Failure to Launch: Avoiding the Transitions of Pitfalls in Early Adulthood

For the first time, Generation Y, aka the Millenials, are outnumbering both Generation X and the Baby Boomers. Young adults in this generation are considered those who are currently 17-34 years of age. Approximately 31.5% of these individuals are living with their parents in the United States and of those, 40% have a clinical anxiety or depressive disorder. Many young adults in this group are considered to be “regrouping,” a term coined by David Sachs, where a young adult goes home with the intention of moving forward within a self-initiated short-term timeline (e.g., saving money for a few months or years and applying to graduate school or jobs). However, for some young adults, they become stagnant in a “Floundering” or “Meandering” stage, where they have no self-initiated goals and are not motivated to change their current circumstances.

When I work with these young adults I first determine if there is a clinical anxiety or depressive disorder that has not been diagnosed and therefore treated. However, if a clinical disorder is not applicable after thorough assessment, it is essential that the family structure and the individual’s current skills be evaluated. These are just some of the questions I ask my young adult and their parents: “What are your responsibilities at home? How are your finances handled? Are you expected to do chores at home? What are your short and long-term goals? Do you have any plans to achieve them?” If a young adult is not experiencing any natural real-world consequences for their actions, then their behaviors will likely maintain and/or increase. We have to decrease behavior by not reinforcing it, or rewarding it. This is a tough task, especially for parents who see their role as providers and have difficulty setting limits.

It is important that the contingencies within the family are examined. For example, if a young adult refuses to get a job and make a financial contribution towards the household, are the parents financially compensating them? A frequent comment I hear from parents is “I just don’t understand why they [young adult] aren’t motivated to move on with their life.” This is an interesting comment because their lack of launching can be due to pre-existing contingencies within the family and/or a deficiency in skills. Sometimes, we as parents expect that our child should know something. I made this mistake the other day when I admittedly became frustrated with my 4-year-old child for not making their bed. The 4-year-old was expressing frustration in the form of a behavioral tantrum. I questioned myself and asked, “Wait, have I ever taught them to make their bed?” The answer was “no.” The lack of their behavior initiation was not due to motivation, but rather lack of skills. We want to be careful that we do not assume a lack of launching is because of motivation, because it could be do to a lack of skills. For example, does your young adult want to get a job, but does not know how to interview? Do they not know how to write a resume or CV. Ask them where they feel deficient in their ability to achieve their goals, and if they are able to identify their goals. This process is really one step at a time, but be patient, and be like a sleuth who is there to assist but not to overcompensate.


I will be giving a presentation on this topic at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s conference in Philadelphia in late March 2016. Make sure to post a question about this topic.





I am a clinical psychologist with approximately 15 years of experience assessing and treating anxiety and depressive disorders in young children, adolescents, young adults, adults and geriatric populations. I completed a 6-year predoctoral training award at the National Institute of Mental Health, and postdoctoral training at the Anxiety Disorders Center at the Institute of Living/Hartford Hospital. From my clinical and research experiences, I have come to see the struggles of many families deciding when to pursue professional help and feeling very lost in the process. I will address several mental health issues that will help educate and empower my readers to make better mental health decisions for themselves. Welcome to my blog! Johanna Kaplan, Ph.D. Disclaimer-This blog is not and cannot be used in replace of formal therapy. This blog is used to inform and educate and is not a form of informal or formal advice.

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