Failure to Launch Syndrome (FLS) is when young adults either are unwilling or incapable of leaving their home and being self-sufficient or independent in the world. These young adults who are living at home with their parents struggle to get a job, go to college, or have adult relationships.
Often, young adults with failure to launch syndrome have underlying mental health issues that make leaving home, dealing with failure, frustration, and stress a challenge.
These emerging adults present with a lack of motivation and what appears to be a general apathy that is a source of conflict at home. Not knowing what else to do, parents often push these young people to “get a job” with the belief that will get them unstuck.
The real focus needs to be on addressing the mental health disorders that are fueling the adult child issues. For those young persons suffering from failure to launch, when we look back, there is always a pattern of long-term issues and often mental illness that have interfered with academic success, relationships and communication, and stress management.
These minor issues can increase in high school when more academic independence is needed but also can be masked with school support through an IEP program or 504 accommodation support. These helpful and necessary supports help teens do better in high school but parents often don’t fully understand how reliant their child is on academic support nor do they understand what supports are needed for college.
When the young adult struggles in college, it often is a surprise for family members because of the “good grades” they obtained in high school. Having the right support in college or a training program is imperative for success.
Understanding the signs of Failure to Launch Syndrome is a critical first step for parents who want to help their adult child who is unmotivated, stuck, and maybe even just sitting in their room.
Tried to Launch to College or Employment but Failed
Young adults who have underlying mental health issues that haven’t received the right treatment often really show their difficulties when they try to transition to adulthood.. Moreover, for those teens who have had a lot of academic and social support who suddenly don’t at their work or school, often fail to be successfully independent. These emerging adults frequently shut down and retreat to their parent’s home.
Naturally, adult kids that don’t launch need financial support from their parents. Parents continue caring for their adult child in the same way they did before they turned 18. Financial dependency can be another major source of friction.
FLS young adults typically have a history of poor communication skills. These poor communication skills are observable in when and how they manage stress, as you can see withdrawn behavior or irritated or stressed communication.
Poor Social Skills
Many FLS adult children have a history of peer social relation difficulties. These often bright kids are inwardly focused and struggle with communicating in an age appropriate way with peers or lack interest in connecting socially. When someone has social skill deficits, understanding the nuances of reciprocal relationships often feels foriegn to them so they avoid socialization all together.
Has No or Poor Stress Tolerance
A resilience mindset™ is how you view, manage and recover from stress and adult kids with FLS often have a history of poor stress tolerance and lack resiliency. Resilience is built every time one faces a stressor and learns to both tolerate it and gain those all important coping and problem-solving skills. Building coping skills is a key component of our BrainBehaviorReset™ Program designed to help failure to launch young adults and their families.
Mental Health Issues
Whether the FLS adult has a clinical mental health diagnosis or not, every young adult struggling with failure to launch has an underlying mental health issue. Chronic stress and shame takes its toll on mental health and no person with FLS can move forward without first addressing mental health. You can’t expect your adult child to just get a job or make it in college without calming the brain and teaching them skills that change their behavior and that is what our innovative BrainBehaviorReset™ Program is all about.
Attentional or Executive Functioning Challenges
When you are struggling to launch in the world, then you can’t see a future outcome and all those little micro-steps to get there. They lack the future thinking skills that come with good executive functioning. The good news is that executive functioning skills can be learned with direct teaching and reinforcement. It is important for parents to understand executive functioning and how it is different from ADHD, so they can help their adult child build skills.
Low or No Motivation
Weak executive functioning and mental health issues often zap the motivation of failure to launch adults. Parents often express frustration with their “lazy”, “unfocused” and “unwilling” young adults who are just too comfortable living with their parents. At our center, understanding the root causes of why their child can’t launch with a diagnostic QEEG brain map is a wonderful tool for the family to reset the brain and behavior.
ADHD and executive functioning challenges is a common feature of FLS, which means they have an understated brain and video games are designed to give constant stimulation to the brain. It is pretty easy to get lost in gaming when you have an understimulated brain, which is why our failure to launch clients use neurofeedback to improve attention and executive functioning.
Excessive Marijuana Usage
When we experience a problem or stressor, we can either approach it with healthy tools or unhealthy behaviors and over relying on marijuana to deal with stress isn’t healthy. When people get stuck, it means that they can’t see the solution. These adult kids overuse marijuana because they don’t know what to do to get unstuck and disconnecting with substances is a lot easier.
Avoidant, Resistant or Refuses Help
Parents call our Ridgefield, CT center from all over the United States and a common thread is that parents are desperate to help their FLS kid but their adult child refuses help. When someone struggles to transition and is stuck, there is a lot of shame behind their behavior, which can be quite embolizing.
Getting to the bottom of the underlying issues is the first step to addressing their stuck behaviors and their inability to launch. Parents often fall into the trap of trying to push their kids to launch without giving their adult kids the tools to manage stress and mental health.
Without good coping and executive functioning skills, adult failure to launch children will avoid, resist or refuse help. In our unique BrainBehaviorReset™ Program, when an adult child won’t participate in therapy, we begin with giving parents the tools they need to address the stuck behaviors and manage their own frustration and fears.
Merikangas, K. R., He, J. P., Burstein, M., Swanson, S. A., Avenevoli, S., Cui, L., Benjet, C., Georgiades, K., & Swendsen, J. (2010). Lifetime prevalence of mental disorders in U.S. adolescents: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication–Adolescent Supplement (NCS-A). Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 49(10), 980–989. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaac.2010.05.017
Mogel, W. (2001). The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Timeless Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children. Scribner.
Vespa, J. (2017). Jobs, Marriage and Kids Come Later in Life. US Census. https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2017/08/young-adults.html
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime.
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