More than Peter Pan: About failure to launch


What is failure to launch?

Failure to launch is also known as Peter Pan syndrome, after the famous story of the boy who never grows up. And no, we are not talking about the famous Matthew McConaughey movie.

Young adults stay home, do not seek employment, and begin to withdraw from the world. Many young adults need time to launch into the world. Those experiencing failure to launch may or may not have tried to leave the nest, but they weren’t prepared or were unwilling to be independent. Young adults often have a history of difficulty with independent learning in academic or social areas or with stress management. Because of this, they often needed extra support. While some young adults may have performed well academically, they lack independent living skills.

Is it a common issue?

Dr. Roseann talks about the surge of failure to launch syndrome. According to the US Census, twenty-four million people between the ages of 18 and 34 lived under their parents’ roof in 2015. That’s a third of young adults! 

Why is this happening?

Scientific American explains that there are many possible reasons why young adults live with their parents. Some have a long list of reasons and others only have one reason, but they all are unable to move forward into adulthood. They are often held down because of unrealistic goals, blame others for their situation, or lack the motivation to change. Other common causes include:

  • The economy – hearing negative comments about the current/future economy is disheartening 
  • Low self-esteem – when young adults do not believe in themselves, they are less likely to successfully transition into adulthood
  • The job market – high unemployment rates and low pay for entry-level positions keep young adults living with their parents
  • Entitlement – after moving out, most young adults do not automatically have the luxuries that their parents have. Young adults may feel entitled to a certain lifestyle that they cannot afford on their own, which makes it easier for them to just stay with their parents.
  • ADHD – difficulty keeping track of responsibilities limits many young adults
  • Perfectionism – young adults may have a “perfect” life with their parents and know that they will not experience the same life on their own
  • Fear of failure – when there is a possibility of failure, it is not worth the effort to change
  • Anxiety – just thinking about moving out is overwhelming
  • Poor social skills – unable to communicate with those around them keeps young adults in their safe “bubble” at home
  • Growing up is viewed as optional – why leave if they don’t have to?
  • Mental health issues – when these issues are present, it makes it difficult for young adults to add on additional responsibilities and worry. They are often just trying to make it through each day.
  • Refusal to take on education debt – many young adults do not see education debt as “good debt” and cannot make enough money to live on their own
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder – limitations to abilities discourage young adults from learning skills to succeed on their own
  • Depression – when everything around them is dark, there is no hope in the future and no reason to leave home
  • Physical health issues – family members often care for young adults with physical health issues and the young adult never learns how to take care of themselves enough to be independent
  • Substance abuse – money is going toward the addiction, limiting young adults from leaving home
  • High sensitivity – when everything is personal, relationships are difficult and stress runs high. Keeping a job or working with a landlord is very difficult.
  • Executive functioning issues – these complex issues include having trouble starting and finishing tasks and difficulty setting schedules, all of which are necessary for independent living
  • Falling marriage rate – it can be difficult to move out as a single adult for many reasons including having a single income and experiencing extreme isolation/loneliness.
  • Enabling family members – if family does everything for a young adult, there is no incentive for them to do things for themselves

What are the common symptoms?

The defining feature of failure to launch is delaying, stalling, or refusal to participate in life. These young adults have very little intention of moving out or financially contributing while still living with their parents. They are often immobilized by fear to the point that they become unwilling to do anything that puts them outside of their comfort zone. Other common behaviors include:

  • Lack of motivation – young adults may not become independent if they have no motivation to do so
  • Financial dependency – if they have no income and are relying on others for financial support, they are not able to live independently
  • Poor work ethic – if a young adult does not have a work ethic, they are not likely to be able to hold a job very long
  • Resistance to help – as advice and encouragement is given over time, if a young adult is not applying important life skills and moving toward independence, they are failing to launch
  • Attentional or executive functioning challenges – if a young adult struggles with these issues, they are likely to be codependent
  • Lack of self-regulation – difficulty managing emotions and reactions can limit independent living
  • Poor problem-solving skills – life is full of problems and young adults who are not able to solve them will likely fail to launch
  • Inconsistent or poor grades – these behaviors are indicative of work ethic and motivation
  • Social skill deficits/social isolation – without interaction with others, young adults are more likely to fail to launch
  • Lack of insight into their behavior – similar to lack of self-regulation, young adults who participate in risky behaviors are more likely to stay in trouble with authorities and others
  • History of anxiety or self-esteem issues – these symptoms of failure to launch can limit young adults because they cannot see themselves being successful in the future
  • Gaming addiction – like other addictions, overuse of gaming and technology shows that the young adult is not able to prioritize their time
  • Doesn’t like working or learning outside of the comfort zone – this symptom reveals that they have placed limits on what they are willing to do, causing stagnation and stopping growth
  • Excessive marijuana usage – like gaming addictions, young adults often prioritize drugs over working toward a successful future
  • Low stress tolerance – being unable to deal with the stress of life can cause failure to launch
  • Can’t hold a steady job – this symptom shows that young adults are unable to work with others, do not show up on time, or lack work ethic
  • Entitled attitude – becoming independent requires hard work and many young adults believe that they are above working to earn success.

What is the next step?

Since each young adult is different, the first step towards making things better is to identify what is hindering them from moving forward. From there, it is important to seek appropriate help. Young adults with failure to launch syndrome often emotionally drain their parents. Not only does the young adult require the attention and support of a much younger child, their lack of independence appears to have no end. In order to break the cycle, families often chose to intervene and send their young adult to a helpful program like Skyterra. 

Skyterra Young Adult

Young adults ages 18-29 experience a supportive, therapeutic environment where individual attention and personal needs are addressed. Our program teaches young adults how to plan for and live out the vision for their future, providing lifelong direction and identifying their purpose so that they can live the life they were meant to live.

Skyterra Young Adult is a therapeutic program that teaches confidence-boosting tools and strategies that can be immediately applied in daily practice. Program focus areas include nutrition, fitness, life skills, and mental health. Skyterra includes and emphasizes:

  • Opportunities that establish intention and purpose in independence
  • Stress management
  • Private therapy and coaching
  • Creating and eating balanced meals
  • Structured classes and an active schedule
  • Consistent movement with plenty of nature and adventure
  • Hands-on integration of healthy life skills, including education and career planning.

Skyterra guests unplug and ground themselves so they feel less overwhelmed and more balanced. Through lectures and the progress that accompanies dedicated time for self-care, guests increase their self-awareness, develop new coping skills and mechanisms, and gain a clear understanding of mindfulness and its effectiveness. In addition to the yoga and fitness classes, specific stress-management offerings include:

  • Joyful movement – guests work to find a form of movement that brings joy, such as mindful walks, hikes, mobility classes, yoga or Tai Chi
  • Lectures – Skyterra experts address topics including self-care, self-compassion, sound sleep, building boundaries, cultivate gratitude, and reclaiming your body
  • Meditation and mindfulness – reduce stress and slow down the nervous system through a variety of experiences including creative arts and journaling classes, mindful eating experiences, walks and hikes 
  • Calming breathing techniques – explore calming and grounding deep breathing techniques that aid in stress reduction including belly breathing, square breathing, and relaxation breathing
  • 1:1 therapy sessions – confidential and emotional support provided by one of our licensed clinical therapists

Are you ready to conquer executive function challenges?

Fill out our form to download our free “Guide to Overcoming Executive Function Challenges” with strategies and resources tailored to young adults.

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