Young Adult “Failure to Launch” - Tips and Warning Signs for Parents

Young Adult “Failure to Launch” - Tips and Warning Signs for Parents

Your teen has shut themselves in their room, skipped work a few times, and didn’t end the school year very well. Is this just a phase, or something more to worry about?

Failure to launch is a reality for some young adults. They lack motivation, interest, and motivation to become independent. It’s time to leave the nest, and everyone is ready for the transition, except for them.

Young people who struggle at this age may be at risk for anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. These behaviors may look like irresponsibility on the surface, but can be red flags for deeper problems.

These tips and recommendations may help your teen or young adult child avoid a “failure to launch”.

  1. Be compassionate, but don’t smother

Teenagers need support and guidance, without a doubt. But as your teen gets older, they’ll find their own way and stumble as they go. You may want to hover and watch over your teen like you did when they were younger. Instead, give them the freedom to try things on their own and without your direct supervision. Celebrate these successes and encourage their adventurous spirit.

  1. Encourage them to set goals and take small steps

Some goals are just too big to swallow in one gulp. Help your child by setting their sights on smaller, short-term goals. Understand the steps they need to take, then encourage them to move forward one step at a time. They’ll get lots of smaller wins and eventually reach the finish line.

  1. Share your moments of struggle at their age

You’ve probably told your child about your peak moments in high school, but do they know about your struggles? Have they heard about your rough semester when you felt depressed about a friend moving away, gossip, or your girlfriend or boyfriend breaking up with you, causing your grades to tank? Help your child see that it’s normal to have ups and downs, and that it’s possible to get through them.

Warning Signs - Having Trouble with Transition

Every young adult is a unique person, and you’re probably familiar enough with your child’s personality to tell when something is off. Take the following list as reference points for observation, not an absolute yes/no checklist. Understand how your child usually behaves and watch for changes that go against their “normal”.

  1. Increased isolation

Personal time and privacy are essential for an emerging independent young adult. However, increased isolation is a sign that your child may be suffering emotionally. They may feel out of place, lonely, overwhelmed, or simply unsure about their future. It could also be a sign of depression or substance abuse. Excessive media, like video games and YouTube videos may be a way your young adult child avoids or escapes social interactions or responsibility. Above all, pay attention to what is typical for your child.

  1. Changes in their sleep

Teenagers who sleep in too late can end up with a wacky sleep schedule. This can be normal, but take note if you don’t see your child getting out of bed much or if they often seem exhausted. Oversleep can be a sign they are overwhelmed with life, or even depression.  

  1. Changes with eating patterns

Food can serve many purposes for a young adult. Snacks, meals, and treats can all be ways to socialize and cope with emotions. Stress eating or lack of appetite can emerge if your child is chronically worried or overwhelmed. Make a note of any observable weight loss or gain as part of this pattern. Keep the focus on physical health rather than appearance.

  1. Quitting their job, or showing little interest in college, career, and work

Many young people have jobs of some kind before going off to college. If another pursuit like volunteering or summer school is in place, not working can make sense. But if your child has quit their job with no other plans or struggles to keep their work commitment, this could be a sign of a deeper issue. If your young adult has no interest in college, career, or advancement, this can also be a sign of a deeper issue worth exploration.

  1. Declining academic performance

Declining grades are another red flag, similar to issues with work. When a young adult shows disinterest in activities requiring effort and commitment, they may be struggling with their adjustment. The transition from teen to young adult can be mentally exhausting. Your child’s lack of effort could signal feelings he or she is overwhelmed.

  1. Could it be mental illness or substance misuse?

Behavior issues are another red flag. While not every child who bunkers in their room suffers from a mental health issue, some do. Increased isolation, strange sleep patterns, and mood swings could be a sign of depression or anxiety. These behaviors could also be a red flag for substance abuse. Avoid making assumptions, but start asking questions if you see an increase of concerning behaviors.

Failure to Launch - Help Your Child Get Back on Their Feet

Some young people have trouble making the transition from teenager to young adult. They sputter and stumble instead of striving forward. While some struggle is normal, it’s also an age where young people can develop depression, anxiety, or begin misusing substances. If you see some of the warning signs mentioned above, talk to a counselor or your child’s doctor. Talk therapy, and specifically Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be a great benefit to help your child “launch”. Additionally, with many mental health problems, medication may be advised. Consulting with a psychiatrist may be an important step. With your support and guidance, your child can get back on their feet and move forward.

Dr. Michael Messina

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