navigating the big issues in young adulthood

Young adulthood is an exciting period of learning, growth and opportunities. During this period many young adults express their hopes for the future, pursue their goals and develop new relationships.

At the same time, their decisions and choices can be impacted by the big issues in society, such as cost of living and climate change. Being aware of how these issues can impact decision making and wellbeing is an important part of supporting your young person.

Big issues and wellbeing

It’s healthy for young adults to be aware of and talk about these big issues. Most of the time, caring deeply about current issues doesn't impact their wellbeing. In fact, engaging with what’s going on around them can be an important part of developing a healthy sense of identity.

At other times, the weight of societal issues can have a real impact on young adults’ sense of wellbeing and their ability to reach their personal goals. They might feel:

  • overwhelmed by 24/7 exposure to increasingly global and graphic news

  • frustrated, angry or upset that current issues are making it more challenging to reach their goals – like the rising cost of living making it difficult to move out of home, or the need for more qualifications making it harder to get a job

  • uncertain about how the world will look in the future – which can impact decisions like whether to start a family or buy a home.

  • powerless to create change in the face of complex issues

 

You might notice your young person:

  • avoiding making decisions or taking steps towards goals because of their worries

  • stressed about family or friends not sharing the same position on big issues

  • being increasingly preoccupied with current issues – this might look like constantly consuming related online content (also called ‘doomscrolling’) or directing conversation towards current issues more than their peers

  • withdrawing from other interests and focusing only on current issues

How to support your young person

Research shows that young adults thrive when they are supported by their parents, and that they want you to ask about things that are important to them. You might:

  • Ask if you could attend rallies or events with your young person
  • Ask if there are any articles, videos, or podcasts they could share that might help you learn more about their views

Check in on how they’re feeling. You might say something like “I noticed there was a tonne of stuff on the news today about the fires...how are you feeling about that?”

As your young person develops a healthy sense of self that is separate from parents and family, you may notice that their views differ from yours more than they did in the past. It can be challenging to accept your young person’s perspective – particularly when you don’t agree! Regardless of whether your views align, you can support your young person by acknowledging how they feel.

Focus on their emotions instead of opinions:

  • For example, an opinion is “there’s no point in studying anyway, I’ll never get a job” but the underlying emotion may be worry or fear
  • You might say something like “It must be hard feeling worried about that all the time”

Be mindful that drawing comparisons between young adulthood today and in the past may not be helpful. Your young person’s experience is real for them and that’s what matters.

Young adults often keep up with news or current events through social media. Your young person may seem anxious or unsettled after social media use or watching, reading, or talking about the news, particularly during coverage of natural disasters or wars.

  • If you notice your young person seems unsettled by something they’ve seen or heard, you might try discussing coverage of current events and ask questions like ‘Are you seeing a lot about [war, natural disaster] at the moment? How are you feeling seeing that all the time?’, or ‘Are you OK after watching that?’

  • If your young person lives at home, try starting conversations about how you can work together to create an environment that supports wellbeing.
    • Making small changes, like making time to talk about hopeful events around the dinner table, can help reduce feelings of anxiety or hopelessness

    • Consider your own media consumption (like watching the news) and how it might affect your young person’s wellbeing

Content on social media is not subject to the same ‘checks and balances’ as traditional news sources, and news coverage is becoming increasingly sensational. This means that it wouldn’t be uncommon for young adults to come across inaccurate information in the flow of information they are exposed to.

If you’re concerned about what your young person is reading or watching, it can help to start conversations about media literacy. To find out more, check out this guide to fake news by the eSafety Commissioner, and this infographic on media literacy from the Museum of Australian Democracy.

Engaging in positive actions that relate to your young person’s interests can help them develop their sense of identity, feel more hopeful about the future, and build connections with people with shared values. You might talk to your young person about:

  • Taking small steps towards change at home – everyday actions like composting or riding a bike (instead of driving) to work can support your young person’s wellbeing.

    • While it can help to encourage everyday actions, be open to your young person feeling that these are ‘not enough’ in the face of today’s issues

  • Planning ahead – creating a bushfire plan, first aid kit, or emergency evacuation box can help your young person feel prepared and reduce worry

  • Volunteering – try working with your young person to find options in their local area. Foodbank, animal shelters, homelessness services, Landcare, wildlife services like WIRES or local SES, or climate change organisations can be a good place to start.

Talking about hope

It’s only through enough people caring about the world and our collective future that we can create change. Big issues can feel overwhelming at times, but it can be helpful to let your young person know that it’s difficult to see change while it’s happening. It's often only later, looking back, that people can see how much progress has been made.

 

Getting help

Taking positive steps takes courage but can make a positive difference. If it seems like they are having a hard time, encourage them to take steps to reach out for help

Talking things through with a trusted person or professional, such as via eheadspace, can offer new perspectives and help your young person build confidence.

 

The headspace Clinical Reference Group oversee and approve clinical resources made available on this website. 

This content was developed in association with the Parenting Research Centre.

Last reviewed 14th February 2023

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