Failure to launch refers to an extended pause in the typical developmental process of a young adult. Someone who has "failed to launch" could be someone who is approaching adulthood and does not yet have a career or the education and training needed to pursue a desired path. This person also will appear to not have any productive goals or aspirations to advance their life. They are also likely to rely on their parents to sustain them financially, well past the time when their peers are living independently.
In 2020, 52% of 18-29-year-olds were living at home with their parents, according to a Pew Research study. Have you ever considered why so many young adults still live at home? The answer is multi-faceted. It's essential to consider the circumstances young people are in today that make it profoundly more difficult to move out than it was for past generations. The increasing cost of living is possibly the chief deterrent to young adults moving out. Newly independent adults need to earn sufficient income to pay for housing, utilities, food, healthcare, transportation, and so on in a landscape of scarce rental properties and persistent inflation.
Another key factor that can impede young adults from moving out of their parents' homes is executive dysfunction. When the self-management skills required to make goals, persist with plans, and solve the inevitable problems along the way are underdeveloped, young people can feel overwhelmed and decide to quit before they even begin their launching process.
In other words, a lack of executive function skills can make diving into adulthood feel nearly impossible and downright overwhelming.
Failure to launch is also sometimes described as "Peter Pan Syndrome". This refers to the story of Peter Pan and his resistance to growing up. Adults with Peter Pan Syndrome appear to have an unrealistic desire to remain a child.
While both failure to launch and Peter Pan Syndrome are often compared and have similar definitions, the two are not interchangeable. Also, neither can be deemed a mental illness but mental illness can sometimes be a factor in both cases.
We believe that the term "failure to launch" sounds harsh and ultimately does nothing but make people in this situation feel hopeless. What if we reframed this issue with a more hopeful perspective? We prefer to think of this period as a delayed launch because after all, everyone is not on the same timeline and there is no single "right way" to approach any large milestones in life. There's always time to learn the skills needed to launch successfully into adulthood.
Failure to launch is most common among young people transitioning into adulthood, between the ages of 18-29. While failure to launch can certainly affect both women and men, it tends to be slightly more common in men.
There are ample contributors to failure to launch, but the 7 most common are self-management skills, parent enablement, milestones/rites of passage, substance use disorders, mental health disorders, learning disorders, and motivation issues.
It is common to find a combination of any of these 7 contributors. Here's a quick synopsis of each:
|Self-management skills||A lack in skills like time management, organization, task initiation, emotional regulation, planning and prioritizing|
|Parent enablement||Parents who shelter adult children from difficult obligations like paying bills, working, or buying food|
|Milestones/Rites of passage||Fear of the future after big events like graduation|
|Substance use disorders||Abusing substances like alcohol or drugs to avoid moving forward in life|
|Mental health disorders||Anxiety or depression hindering the ability to succeed|
|Learning disorders||Learning differences like ADHD, which can impact educational attainment, performance on the job, and training for job-relevant skills|
|Motivation issues||A lack of drive to set goals and achieve them|
Use this checklist to identify if you're experiencing a failure to launch:
|You’re behind your peers in terms of career, education, or training.|
|You rely on your parents or others to pay your bills, loan you money, and/or buy your food and clothing.|
|If you still live with your parents, you do not pay rent or contribute to the household upkeep.|
|When faced with conflict, you either avoid it or rely on others to solve it for you.|
|You feel stuck and unsure of how to make progress toward your goals.|
|You don’t have a steady source of income.|
|You feel too overwhelmed to think about searching for a job or applying to college.|
|You don’t have a clear sense of your strengths.|
|You aren’t confident in your ability to succeed and live independently.|
Executive dysfunction can be one of the biggest contributors to failure to launch. Adults with executive dysfunction experience challenges with their abilities to plan and prioritize, focus, organize, regulate emotions, manage time, and initiate tasks. All of these self-management abilities are key to functioning as a happy, confident, and independent adult.
So, how does each executive function skill affect failure to launch?
Plan and prioritize: Preparing for the future and deciding which objectives are most important
Focus: Staying committed to life goals
Organize: Managing your ideas and developing strategic plans for following through
Emotional regulation: Remaining optimistic and not allowing negative thoughts to derail progress
Time management: Setting reasonable deadlines for yourself to complete tasks and goals
Task initiation: Starting on work, such as job applications to accomplish career and life goals, household projects to maintain a clean and orderly living space, and beginning healthy habits, such as exercise and good nutrition