Teens and 20-somethings who face challenges starting life on their own—i.e, have what is known as Failure-to-Launch Syndrome—is an increasing issue for families today. My Failure-to-Launch program to get young adults on their feet and out in the world is one of the biggest parts of my business.
Failure-to-launch Syndrome is an increasingly described mental health phenomenon. It appears to be an individual problem of the young adult, who, it is thought, simply lacks motivation or discipline to start their own lives. Actually, the source of Failure-to-Launch Syndrome commonly lies in the huge cultural shift that we call the Digital Age, which affects kids directly but also causes parents to parent differently. The result is often a child who is unprepared to live independently.
It’s no one’s fault, but it requires work on the parents’ part as well as the child’s to help the child develop the skills needed to become a happy, successful adult. Thankfully, help is possible. My Failure-to-Launch program works with both the child and parents to get the child moving forward.
What Is Failure To Launch Syndrome?
Failure-to-Launch Syndrome is when a young adult—typically in their late teens or 20s, although there are also 30-something Failure-to-Launch young adults—not only live in their parents’ home but also do not make progress with their transition to adulthood. Often, they spend many hours a day looking at screens, such as playing video games, and many are addicted there or to substances. Their social lives revolve around their screen use, so, oftentimes, their friendships are virtual. If they are employed at all, they are typically under-employed. As a result, Failure-to-Launch young adults are usually financially dependent on their parents.
Some Failure-to-Launch young adults tried college or working but returned home. Others just never leave.
Most people affected with Failure-to-Launch Syndrome are not happy with their lives. They are full of shame, as they watch their peers make their way in the world and they cannot. They are often depressed or anxious, but whether their depression/anxiety is the cause of their inability to move forward with their lives or their lifestyle is causing their depression and/or anxiety is often hard to discern—the classic vicious, psychological circle.
Because many Failure-to-Launch young adults spend most of their days watching screens, this disrupts sleep, dietary, and exercise habits, and this (and other bad habits) contribute to their depression and anxiety. As mentioned, many use substances, often to the point of addiction, to numb their pain.
Many Failure-to-Launch young adults have tried traditional therapy but have not found it to be helpful. Wilderness programs, which are just traditional therapy embedded in an outdoors program, are also often not helpful and can be disruptive, expensive, and are often not focused on the true sources of the young person/family’s core issues.
Parents are of course worried by their child’s behavior but don’t know what to do about it. Suggestions for change are often met with anger, thus intimidating the parents into maintaining the status quo. And because of the depression, many parents are afraid to push too much for fear their child will attempt to take their own life.
The important thing to remember is that the majority of Failure-to-Launch Syndrome young adults are not happy with their lives, either, but, just like many parents, don’t understand the dynamics of the problem and can’t see a way out. Additionally, these young people feel completely powerless.
Risk Factors Or Triggers That Can Cause Failure To Launch Syndrome
The causes of Failure-to-Launch Syndrome are, to a great extent, cultural. As we mention frequently in our work, the Digital Age both affects children directly and also causes parents to parent differently. As a result, emotional skills most of today’s adults learned by osmosis are not taught to many of today’s young people, so they lack what we call the 6Is: Imagination, Independence, Intestinal Fortitude, Integrity, and Intimacy, which together form Identity. Many parents these days focus much more heavily on protecting their children from what looks like a much scarier world than in the past and less on preparing them for adulthood. So Failure-to-Launch Young Adults are not ready to go out on their own when the time comes and feel much safer in their parents’ home. So that’s where they stay.
I discuss some of these cultural issues in detail in these blog posts. All of these things can be Failure-to-launch triggers or causes:
The Overwhelming Tragedy List: the threatening societal issues, such as school shootings, COVID, climate change, political rancor, etc., that our kids read about on their phones daily, yet very few adults talk about in a constructive way. We call these the Elephants in the Room.
Outcome Fever, where children are judged by their accomplishments, not who they are.
The New Parenting Playbook, which focuses on protecting kids from harm, hurt, failure, challenge, consequences, responsibility, independence, etc., all of which fly in the face of what research has shown us about what is needed for normal child development.
