What is Failure-To-Launch Syndrome?


What is Failure-To-Launch Syndrome?

Failure-to-Launch is not a particular diagnosis but rather a syndrome that describes kids who do not “leave the nest” even as young adults. It refers to teens and twenty-somethings who are at home still living with their parents, and typically are not engaged in any formal education, training, or employment. These days, many people still live with their parents well into their 20’s, especially with the rising cost of living and education across the USA. However, Failure-to-Launch goes beyond just living at home. It involves regression or being stuck in a developmental stage. Those who struggle with it tend to be highly dependent on their parents financially with low motivation to change the situation. It represents a syndrome of being stuck significantly behind one’s peers in terms of what one would normally expect in society for their developmental stage.

Following is a case example of Failure-to-Launch based on a composite of some of the patients that we see. Danny is a 23 y/o who struggles with ADHD, depression, and social anxiety. He lives with his parents and plays video games all day long in their basement. He often stays up very late, and sleeps through a good portion of the day. Having dropped out of college, he is not enrolled in any education, employment or training. He vapes nicotine, smokes marijuana daily, and leaves empty beer cans around the house. Despite having some friends online, Danny remains socially isolated and financially dependent on his parents. Danny tells his parents that video games and marijuana are the only things that make him happy.  He reports feeling depressed and unmotivated and feels that his parents do not understand him. Danny’s parents feel stuck; they want to treat him like an adult, but when they encourage him, he gets annoyed and does not change his behavior. Parents often experience a sense of helplessness as tensions grow in the house and nothing seems to change.

Failure-to-Launch is a global phenomenon, not just an issue in the USA. In the UK, it has been referred to as KIPPERS (Kids in Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings), or NEETs (Not Engaged in Employment or Training); in Japan, it is referred to as “Hikikomori.” There is no clear consensus as to exactly when Failure-to-Launch became a widely recognized phenomenon, however, we have seen increasing reports since the early 2000’s.

As a term, “Failure-to-Launch” suggests it is the young person’s fault for remaining too dependent on their parents. However, there are many reasons for this syndrome. Root causes can be multifactorial – social factors, psychological, and biological. People are getting married later, having kids later, and taking more time to complete their education. The cost of housing, especially in urban rental markets, has made it more difficult for young adults to strike out on their own. Parents today often find it challenging to responsibly push their kids out of the nest which can perpetuate dependency. Family enmeshment and codependency can inadvertently enable or overly accommodate underlying disorders, which may include depression, substance use, ADHD, and anxiety.

Does this sound like a problem you’ve heard about? Maybe you even have a loved one who has enormous potential but is not living up to that potential and struggling in this way. Because of the complex nature of this issue, consulting with a mental health professional is key. The sooner you recognize that failure-to-launch may be happening, the sooner an intervention can take place!

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