When challenged to show backbone with a young adult who is anxious or depressed, one of the common parental assumptions is that this could make things worse or push them over the edge. Many young adults I see are not in that category but seem paralyzed or stuck in moving ahead with their lives. This paralysis often occurs after they have experienced some failure: flunking out of college, losing a job, braking up with a significant other, etc. They fear failure, which leads to depression and anxiety. As a cautionary note, if anxiety and depression occur with a history of suicide threats or attempts, parents must take these seriously, and professional help is necessary.
The Impact of COVID
Another set of young adults I work with lost their jobs during the pandemic, received unemployment and a stimulus check, and lived off this subsidy. Not working and being housebound due to COVID, many of these young adults have become anxious or depressed with the thought of getting a full-time job. They have become more comfortable being cared for, which forestalls the growing-up process. An unintended consequence of this help from the government is that some young adults have experienced “learned helplessness.” This condition identified in Martin Seligman’s book by the same name describes a person reinforced for staying home who begins to doubt or fear they can make it back in the real world. Parents at times feed into this problem by doing too much for the young adult or allowing them to do nothing and, doing so, send a message that the young adult can’t stand on their own. A 2019 PEW Research report found that 61% of parents report doing too much for their young adult children.
What’s a Parent to Do?
What’s a parent to do if you have an anxious or depressed young adult at home who seems immobilized by moving forward with their lives? Parents need to take a love and backbone approach to these young adults. Specifically, demonstrate love by establishing expectations and standing behind these. Suppose the young adult is at home or living away from home, and you are paying for their apartment and expenses. In that case, you have a right and responsibility to expect them to demonstrate progress toward responsible adulthood and self-sufficiency.
Every parent I have talked with agrees that young adults need to go to school or work if they live with their parents. This expectation should be non-negotiable. The fact is that the young adult knows they need to be doing one or the other of these. They understand that this is part of growing up and transitioning into adulthood. If the parents waver on this, it feeds into the young adult’s belief that they can’t make it independently. By requiring this, a parent says that they believe the young adult can step up to attend classes that advance a career or get a job. It’s the right and loving thing to do. It’s important to tell them there is no free lunch in the world even though their experience may suggest otherwise. In another blog, I encourage parents to list what they do for their young adults. Seeing this list helps the young adult be more willing to accept certain expectations in return as a tradeoff.
Work vs. School
If a young adult is not sure about further education, then getting a job is a great way to discover what they may want to do long term while putting some money in their pocket and increasing their sense of independence. Work is on my list of critical antidepressants and antianxiety tools. Today there are two jobs for every unemployed person. There are no excuses for not having a job if school is not an option. Forcing college after high school graduation when a person doesn’t know why they are going to college is a high-risk investment. We’ve now even normalized the idea of not going to college for at least a year in the “skip” year option.
One 32-year-old male with only a couple of credits left to get his college degree was highly anxious about seeking employment because he feared rejection. He was depressed, had terrible sleep habits – up all night, sleeping during the day – and had hygiene problems. His mother had a friend who came over and offered him a job with the City of Minneapolis. He went to the job, liked it, and was well-liked by his co-workers, and within days his sleep went back to normal, and his mood changed dramatically. In this case, the job gave this young adult a success or a win that enabled him to overcome his depression and gain the confidence he needed to move on with his life.
In conclusion, assume your young adult is capable of further education/training and work. If they claim depression or anxiety holds them back, then the response is they need to get help to overcome this – seeing a therapist, medication, etc. I should acknowledge that some severe mental illness conditions interfere to such an extent that the person is genuinely incapable of working. In such cases pursuing social security disability may be the decision. Most of the young adults of parents I see do not fit into this category. They need to know their parents love them, believe in them, and expect them to take actions that increase self-care (therapy if needed) and lead to greater independence and self-sufficiency.
An individual had written a really scathing review of me on google. Never heard of the person nor saw him as a client unless this person is using an anonymous name. I had two male clients, both with anger issues, leave dissatisfied with my advice. In one case of a young man who was angry at his father and complaining about his life but stating he was not depressed, I said he was suffering from PPA- Piss Poor Attitude. He wasn’t happy to hear this. I pride myself in my listening skills but also my willingness to give feedback that a client may not like.
I can’t change this review, although I replied to it, but I would welcome and appreciate and positive reviews you can give that could help to elevate my score and indicate that this specific review is a bit of an anomaly. If you are willing to write such a review- couple of sentences- please click on the following links. Thanks so much.
- Suffering and Other Qualities Parents Share with Young Adults - May 10, 2023
- I Found a Letter - May 2, 2023
- From Problem to Solution – Part I - April 24, 2023
Dr. Jack Stoltzfus says
Thanks for the contact Jan. My guess is that you are outside of Minnesota, so I am limited in my ability to provide direct help to you by my psychology licensure rules. I can do a one-time visit with you to discuss a strategy and point to some of the materials ai have that might be helpful, but you may need to connect with a therapist locally. on the tough love option, I would recommend you get ahold of my book Parenting Our Young Adults with Love and Backbone available on Amazon. If you wish to contact me my email address is email@example.com