In April and May of this year, I surveyed the experience and opinions of parents of young adults on my distribution lists, which include psychologists in Minnesota, former or current clients, website enrollees, and friends and family. Dr. Heather Hessel from the University of Wisconsin-Stout has graciously volunteered to help me analyze the data. This collaboration is ongoing. Although the work with Dr. Hessel is essential for a deeper dive into the data from a statistical standpoint, this and subsequent blogs on the findings will primarily be descriptive and include my comments and observations.
Because this isn’t a random sample, the results can’t be generalized, but the information can be helpful. The purpose was to learn about the concerns of parents of young adults and what you have found that has and has not worked to support the launch process. I believe that we can learn much from each other and affirm some of our experiences and perceptions. For those who wish to dig a little deeper into the participants’ responses, you can find the survey results here.
One hundred and twenty-two parents responded to the survey. Of this population, 98% indicated that they were white. 15.57% of respondents were single parents. Most of my work has been with suburban families in the Northern Suburbs of St. Paul and has not included a broader ethnic population. This demographic is a limitation to the data.
The ages of the young adults in the survey ranged from under 18 (8.2%) to 36-40 (10.6%), with the majority falling between 18 and 35 (80%). 62.3% were males, and 36.7% were females. In my counseling, I see almost a 10:1 ratio of parents with males who are failing to launch versus females. The young adult population was only slightly less likely to be white than their parents – 90%.
Delving into the Data
According to a Pew survey conducted in 2013, more male young adults (40%) lived at home than females (32%). Overall, 36% of young adults in the United States, 18-31, were living at home. This figure rose to 52% in 2020. 38.5% of the young adults in this survey are living at home.
41% of parents indicated that their young adult had a mental health diagnosis that may be interfering with their progress toward responsible independence. 17.43% of parents indicated that their young adult had a substance abuse problem. 17.5% indicated that their young adult had special needs (physical, mental, or learning disability) that may be interfering with their progress toward responsible independence.
When parents were asked to describe the relationship with their young adult, only 13% indicated that it was negative or very negative. 79% stated the relationship was positive. This finding is somewhat surprising in that 78% of respondents indicated that they had sought counseling in the last five years. Also, 28% of parents indicated that they feel frustrated and angry toward their young adults. I wonder if I had asked parents if they have a strained or stressful relationship with their young adult the results may have been different.
When parents were asked the one or two biggest challenges they faced with their young adults, here are the themes that surfaced from their responses:
- Support but no control of my young adult.
Commentary: In my writings, I highlight the need for parents of young adults to accept that they cannot control their young adults. This fact makes it difficult for parents when they see their kids making bad decisions or being irresponsible. This is the “Love” and “Backbone” dilemma that I write about in my book – Parenting Our Young Adults with Love and Backbone. I would strongly recommend this short and inexpensive book for parents facing this balancing act. The challenge is to take a “both/and” or integrated approach rather than default to one extreme. Love is foundational but learning to say” no” is essential to separation from parents and becoming self-sufficient. See the blog “NO” is Not a Four-Letter Word.
- Lack of motivation (some say “grit”), sticking to plans, procrastination, oppositional, irresponsible decision making, and behavior on the part of the young adult.
Commentary: Such observations of our young adults suggest that they are avoiding responsible independence. The reasons for such behavior in our young adults are not just soft parenting (making things easy and comfortable) but also not allowing the young adult to face the consequences of their action. Temperament also plays a role, as all with more than one child understand. Because of this latter factor, a one size fits all approach is not likely to be successful.
- Mental health or emotional difficulties – anger, anxiety, depression, ADHD, frustration, disrespect of parents, addiction, alcohol abuse, and illicit drugs, especially marijuana.
Commentary: Sometimes, the reactions of young adults with anxiety, depression, and anger have longstanding roots, but in other cases, these reactions may be due to feeling stuck and dependent. Anger at themselves and frustration with their situation may be directed at parents or other authority figures. In a couple of previous blogs, I argue that parents must address behavioral problems, including substance abuse, underlying psychological issues, and developmental delay. Just helping them become less depressed or anxious but not aiding their separation and independence will not be effective.
- Resistance of the young adult to getting help.
Commentary: In such cases, parents need to get help even if the young adult won’t. Some blogs address this issue under counseling.
- Lack of financial disciple- no job, no career.
Commentary: Unless there are clear debilitating conditions that would preclude a young adult from working, especially if living at home, getting a job should be required. The parents can make a reasonable argument that the young adult cannot live at home without reciprocating for the room and board they are receiving. See the blog, When is it Time to Evict? This is the backbone message young adults need to hear – there’s no free lunch in the world. If they don’t learn this at home, it will be harder to learn it when they leave.
- Communication, not talking, showing no concern, disrespect. See blogs on communication.
- COVID-19 and social isolation. See blogs on COVID-19.
Most likely, you can see one or more of your challenges in the comments above. Don’t expect, even in reading the blogs that are referenced, that you will find the “one” answer that will address all your concerns. The successful launch of a young adult is a process and takes patience and stamina. In further reporting of the results, we will discuss what parents said they do to address these challenges along with other findings.