You may have heard of the phenomenon called failure to launch. There are blogs out there touting that it’s a “syndrome”, making it sound like an actual diagnosis (which it is not!). I am encouraging everyone to stop slapping the failure to launch label on young people who are trying to find their way. It’s a negative term that pathologizes young people’s journey towards adulthood.
Successfully transitioning into adulthood is a process. Everyone’s life journey is unique to them, with different timelines for reaching goals. Labeling someone’s journey or progress towards a goal as a failure, just because it doesn’t line up with someone else’s expectations, doesn’t help anyone. In fact, it’s demoralizing to the young person and leads to feelings of deep shame.
Why do I stress the point that launching into adulthood is a process? Because there is research supporting the idea of a developmental period called emerging adulthood. This period encompasses ages 18-29, coming after adolescence and before adulthood. Emerging adulthood is a period of discovery— examining values and worldviews, exploring career options and work identity, deciding what ideal relationships look like, and forming more “adult” relationships with parents. And discovery is rarely linear and without bumps in the road.
The study of emerging adulthood reflects the reality that adolescents don’t automatically become adults when they turn 18. It takes time for them to find their way in life and develop into a full-fledged adult. So, instead of thinking of these young people as failing, maybe consider they’re experiencing what all young people go through. They are doing what they’re supposed to be doing: figuring out how to be an adult.
Some emerging adults will mature quickly and figure things out faster than others without outside assistance. For others, it may take longer or they may need some extra support. However, just because an emerging adult needs support, doesn’t mean he or she is a failure. It simply means, for whatever reason, he or she didn’t develop some skills needed to become independent. Fortunately, with intentional and thoughtful support, emerging adulthood can be a time of excitement and opportunity instead of strife and struggle.
Think your teen or emerging adult could use some support launching into adulthood? Contact Dr. Crystal I. Lee for a free 20 minute consultation to see how she can help.