For a more in-depth description of all of these Failure-to-Launch Risk Factors, here is our booklet on raising kids in the Digital Age.
Again, Failure-to-Launch Syndrome is no one’s fault. Parents have done these things without an understanding of what they are doing or the consequences—or even unconsciously. My Failure-to-Launch program isn’t about blame or judgement. It’s not about looking at the past. It’s about how the family is going to climb out of the Failure-to-Launch Syndrome hole together.
Thankfully, children are hard-wired the same way they have always been, so they all—including children affected by Failure-to-Launch Syndrome—crave both connection and those emotional skills they lack. Once they learn those skills, they get better—it’s that simple. Of course, it’s not always easy!
How Can Our Failure To Launch Programs Help?
Because every case is different, whether by circumstances, entrenchment, comorbidities, or geography, my Failure-to-Launch Program is customized to each family. Generally speaking, though, it typically includes:
Evaluation: I spend extensive time, either in person or on Zoom or by phone, talking with the young adult, parents, and other people with whom the child is close, be it extended family members, coaches, or friends. This can be done in separate sessions, or sometimes the Family Intensive program is the most cost-efficient way to move forward. I prefer to work in person but can do this by phone or video call, if necessary.
Plan: After the evaluation, there is some discussion, both with the young person and the parents, as to the best way to move forward. It is ideal to get buy-in from both, and I usually do, but with especially recalcitrant children I can work only with the parents.
Find Resources: If I am not what—or all—the child and/or parents need, I try to hook the family up with appropriate resources. I cannot make diagnoses so will refer out to a psychiatrist or psychologist if I feel a diagnosis is needed. Sometimes these resources are all the family needs, and I bow out. Other times they are in addition to my work.
Implement Plan: If we all—including the young adult—decide that Failure-to-Launch Coaching makes sense, we devise a plan for all family members to follow that gets past the anger that is almost inevitably there, and then we all work together to incrementally teach the Failure-to-Launch young adult both the emotional and practical skills so the child is ready to move on.
For many Failure-to-Launch Teens and Young Adults, besides needing to learn emotional skills, many also need to learn practical skills, as they don’t know how to manage finances, cook or clean, or have the discipline to take care of themselves. This lack adds to the child’s stress about moving out.
Time frame: Some Failure-to-Launch Young Adults seem almost to be waiting for my program, so they progress quickly and working for a couple of months takes care of the problem. They are the exception. In many cases, the young person is addicted to screens and/or substances, is extremely angry at their parents’ failures, fail to see their own role in their problem, has comorbidities we have to sort through, and parents have to work to overcome what are often unconscious habits of enabling that allows their child to avoid consequences. Change has to happen slowly in order for it to be constructive, successful, and lasting. So my typical Failure-to-Launch Program requires several hours of work per week, at least for the first few months, and then we taper down from there. But every family is different, so a “typical” Failure-to-Launch Program might not be a good fit for your family. The best way to get a good sense of how it could work is to contact me so we can discuss your family’s situation at no charge.
What Is The Cost Of Failure To Launch Programs?
The cost of my Failure-to-Launch program can include both intensive and hourly work. It always includes a lot of texting and phone and video calls.
I usually do intensive work—my Family Intensive program—at the beginning of Failure-to-Launch treatment. I charge $2000/day, plus travel when I have to travel more than 2 hours to a family, for Family Intensive days. I typically work 10-12 hour days on those days. Some families don’t need any Family Intensive work, and those that do usually only need one. A few need more.
I charge $250/hour for hourly work. The number of hours I work with Failure-to-Launch clients varies greatly, depending on need and budget, but it is safe to say that at least initially, I put in several hours weekly with both the young person and parents.
It is very important I stay in close touch—often daily or even more often—with the young person and often also the parents, especially initially. There is no charge for emails, texts, or phone or video calls that last <15 minutes.
Help is Available
The best way to determine whether or not my Failure-to-Launch Treatment Program is a good match for your family is to contact me. I am happy to have a phone conversation at no charge to hear about your family’s circumstances and have a discussion on how I can best help you.