Launching into adult life is more complicated and complex than ever. 45 percent of young adults between the ages 18 and 34 now live with their parents, even though some of them are employed. Failure to launch emotionally is the collective name for the difficulties so many young people today are having in assuming the self-sufficiency and responsibilities of adulthood, and it is a rapidly growing problem.
The symptoms on what failure to launch emotionally can entail, can first appear in infancy and grow more virulent over childhood. Here is the edited transcript of a recent conversation we had on the topic.
Modern parenting is dictated by fear adding to escalating number of youngsters who may succumb to failure to launch emotionally. Risks seem to lie around every corner – antibiotic-resistant germs, bullying kids, unfair teachers, lurking pedophiles – so when we tuck our kids in to bed at night, free of cuts, bruises or emotional hurt, we have, for one more day, found tangible evidence of our parenting success. Maybe tomorrow I’ll let them walk to school, we tell ourselves, but today they got to school safely. Maybe tomorrow they will do their own homework, but today they are successful in maths. “Maybe tomorrow” continues until it’s time for them to leave home, and by then they have learned that we will always be there to save them from themselves.
When tomorrow arrives, and the responsibilities, freedoms and risks inherent in adult life arrive with it, over-parented children will be less likely to manage all of it successfully. It’s vital that we give children experience managing this autonomy, to build competence in everything from filling out paperwork to making responsible decisions about risk to expressing their needs and wants to adults. Failure to launch emotionally is born from the feeling of incompetence. When parents do what we can’t seem to do so well. We can only get good at things, at life, with practice. You cant throw money or protection at it. The child will need wings to fly, once out the nest. This is the natural way of things.
“OVER THE PAST DECADE, 30% OF MALE COLLEGE STUDENTS ARE DROPPING OUT OF UNIVERSITY DURING THEIR FIRST UNIVERSITY YEAR.”
A case study on failure to launch can often look something like this.
Ivan was a 23-year-old man living at home with his parents since attending a single semester of college at 18 years of age. Ivan had a history of social and separation anxiety and was currently taking fluoxetine 20 mg daily. He had twice begun therapy, only to stop after 2 to 3 sessions. Ivan had severed most social ties and spent most of his time in his room, often sleeping during the day. Ivan’s parents provided lodging and services, including laundry, utilities, and Internet access, gave him money for expenses, and dealt with any necessary interactions with the outside world.
They refrained from inviting guests to the home because this invariably distressed Ivan. His parents felt sorry for Ivan and expressed the belief that he was unable to cope with life’s many challenges. They also felt increasingly frustrated with his presence and struggled to hide their disappointment from him. Attempts to deny Ivan services or accommodations had backfired when he became angry and distraught. On one occasion he had even become physically aggressive, out-of-character behavior for which he later apologized. Ivan’s parents felt trapped and believed that all their actions only made things worse. Ivan also expressed his disappointment with life and occasionally made suicidal statements.
TOO MUCH MOTHERLY LOVE?
A second example of failure to launch emotionally is here, where a mother became aware of her negative influence on her children. Her deep love and concern morphed into pressure, intolerance and cries for help. When she realised her risk-averse parenting was holding back her children’s progress, Jessica Lahey took a step back and gave her boys the freedom to make their own mistakes.
She became a parent and a secondary school teacher in the same year. During my first decade raising two boys and teaching hundreds of children, I began to feel a creeping sense of unease, a suspicion that something was rotten. But it was only when my elder child started secondary school that my worlds collided and the source of the problem became clear to me: today’s overprotective, failure-avoiding parenting has undermined the competence, independence and academic potential of an entire generation.
Over a decade of teaching, I’d seen my students descend in to a constant state of fear and trepidation, a state that spells disaster for learning. When students are too afraid to take intellectual risks, too hesitant to raise their hand and take a chance on an idea that could change the course of class discussion, teachers can’t teach. It’s that simple.
We’ve ended up teaching our kids to fear failure – and, in doing so, we have blocked the surest path to their success. Out of love and a desire to protect our children’s self-esteem, we have bulldozed every uncomfortable bump and obstacle out of their way, depriving our children of the most important lesson of childhood: that setbacks, mistakes and failures are the very experiences that will teach them how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative and resilient.
I didn’t intend to teach my children to be helpless. On the contrary, I thought my kids would grow up brave, in the sort of wild, free idyll I experienced as a child. I wanted them to explore the woods with a pocket knife and a couple of cookies shoved in their pockets, build tree houses, shoot handmade arrows at imaginary enemies. I wanted them to have the time and the courage to try new things, explore their boundaries and climb one branch beyond their comfort zones.
But somehow, somewhere, that idyllic version of childhood morphed into something else: a high-stakes, cut-throat race to the top. The pressure to succeed from an early age has ramped up. There’s no longer room in our children’s schedules for leisure time in the woods, let alone opportunities for them to problem-solve their way out of the muck and mire they encounter out there. The more successful our kids are as students, athletes and musicians, the more successful we judge ourselves to be as parents. What kind of negligent mother allows her kids to play alone in the woods, with pockets full of sugar?
Our private centre in Plettenberg Bay allows a life and paradigm shift to occur wherever needed for many young people each year. Dropping out of university is one thing. It is not recommended, but when it happens, it can often be fixed. There is also preventative care that is even better. That is the message. But just know that finding yourself, your purpose and your deeper emotional experience of life can be done over a short period in caring treatment or sometimes the harder way…over time! The good news is that we are finding that many ‘addicted‘ and troubled young people, and some who are anxious and depressed, just need guidance to get back on track. Call us today for more information. Quite honestly the message we present these days most is Don’t stat stuck!!
There is good help out there on how to overcome failure to launch emotionally. 4-12 weeks on one of our courses can change lives for the better – fast! Call 0824424779 for more information.
There are droves of young adults getting the wrong kind of help in drug rehab centres. Where there is failure to launch emotionally due to anxiety related issues, a course in finding life purpose and meaning may be the answer. Gap years are great, if the work is done in that gap year to grow emotionally. Securing a course like the ones we offer that help people to launch, grow, enrich, heal and transform their lives is often the fastest and cheapest route to success. Dropping out of university or college is a major fear of the parents we deal with. But experience has taught us that getting back on track is more important than the current issues. Keep coming back – we teach them.
A lot of kids find themselves learning about drugs and other bad coping mechanisms that ultimately don’t work. That is why our centre and our courses can make all the difference to emerging adults with a temporary failure to launch emotionally.