What is Failure to Launch Syndrome?
Dr. Roseann addresses the topic.
The Surge of Failure to Launch Syndrome
Twenty-four million of those aged 18 to 34, lived under their parents’ roof in 2015, according to the US Census. That’s a third of young people! There has been a definitive cultural shift resulting in more young adults living with their parents. Fear of failure in American teens and young adults, causes them to delay independence, thus creating a major stumbling block in our otherwise success-driven society. Often, this age group is referred to as emerging adults, based on the delay in their transition from dependence to independence. Even their language reflects this shift as the term “adulting” is used to describe moments of responsible behavior. Growing up is viewed as an optional choice rather than a necessity of life.
What is Failure to Launch Syndrome?
Failure to launch syndrome is the unofficial name for an increasingly common problem among young adults who are either ill-prepared or unwilling to leave the family home and begin their life journey toward an independent life. The increase in this phenomenon coincides with a rise in mental health issues faced by children and teens. 22 percent of American teens experience a significant mental health issue before age 18. These same teens typically demonstrate a history of difficulty with independent learning in academic or social areas or with stress management. To achieve success with tasks and academic endeavors, they often needed extra support. Some might even master academic skills well enough to get good grades, yet struggle with independent living skills.
An increase in failure to launch syndrome correlates with changes in parenting that rejects promoting independent behaviors and prioritizes stress avoidance. Our culture has embraced a style of parenting that shields children from discomfort; thus depriving young adults of valuable experience managing the sometimes uncomfortable feelings that come with independence.
Wendy Mogel’s groundbreaking book, “Blessing of a Skinned Knee” discusses a child ’s need to experience failure to develop the ability to manage frustration which ultimately builds self-control and independence. Failure to launch adult children often have a history of low-stress tolerance and well-meaning parents inadvertently contribute to their child’s fear of failure. As these teens or young adults enter the workforce or attempt to go to school, they often experience failure due to immature self-regulatory skills. There’s no calling a tutor for work, and a college professor isn’t going to modify the curriculum.
What Are the Symptoms of Failure to Launch?
Symptoms of failure to launch include more than just an obvious desire to not leave home and be cared for by a parent. Young adults with FLS often display anxiety that affects how they deal with stress, interact with others, and take action. They are often immobilized by fear to the point that are unwilling to do anything that puts them outside of their comfort zone.
Common Failure to Launch Behaviors
- Lack of motivation
- Poor work ethic
- Lack of self-regulation
- Inconsistent or poor grades
- History of anxiety or self-esteem issues
- Doesn’t like working or learning outside of the comfort zone
- Low stress tolerance
- Entitled attitude
- Attentional or executive functioning challenges
- Social skill deficits/social isolation
- Can’t hold a steady job
- Financial dependency
- Excessive marijuana usage
- Gaming addiction
- Resistance to help
- Lack of insight into their behavior
- Poor problem-solving skills
What Causes Failure to Launch?
There are many reasons young adults struggle to transition to adulthood. Young people with FLS display delayed maturation in areas that prevent them from leaving the nest. They often lack the healthy social and coping skills required to successfully step out on their own. Many of these children experienced significant delays achieving social, emotional, or learning milestones, while for others, the fear of independence surfaced later in life.
The ability to self-regulate begins as an infant. For many young adults who fail to launch, managing stress has been a challenge their entire life. Parents wait with bated breath for maturity to develop, erroneously thinking it will happen when they go off to college or gain employment. Unfortunately, there is no single trigger or magic moment for this life skill. If one doesn’t learn to manage stress independently, then life remains hard.
Common Causes of Failure to Launch Syndrome
- Low Self-esteem
- Unsuccessful Differentiation (responsibility/rebellion)
- Substance Abuse
- Poor Social Skills
- Executive Functioning Issues
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Chronic health issues
- Enabled parenting (Authoritarian or Permissive)
- High sensitivity