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Focus: Failure to Launch

While many parents look forward to their children’s return to school (Routine! Planned activities! Less Boredom!), if you’re the parent of an emerging adult aged 19 to 28 who’s still living at home, you’re not alone. Statistics show that more and more adult children are either not leaving home or returning home after college (or an attempt at college) to live with parents. While some financial experts say this phenomenon, known as “Boomerang Kids”, is largely the result of the recent economic downturn, others maintain it has just as much to do with the struggle to find independence.

In all likelihood, a number of factors may be involved. While the competition to get into college remains stiff, the chances of getting a well-paying job upon graduation are fairly low, leaving many recent college grads with a mountain of debt and little opportunity to pay it off. For some, moving in with Mom and Dad makes financial sense -at lease for a predetermined period of time. But if there’s no end game in sight, or if parents continue providing the sort of “hotel amenity lifestyle” (meals, laundry, housekeeping) to which many kids are now accustomed, there’s little incentive for them to move on.

Failure to launch may also have an emotional component, for the child as well as parents. The child may feel shame, frustration or anger about his situation while parents are equally frustrated with a lack of privacy, or worrying that they aren’t saving as much for retirement as originally planned during the post-college years. “Failure to launch can sometimes be caused by family dynamics that subtly communicate to a young adult. ‘We don’t believe you have what it takes to handle this challenge, survive this failure, or manage these uncomfortable emotions.’ Addressing these dynamics and converting unintentional messages can be an important first step in helping the emerging adult gain independence,” says Murphy Foster of Insights Collaborative Therapy Group.

The rise and diagnosis of conditions such as ADD, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders may also play a role. Parents of children with these conditions know the challenges many of them face to maintain focus, assume responsibility and function independently. Family and individual counseling can be very helpful in increasing awareness of emotions and communicating them to others. And in some cases, medications to treat symptoms of ADD, depression and anxiety may be appropriate.


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