Many young people today are having difficulty transitioning from adolescence to the self-sufficiency and responsibilities of adulthood. Parents of these children who have failed-to-launch (FTL) feel both emotionally and financially drained because their children seemingly have little motivation to move through life. Their kids feel ashamed and isolated while they are often criticized for being overindulgent and weak.
Young adults today have grown up in an era of instant gratification and entitlement. They can stream nearly any movie anytime they want and order just about anything on Amazon with overnight delivery. As a result, they have a lower tolerance for frustration and fewer coping skills to help them handle upsetting situations. Many have high aspirations but unfortunately unrealistic expectations about life because they lack the necessary discipline and skills needed to achieve their lofty goals.
When does it start?
Middle school students typically feel it’s sufficient to attend core subjects, do homework and be mindful of their grades. High school introduces the SATs which triggers thoughts of college. They begin to think about what major they will choose and this leads to the question: “what do I want to do with the rest of my life.” That is a big question. What if they don’t know? This may be one of the first real adult questions they consider. Some may feel that, almost overnight, it is no longer acceptable to follow the masses to math, English, science and social studies. Suddenly they are expected to make very adult choices that will have a significant impact on their future. The anxiety produced from this can cause some young adults to get stuck in the mud.
Young adults are adept at avoiding thinking about the future. To cope with stress they isolate in their rooms and implement a defense mechanism that puts off to tomorrow what needs to be done today. Not surprisingly, the most common tool for this distraction is video games. Over time, avoiders doubt if they can make it on their own, take risks or individuate. This pattern typically remains until becoming an adult becomes more appealing and necessary to them.
Unfortunately, many young adults, men in particular, struggle with the idea of opening up about their problems to a trained professional (or anyone for that matter). Asking and accepting help from others is a major hurdle for them. Masculine stereotypes promote that real men don’t have problems, real men don’t talk about their problems and real men solve their own problems. A man’s masculinity is often called into question (in subtle or unsubtle ways) the more they open up and talk about their feelings and problems. The bottom line is that men tend to avoid and distract rather than address these problems.
Given the multiplicity of factors interfering with a successful launch, treatment is equally multifaceted. The family should set appropriate expectations and limits, have short-term attainable goals, assess learning and attention problems, and create a long-term plan to help get these young adults back on track. Often, it can be beneficial for them to live in a setting with other young adults, while being partially responsible for the financial arrangement.
Individual therapy can help address doubts about their own sense of effectiveness and ambivalence about entering adulthood. Therapy can also help a person to increase awareness of emotions and the ability to communicate them effectively.
Jeremy Skow, LMHC, MBA maintains a private practice in Great Neck, NY. Contact him at 516-322-9133, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.mentalhealthcounselingny.com.