable your kids need you then more than ever. As most of you know, adulthood is not easy (and that's an understatement). Turning eighteen is like becoming a baby all over again, as kids are exposed so quickly to so much, they don't know. Legally we are adults, and expected to act like adults, but mentally we're all still kids trying to shoot our shot in the dark hoping something sticks. With that being said, eighteen-year-old kids desperately need their parents. The sink or swim parenting method doesn't work because most kids will sink, and they'll probably sink for a long time. Even the ones who were the "best" and "brightest" growing up will sink. Many parents have this misconception that fiercely cutting off their eighteen-year-old child from most, or all, of their resources will build character and shape kids into capable adults. What will most likely happen is your kid will face many of the consequences of parental isolation. So many young people are exposed to violence, dealing with substance abuse, and unchecked mental illness because we're all just lost and trying to figure our shit out. We don't need to be abandoned and told to figure it out, if nothing else we need guidance.


Adulthood is nothing like you see on TV. TV shows depict late twenty-somethings living in expensive cities as an actor, writer, or waitress, having ample leisure time, and hardly ever going to work. This does not reflect most people's reality. The reality is- adulting is difficult and at times unforgiving, but the transition from adolescence to adulthood is especially hard. Our brains aren't fully developed until we turn twenty-five, but we're expected to make choices that will affect us five to ten years into the future. However, some young people will have little to no guidance during this transition. Making mistakes is inevitable, and mistakes are guaranteed when you are a naive eighteen to twenty-five-year-old. One of the most brutal aspects about being a young adult is those mistakes will COST you. Some of the mistakes we are bound to make at 18, 19, 20 etc. can have consequences way into our twenty's and thirty's, and that is not even the worst of it.

In 2016, over 35,000 homeless youth lived throughout the United States. Of the 35,000 homeless youth, 89% were between the ages of 18-24. In a 2013 survey conducted in New York City, 31% of homeless youth cite being kicked out of home as a reason for homelessness. Additionally, 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24. In 2017, about 5 million young adults age 18 to 25 battled substance abuse, which equates to 14.8% of this population and about 1 in 7 people. Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34. And, Homicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24.

At the expense of the child, some parents hang up their hats and conclude their parenting role because they feel like kids are just supposed to figure life out on their own. With what knowledge? With what tools? With what resources? Not to mention, the stats listed above are higher for LGTB+ kids. Parents are a child's biggest resource and that is especially true when that child turns eighteen. Forcibly kicking your kids out at eighteen is legal abandonment. Without the proper resources, young adults risk experiencing detrimental or life-threatening issues that could have consequences for the rest of their lives. Kicking your kids out at eighteen won't build character. Kicking your kids out at eighteen won't make them better adults. Kicking your kids out directly puts them in harm’s way, and might ultimately tarnish a relationship between parent and child that sucks for everyone involved.


In conclusion, parents- talk to your kids. Call. Visit. Post-high-school kids are going through a lot of stress and need an adult they can trust to help them through a very tough time in their lives. Many people live by the ideology of "don't be friends with your kids." I say, rid your household of the parent/kid hierarchy altogether. Your role as a parent might end once your kids turn eighteen, but your role as a mentor is just beginning (and might take another eighteen years of work ;-)). All things considered, I also want to recognize and emphasize many parents cannot financially support adult children. This post is not meant to shame those parents. Emotional support and guidance costs nothing and can still be enough to let your kids know, you have their back. Let's break generational trauma and be there for our kids!


Links for donation or further education regarding topics discussed in this article:

Safe Horizon:

Mental Health Foundation:

American Addiction Center:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Phone Number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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