While the term “failure to launch” is not actually considered a formal mental health diagnosis, the phenomenon affects many individuals who are transitioning to adults.
Continue reading to learn about failure to launch and how parents and guardians can support their young adults in their journey to leave home and find independence.
What is Failure to Launch?
Also known as “Peter Pan syndrome” or “failure to thrive”, failure to launch syndrome refers to young adults who remain dependent on their parents or guardians rather than establishing an independent life as self-sufficient adults.
Usually occurring between the ages 18 to 29, this “syndrome” is used to describe struggling young adults who are not typically in school, working, or doing anything to financially contribute to the household.
Traditionally, moving out and living by oneself is a marker of adulthood, however, researchers have discovered that it is becoming more common for individuals to stay home due to societal pressures or financial uncertainties, such as:
- Longer time spent in school
- Increasing levels of student debt
- Rising housing costs
Young adults living at home, but continuing to work towards moving out on their own, aren’t necessarily suffering from failure to launch syndrome. The issue arises when the individual isn’t actively doing anything to contribute to their future or take steps to create a life of their own.
The most common red flags for failure to launch syndrome include chronic unemployment or not pursuing further education or training, but young adults who are showing signs of the following symptoms may also be in need of help:
- Poor work ethic
- Low motivation
- Inability to take responsibility
- Problems with persistence
- Procrastination about the next steps of life
- Trouble managing stress
- Feelings of being stuck or loss of direction
- Not engaging in activities involving responsibility
- Withdrawal or isolation
- Participating less and less in life
- Starting school or work and quitting without replacing it with something else
Since it is not recognized as a true mental health diagnosis, the symptoms of failure to launch can vary greatly depending on the individual and their situation.
It’s important to remember that certain environments and circumstances can make an individual more prone to struggling with failure to launch.
Common Causes & Risk Factors
Knowing the causes and risk factors that contribute to failure to launch syndrome can help parents and guardians better understand their children and take steps to prevent them from becoming too dependent.
For many parents and guardians, it’s in their nature to want to help and protect their children. It’s not easy watching someone you love and care about struggle, and there is no harm in giving them support when it’s necessary.
However, there are cases where the help they are giving can end up doing more harm than good. Enablement occurs when parents or guardians continuously shield their children from uncomfortable obligations or don’t encourage them to become independent.
These include tasks like doing their own laundry, shopping for groceries, or taking financial responsibility for rent, car insurance, phone bills, etc.
Parent enablement also occurs when young adults are allowed to leave tasks unfinished or quit like, continuously calling out of work, not showing up for class, or not participating in activities/events they had previously committed to.
When young adults become too dependent on their parents, they begin to lack the motivation to start a life of their own because they find a sense of comfort and safety when they are taken care of on a daily basis.
With these obstacles, young adults may find it more difficult to function independently and even find the thought of moving out on their own terrifying or unrealistic.
Some other common mental health disorders that may discourage individuals from transitioning to adults include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Existential anxiety
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- PTSD and other trauma-related disorders
- Eating disorders
It’s crucial for young adults to get the help they need to manage their mental health and well-being so they can live a healthy and fulfilling life on their own.
Substance Abuse and Other Addictions
Young adults struggling with substance use disorders or other addictions can have a difficult time taking the next steps in their journey to independence.
When an individual’s sole focus is to feed their addiction, whether it be drugs, alcohol, or something else, they become less concerned with supporting themselves.
Substance abuse and addiction are obstacles that can affect someone at any point in their life, but it’s especially dangerous during the transition to adulthood since the time is already filled with a number of societal pressures and uncertainties.
In addition, if a young adult is suffering from a co-occurring disorder, which is a substance use disorder and a mental health disorder, they run an even greater risk of failure to launch syndrome.
How to Support Struggling Young Adults
As we mentioned before, one of the root causes of failure to launch is experiencing mental health disorders. Because of this, the best thing a parent or guardian can do to support their young adult is find the proper support from a mental health professional.
In addition, there are other steps both parents and young adults can take to help prevent and treat failure to launch syndrome.
1. Learn & Practice Important Life Skills
As individuals grow up, they will continuously be exposed to a variety of life skills, and as they take part in school and other responsibilities, the skills will become a more prominent part of their lives.
Unfortunately, along the way, some individuals may stop practicing these necessary skills. When encouraging young adults to find independence, it’s important to reinforce their knowledge and ability to practice important life skills.
Below, we’ve listed a few crucial independent living skills that every young adult should practice in order to function successfully on their own.
- Social competence
- Stress management
Putting the skills listed above into practice can help young adults build a strong foundation for their independent lives.
2. Make Some Necessary Lifestyle Changes
Another reason young adults may be having trouble leaving home is because they feel lost or lack ambition. Parents and guardians can remind young adults that independence doesn’t have to be scary or daunting by encouraging them to explore their interests.
When an individual finds something they enjoy, they’re more likely to pursue it whether that is professionally or personally. This helps them find meaning in their life and will push them to take action.
It’s also important for young adults to develop a balanced perspective. When transitioning into adulthood, it can feel like every decision can make or break the rest of their lives.
Reminding them that mistakes are inevitable and not the end of the world will create an environment where they feel comfortable taking risks and stepping out of their comfort zone.
3. Consider Participating in Therapy
It’s a common misconception that therapy is only helpful for someone struggling with a serious mental health disorder.
As we said before, young adults are often dealing with a number of societal pressures. Taking proper care of one’s mental health and well-being is the key to living a fulfilling life.
Even young adults who have not been or are not currently diagnosed with a mental health disorder can benefit from therapy. A trained mental health professional can provide unbiased advice and guidance as young adults navigate their transition into adulthood.
Sometimes, the best thing a parent or guardian can do to support their child is to seek the help they need from someone who knows exactly what to do. Reaching out to a mental health professional can be useful for both the parents and the children in the long run.