When parents of young adults contact me for help, they are typically focused on their young adult’s problems. They want to know why problems exists with their young adult and how to fix these. Although I want to be sure to listen empathetically to the parents’ concern for the problems they see with their young adult and their belief about the cause of these problems – anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, laziness, lack of motivation, etc., I shift the emphasis quickly to a future orientation and solution focus. At the young adult stage, parents and young adults need to be future oriented because it’s a time of transition to self-sufficiency and independence. What follows regarding a solution orientation comes in large part to the work of Kim Berg and Steve De Shazer in the 1960s, who propose that if one focuses on the problem one becomes an expert on the problem but if one focuses on the solution, one becomes an expert on solutions.
Search for Solutions Instead of Problems
It’s not that I don’t think that the source of a failure to launch young adult’s behavior isn’t important, especially if there are indications of some underlying physical illness. Time is better spent searching for solutions than digging for a definitive diagnosis. Most of the stalled adults I meet as a result of working with their parents show signs of depression and anxiety. The question is whether the anxiety and depression are the cause or the result of failure to launch.
I think it’s fair to say and my limited research suggests that failing to launch is a significant contributor to their anxiety and depression. Evidence of this comes from two questions I ask these young people.
- First, I ask of these young adults – what is their current level of life satisfaction?
- Second, after helping them develop a five-year plan and objectives, I ask what they think their level of life satisfaction will be at that five-year future point.
The initial average rating on a scale of 0=completely unhappy to 10=completely happy, is usually “4.” When I ask about their life satisfaction when they attain their five-year plan and goals the answer is between “7-9.” This finding argues for focusing on their development as much as their depression. Medication may lift their mood, but it’s often not the silver bullet parents are hoping for. A pill doesn’t help them plan a future or address their critical developmental goals – identify, independence, intimacy, and intention (purpose).
Medication may help as will counseling using a cognitive behavioral therapy approach and these techniques may be necessary but are not sufficient to address the tough developmental task that these young adults face. It’s important that therapists and parents support efforts to address life tasks, goals, and a plan for the future. If this future orientation directed toward a young adult’s self-sufficiency is not part of the approach by parents and therapists, the outcome may be to have a young adult who is failing to launch but feels better about it. Although feeling better and progressing toward self-sufficiency are not mutually exclusive, given the choice, I think most parents would prefer the latter. Also, as noted above, according to my survey of young adults on life satisfaction, moving forward toward self-sufficiency and independence would lead to greater happiness and life satisfaction.
How Can Parents Use a Solution Oriented Approach to Their Young Adults?
What I do when working with parents and young adults is shift the focus from the day-to-day skirmishes around video games, dishes left in their bedroom, sleeping in to 2:00 in the afternoon to a future partnership between parents and young adults on plans, goals and solutions. In this regard, I interview the young adult with the objective of having them come up with a five-year plan and specific goals and solutions to get there. When the parents receive this information, they can now explore and develop ways to support the aspects of the plan that lead to greater independence and self-sufficiency.
Incidentally, as I have reported in other writings, no young adult claims they just want to be living with Mommie and Daddy in five years. Whew? The sigh of relief as parents learn this is almost palpable. The parent‘s assignment then is to come up with a list of what they will do to support the plan, what they won’t do since the young adult has to have skin in the game, and what expectations they have for their young adult to continue to live at home.
Benefits of Developing a Five-Year Plan
This process of the young adult coming up with a five-year plan and the parents coming up with their response accomplishes a number of things.
- First, it shifts the focus from the problem to the future which is an important perspective for both parents and young adults.
- Second, it engages the young adult in envisioning a future and seeing a path forward. Most young adults have not thought of their future or what steps they may need to take to get there.
- Third, it sidesteps the daily battles that parents have by orienting both to the future.
- Fourth, it creates a way that parents can move out of a critical or complaining mode to a partnering mode with the young adult on the young adult’s plan. Even though parents may not like the plan, it’s at least a start on a direction in life.
Many of these plans change along the way so having any plan which the young adult creates is more important than having the perfect plan or what the parents want. On the latter point, when parents and young adults do follow-up meetings which I suggest at least monthly, the discussion focus is on how the young adult is doing on “their” plan and what additional ways the parent can support the young adult.
In the next blog, I will discuss some specific techniques parents can use to shift the focus and the tenor of the relationship between parents and young adults to solutions.
- A Letter from A Grieving Mother - November 14, 2023
- Book Recommendation: Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict - November 13, 2023
- When a Young Adult’s Transition to Independence is Complicated by Special Needs - October 27, 2023