Most parents who have young adults languishing at home with little motivation have no doubt thought, if not threatened, to kick them out. Often when I tell people what I do, I hear a statement like – “just give them the boot.” But I am not talking about that type of “get out” message. Such threats or actual expulsions from the home do not constitute a successful launch because they often damage the relationship between the parents and the young adult at a minimum but can lead to estrangement. A successful launch, and my goal as a launch coach, is to facilitate the transition to greater independence and self-sufficiency of the young adult while maintaining a positive parent-adult-child relationship. My message to “get out” is different.
Parents I work with expect the young adult to commit to further education/training, work, or some combination of both. All the parents I have worked with over the last ten years have agreed that living at home and “doing nothing” is not an option. Joe was a young adult sitting at home, too afraid to apply for work and be rejected, depressed, and suffering from lack of sleep. He would stay up all night, then cat nap during the day, and had failed to bathe in days when I saw him. I referred him to a sleep study and began to work with him and his mother to find a way for him to “get out.” A friend of his mother’s had a job opening with the city and took the initiative to speak to her son, who accepted the job opportunity. Within two days, he was sleeping through the night, getting up at 7:00 AM, finding work satisfying, and developing a new set of friends. What was the most critical intervention in this person’s path forward – the job? Clearly, a job isn’t always the answer, but doing nothing was not working, and this young man became increasingly depressed.
Some parents are hesitant to require the school or job option if the young adult is depressed, anxious, or has some other health or disability concerns. Unfortunately, to expect nothing may inadvertently contribute to the young adult’s feelings of low self-worth. Also, remember that young adults stalled at home want to be more self-sufficient and independent but are stuck. When I interview stalled young adults and ask about their satisfaction with their lives on a 0=completely unhappy to a 10=completely happy, the typical score is 4. After we worked out a five-year plan for self-sufficiency and independence, they believed attaining their goals would result in a life satisfaction score of 8 and 10. This change in score reinforces the point that therapy or medication alone can treat symptoms but does not address the journey young adults need to take to independence. Doing nothing and being stalled is at least a contributor to their mental health problems, if not the primary source. Parents can help. Offering choices is often helpful in enlisting their cooperation because it empowers them and increases the likelihood of investing in “their” choice. Doing nothing as a parent isn’t an option.
A Mental Health Concern
If the adult child expresses concern regarding depression, anxiety, ADHD, or other conditions, offer the choice of seeing their family doctor or contacting a therapist. On the latter, here is a link to many online services and resources for therapy. Most of these online resources have listings of therapists and their profiles to choose someone who may be a good match. Zocdoc is one where I am listed. Many young people use these online services because of the ease and privacy. If they want to see the family doctor, schedule an appointment, and ensure they get there. Doing nothing to help with a mental health problem is not an option.
Work for the Family or Volunteer
If there are projects around the home – painting, gardening, landscaping, cleaning, etc. that they can do, indicate that this is an expectation as part of their free room and board. Sometimes an assignment to research something on the internet can be helpful. Quite a few young adults I see are daily marijuana users, contributing to low motivation. If they are unwilling to back off or discontinue this, have them do a paper reviewing the benefits and drawbacks of the use of marijuana. If they don’t want to do work around the house or you are having a tough time coming up with something, offer them the opportunity to volunteer. Volunteering is a great way to get out, be well-received, meet new people, make new friends, and feel good about helping others. There are typically local online volunteer resources that a young person can consider.
Yes, volunteers are often retirees, but they could be mentors or a link to employment. Here’s a link to volunteer resources. Doing nothing isn’t an option.
Just Do It
Exercise is an excellent antidepressant and antianxiety, and scientifically proven mood booster. A major meta-analysis of randomly controlled studies reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine comparing antidepressants to exercise found no difference when treating non-severe depression. Mayo Clinic says exercise releases feel-good endorphins and other chemicals that enhance well-being. Other benefits include better sleep, sharper thinking, energy level, confidence, and improved memory. Most young adults I talk with who are at home or being subsidized in an apartment by parents are exercising very little, if at all. Parents should require young adults to exercise – walk, run, go to a health club, get a personal trainer, use exercise videos, walk the dog, etc. Lots of choices but doing nothing is not an option.
Don’t Just Push Them Out, Pull Them Out
In my book The Launch Code, due out in 2024, I argue that parents don’t have to feel helpless or act in ways that enable young adults to do nothing and see a situation worsen. Parents can make specific requirements for living at home – work, or school – and other ways to get out. Furthermore, parents should not just preach to these kids and tell them to get out, go to school, work, or volunteer but find ways to partner with them in some of these activities that get them out of the house. For instance, if you want your young adult to volunteer, offer to partner with them in this experience. One mother who delivered Meals on Wheels invited her young adult along to deliver meals, and he got out of the house, met friendly people, and felt useful. Commit to working out together- gym, running, hiking, etc. Take road trips with your young adult. What a great way to have a conversation side-by-side in the car.
Some argue one should allow the young person to experience the consequences of their inactivity or that you are enabling. I would say that allowing a young person to vegetate in front of the computer playing video games is disabling. Enabling is helping them get out and get going. Parents must guard against getting discouraged when the young person resists or argues such activities will do no good. Think of their process of moving toward independence and self-sufficiency as a journey. Don’t expect a sprint. It’s more like a marathon or long-distance run. Parents can help get them moving in different ways, ultimately leading to them feeling more energy, confidence, and desire to make it on their own. Find the small wins or actions of the young adult that are part of this journey and amplify and reinforce these.
Doing nothing as a young adult or parent isn’t an option.