Failure to Launch Part II

Categories: Counseling

Failure to Launch Part II

Emerging Adults Fuel

Failure to Launch Review Part I

In part I we looked at how 42 million millennials are stuck in the basement unable to launch themselves into the world of independence.  We looked at the issues that characterize many of these cases and we considered how various historical, cultural, parental, and individual variables impact the situation.  In the next part of this series we are going to look at the tasks of emerging adulthood and how to help young people develop fully.

Failure to Launch Part II

I believe that a key process of successful human functioning involves the ability to see a preferred future, make adjustments to one’s inner and outer world, and over time bring that future to reality.
In the agricultural age the farmer imagined what crop would be in high demand, what he wanted to eat for himself, and what the land was willing to produce.  The farmer plants the seed, cares for the seed he can no longer see, and in the proper time a tender shoot appears.  The fragile shoot is nurtured.  In due time, if all goes well, an entire crop will be harvested and sold in the marketplace.  In the industrial age the organization has a vision for a product, the workers do their part to make that product, and in due time, if all goes well, a corporate product will be sold to the masses.  In the information age we have a blend of farmers and factory workers who associate with one another to produce for an ever changing marketplace.
Your son or daughter is looking at the world trying to choose a path by which they can make it.  They don’t see many farmers or many factories.  The only visible workers in the information age are part of the service industry.  Other than these jobs most people appear to be doing the same thing.  They work at a computer terminal.  Stephen F. Hamilton, says that our society is missing an institution.  For years I have seen how the path to success has become clear to the college bound, and the skilled tradesman/craftsmen but for others it is unclear.
What is clear is that Mom or Dad care for them quite well.  They are comfortable, well fed, loved, and protected from most of the dangers that exist in the world.  They have a lifestyle that will take a decade of hard work to create independently.  There is a mix of motivations to become independent and stay at home.  This creates ambivalence and stagnation.

Historical Events Matter

Adam Walsh and September 11th were turning points in America.  The abduction and murder of Adam Walsh put a fear into parents that changed parenting.  September 11th put a fear into the public that changed schooling and industry.  These events destroyed the illusion of safety we enjoyed for many years.  They created a fear that changed how we create adults.  Our collective response was to focus on protection, safety, and avoiding harm.  We became obsessed with the idea that “if” something happened we couldn’t live with ourselves.  So we set out to do everything within our power to prevent bad things from happening to kids.  My favorites include:
  • hand sanitizer
  • sporks
  • protective gear
  • no allergen zones
  • play dates
  • the helicopter mom
Safety feels good to parents.  Todays kids are raised in bubble wrap.  They are experiencing life in 1 hour blocks of structured play.  They are “protected” from the evils and dangers of the the neighborhood, school bus, other kids, community, adults, child molesters and terrorists.  They have never been 8 years old in an unknown location, 3 miles from home on a BMX bike, with no communication and no idea how to get home.  These types of free range experiences were developmentally significant.  How do you learn to take on the world if you are not allowed to take on the neighborhood?
Safety feels good for parents and kids don’t know what they are missing.  At least until they need to leave the safety of the nest and launch themselves into a hostile world.  At this point they know exactly what they are missing.  Vision, confidence, skills, a plan, and character.  Many emerging adults realize they don’t have these things and they withdraw to the comforts and securities they know.  If these are insufficient they will use drugs, alcohol, and porn to escape their feelings and circumstances.  They will focus anger and resentment toward their parents as the failure to launch syndrome sets in.

Spirit of the Age

Remember the age of enlightenment and the dark ages.  Each represented a prevailing spirit of the age.  Emerging adulthood is no different.  Emerging adulthood is characterized as the age of identity, instability, self-focus, feeling in-between, and possibilities.  We are going to look at the spirit of the age and the tasks associated with each.  This will make understanding the struggles of young adults and their parents easier.  Generally speaking young adults are working out the answer to some of the most profound questions and making choices that will shape the rest of their lives.
Emerging Adulthood
  • Age of Identity Exploration:  Who am I and what do I want out of school, work, love, and life?
  • Age of Instability: Many choices make for false starts and instability.
  • Age of Self Focus: What is the best way for me to succeed in the world?
  • Age of Feeling In-Between: Stuck, free, excited, pressured…feelings vary.
  • Age of Possibilities: The whole world and your whole life are ahead of you.
Tasks of Emerging Adulthood
  • Ponder personal identity
  • Rule out and rule in choices consistent with personal identity
  • Choose a vision, purpose, and cause
  • Chart a course to that vision, purpose, and cause
  • Resolve how to succeed in the world
  • Take action and develop habits daily
  • Resolve feeling In-Between
  • Become an independent adult
  • Self Efficacy

Helping Young Adults


Parents have many tasks to support their children.  Most parents do the best they can for their kids and believe that the way they were raised was good enough.  As a result we tend to parent the way we were parented.  This works when the world changes slowly, but as we have discussed it is changing rapidly.  Parents have a lot of influence (power) over their young adult children.  They should use that influence wisely.  Here is a list of things you can do to support and encourage your young adult child.
  • Ask them how they feel about the future, their prospects, their identity, and the instability of it all.
  • Try really hard to understand the feelings they have.
  • Set boundaries that encourage them to choose
  • Let the consequences of every choice be felt
  • Use power responsibly
  • Clarify your expectations for them
  • Refuse to do for them anything that they can do for them self
  • Never threaten, always promise

Teachers, Coaches

Teachers and coaches of young adults have a performance standard they expect.  They have jobs to do.  Demanding a win, a home run, an “A” paper doesn’t help.  Performance results emerge from a process that works.  Demanding the end result without teaching the steps and providing opportunities to practice will increase performance anxiety and frustration.  Working the process must be trained.  We all need to accept that the struggle creates the character.  We must learn to be people who push through.  When you notice students who fail to perform the process work, you help them when you:
  • provide encouragement
  • review the process with them
  • train for mental toughness
  • teach a learning mindset
  • praise effort and commitment to struggle

Missing Institution

Collectively we have outsourced everything except our core business task.  Do your main thing and hire someone else to do the rest.  Levi’s no longer makes jeans in America.  Delta sends airplanes to China for repair.  Tyson sends chicken to China for processing.  Following this logic, I have wondered when we will have the NFL Academy a sport specific program to prepare football players.  By eliminating the college classes trainees could focus specifically on playing football at the highest level.  Or how about a state training institution to raise kids with the skills we want while freeing parents to just love them.  Is this outsourcing at it’s best or worst?  Parents are free to love their kids and there are no uncomfortable tasks to be carried out.  No punishments.  No watching them struggle. No feeling too harsh, or too relaxed.  No attitudes or disrespect will ever happen.  They will just love one another.  All love all the time.  Sounds crazy doesn’t it.
Outsourcing parentings unsavory tasks is silly.  In many ways we have neglected the unsavory tasks of parenting.  The family is the ideal place for children to grow up and become responsible healthy adults.  They can’t do it in isolation or bubble wrap.  Every family has problems.  Dealing with problems and finding ways to grow provides the opportunities kids need.  At times a family can be overwhelmed with problems or lack specific resources.  In the midst of these crisis a counselor or coach can be very helpful in supporting goals, boundaries, communication, and family cohesion.  At other times the family just needs encouragement.  The world is full of problems and it needs the passion and creativity of young problem solvers.

Young Adults

It takes a perfect storm for a man to stop his own development and remain a boy.  In Part III we will look at how emerging adults can help themselves and make the most of coaching opportunities.
If you want to discuss a failure to launch scenario please contact Todd Davis at or (865)384-4864
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Author: Todd Davis, PhD, MFT, LADC

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