In our clinical practice, we are seeing an increase in the number of young people often resisting the natural life transition to move from adolescence into young adulthood. Up until this point in their lives, most of these young people have stepped up and passed all of life’s usual challenges with flying colors. Yet suddenly, when faced with the prospect of finally leaving their parent’s home, these young people appear either unwilling or unable to engage life on their own. This pattern is popularly referred to as “arrested adolescence,” “failure to launch” or just plain “stuck.” We hear stories about the child unwilling to find or hold a job, struggling to enter into new relationships with peers and generally balking in the face of the usual responsibilities required in creating a life for themselves. We hear parents’ stories that their adult child has begun to withdraw from real life and has retreated to the safety of their room or the basement where they fill their days and nights with texting, video games, and Netflix.
For most of us, emerging adulthood was the natural next phase of life filled with expectation, hope and excitement for the future. Yet for many young people it has become a time of overwhelming fear, emotional pain and crippling self-doubt. Sometimes these emotions appear in the form of persistent indecision about what they want to do or a pervasive passivity about life, an increase in depression, anxiousness or substance or technology addictions. We often see parents and their adult children stuck in a cycle of emotional codependence which threatens to trap the young person in a permanent state of “in between” and never allows them to step out into the world and create a life of their own. It becomes a kind of self-imposed glass ceiling to entering the next phase of life.
Unfortunately, we often see parents believing their young person is the source of all the difficulty. Parents assume it’s a motivational problem and it rests squarely with the young person to solve. However, in many instances, the parents may have their own role to play in these “stuck” family dynamics. Sometimes parents can inadvertently send mixed messages to their adult child. While they want their young adult to launch into independence, they themselves are often fearful of the event and unable to manage their own anxiousness and painful emotions that launching their adult child necessarily entails. Allowing your young person to begin to make life decisions for themselves invites the possibility they will also make mistakes, possibly big ones. Sometimes, parents feel the need to rescue or “fix” their adult child’s missteps on their road to independence. This can be well intentioned but can also sometimes reveal the parents’ own need to insulate themselves from the pain of seeing their adult child in discomfort as a result of making a “bad” choice. The adult child is never fully allowed to experience the painful life lessons that we all need to learn and grow.
Another area to consider is whether your adult child is struggling because they don’t have the skills to successfully launch and they are too ashamed to ask for help. They feel they “ought” to know what they are doing given their age and if they don’t they are too embarrassed to seek parental guidance.
The question for parents becomes, “how do we offer the correct balance of support and freedom to our adult children so they can make the successful transition from adolescence to adulthood? How do we manage our own fears and anxiousness as parents to model for our adult children so they learn to manage theirs? Until we solve these and other issues that may arise in our families, our adult children may continue to struggle in emerging adulthood far longer than needed or is healthy. Our Counselors at Traverse can help you identify the family patterns that may be impeding your adult child’s progress in gaining their independence and help the family offer the support and challenge needed to make this important life transition.