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Failure to Launch

video-game-addiction-fix-itselfJohn was never the greatest of students but he did manage to graduate from college in six years. Yay! His parents breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, he had accomplished what he set out to do.

Now, three years later, Mom and Dad are feeling increasingly distressed. John is living back home and going nowhere. His motivation to get a job comes and goes. The bulk of his day is spent on social media, video games and getting high.

He shows little interest in becoming an independent, self-sufficient adult. If his parents would get him an apartment, he’d move in a minute. But the idea of working toward that goal is beyond him.

What’s going on here? John is a prime example of a young man deep in the “Failure to Launch” syndrome.

It used to be that finishing high school, college or grad school marked the beginning of adulthood. It was the time in which you got a job or began a career and took responsibility for becoming a self-sufficient adult.

Today, in many homes, nothing like that is happening, resulting in strained relationships and drained finances. This syndrome begins way before graduation day. Despite the astronomical expenses of college, only one-third of students graduate on time. After six years, only 60 percent of college students have graduated and only a small percentage of those have a degree that has prepared them for a career.

Parents are fraught with anxiety. What should they do? “We love him but this is not what we expected. Should we practice ‘tough love’ and kick him out of the house? We thought about that but where would he go? We couldn’t live with ourselves if he were living on the streets. And we don’t want to give up on him.”

What a frustrating situation! If this story is hitting home, here’s what you must do to help your young adult develop the necessary skills for liftoff.

  • Don’t immediately think something is wrong. Give a young person time to establish himself. A brief stint at home after graduation is to be expected. Not many college grads have a clear direction for what to do next. And an economy that’s still far from robust does not help matters.
  • Teach (or hire a coach) to help your young adult learn to deal with the multiple challenges of adulthood. These might include how to job search, write a resume, build career skills, self-presentation skills, money management, household maintenance skills and roughing it so one can afford to live on one’s own.
  • Recognize psychological problems that may be inhibiting his development. This might include anxiety, procrastination, lack of drive or persistence, need for instant gratification, a strong pattern of avoidance instead of confronting challenges, depression, inability to control anger, or substance abuse. Insist that he get help that specifically addresses those issues.
  • Expect him to be a contributing member of the household with chores, if not money. Be clear on what his responsibilities are. Make sure he functions as part of the family, not apart from the family.
  • Be aware of signs of narcissism and lack of concern for others. Narcissism may become a pattern when one is repeatedly told how special, smart, talented and great one is, without connecting these gifts to the personal effort and hard work needed to actualize them. The upshot? Kids can come to feel entitled to receiving what they want just because they want it. Make sure you don’t feed narcissistic demands. Be clear on what you will do for your young adult and what you won’t do.

Don’t be shy about telling your young adult that it’s OK to be scared or uncertain about life’s challenges, but that facing the challenge head on and taking appropriate action will help them discover who they are and who they can be.


Failure to Launch

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Dr. Linda Sapadin, psychologist, success coach and author is proud to announce the publication of her new book, Overcoming Your Procrastination: College Student Edition – Advice for 6 Personality Styles available on Amazon. Now more than ever with remote learning, this book is a must-have. If you’re a perfectionist, dreamer, worrier, crisis-maker, defier or please, grab your copy. No longer a student? Get my book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age – 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles. Visit to subscribe to my free e-newsletter. Contact her at

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APA Reference
Sapadin, L. (2018). Failure to Launch. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 1, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 27 Feb 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.