6 Tips to Prepare for your Teen’s Independence
Independence Day – the anniversary of America’s founding fathers declaring liberation from England’s governance. When it comes to governing one’s household, nearly every parent anticipates the day that their child will give their own, “declaration of independence.” Parents expect that as their teens emerge into their 20’s, they’ll soon be moving out and establishing themselves as self-sufficient adults. To many parents’ dismay, however, more and more young adults are having trouble meeting the milestones that lead to independence.
And while the prospect of an empty nest can be a little scary, the idea of children living with their parents forever can be even more concerning.
Is “Failure to Launch Syndrome” a thing?
“Failure to Launch” is not an official diagnosis, but rather a slang term derived from a movie referring to adult children who are either unmotivated or unable to become self-sufficient. Most psychologists aren’t fond of the term, “Failure to Launch,” because it labels these adults as failures, and a person’s ability to move out of their parent’s home should not solely determine their overall success. Also, failure sounds like a final outcome, and is a pretty harsh way to label what is often a temporary struggle. Negative labels aside, there’s no denying that there is a growing phenomenon of young adults who find the prospect of independence terrifying, paralyzing, or just plain unappealing.
So is it a psych issue?
There are several factors contributing to why millions of young adults, many of whom are employed or have college degrees, are finding it harder to leave the nest. The rising cost of living and limited economic opportunities are certainly a part of it, but in many cases, these adult children are struggling with beliefs that they are inadequate and incapable of making it on their own. Other factors contributing to their struggle may include mental illness, learning disabilities, or attention problems. Therefore, psychological issues often play an important role in a young adult’s struggle to achieve independence.
Why is this generation having such a problem?
There have been a few cultural shifts over the past several decades that experts believe have contributed to this “dependent adult” phenomenon:
The “No marriage til after grad school” shift
In recent years, society has encouraged young adults to prioritize higher education and graduate degrees over starting careers and families. While there are obvious benefits to having a well-educated society, many young adults have focused so much on academic endeavors that they haven’t developed the life skills that are necessary for self-sufficiency. Attending college into one’s mid-20’s to early 30’s has also caused more adults to delay independent milestones such as getting their first job, marrying, or moving into their own home.
The “Winning is the only option” shift
Since the 1980’s, there has been increased pressure on parents to protect their children from failure. This has promoted parenting styles that strive for perfectionism. Ironically, this drive to protect children from failure may be exactly what holds them back from success in adulthood. By conditioning children to believe that perfection is the only acceptable outcome, they are led to believe that they can’t possibly handle the pressures of independence without the protective net of their parents.
While these societal changes have made it more challenging for young adults to get out on their own, there are steps parents can take to support their child’s healthy transition into adulthood:
1. Have them set their own goals
Figuring out college and career plans in high school is a daunting task for many teens. Their brains aren’t fully developed yet, they have little to no work experience, yet they must make life-altering choices that strongly impact their future. While it’s good for you to talk openly about their plans and discuss potential pros and cons, be careful not to goal-set for them. Allow them to set their own goals and create their own action plan to achieve them. This will emphasize the belief that they are capable of managing their own life, even when things get confusing or overwhelming.
2. Take off the training wheels
Remember when you taught your kid how to ride a bike? For a period of time they rode with training wheels. Then you warily removed them but still held their handlebars as they rode around the block for a while. Finally, the day came that you released your grip and let them ride on their own. Make sure that when your teen approaches other life milestones, you aren’t leaving their “training wheels” on for too long. Teach them what they need to know, be available to answer questions, but remove your protective buffer to show them that you believe in their abilities.
Example: Teaching your teen about financial management when they get their first job
- Show them how to create a budget
- Teach them how to calendar due dates, set up a checking account, and pay their cell-phone bill
- Tell them you’ll help walk them through their budget and bill payments for their first 2 paychecks
- On the 3rd paycheck and beyond, be available to answer questions if they come to you, but don’t do it for them
3. Put and end to enabling
If your teen feels like they have it made living with you, they may not be motivated to face the challenges that come with independent living. If they’re procrastinating on searching for a summer job, stop giving them spending money. If they seem to be avoiding the steps toward getting their driver’s license, stop chauffeuring them around at their request. If independent driving isn’t an option for them yet, have them start riding their bike places to accustom them to getting around on their own. Sometimes removing the “perks” of living with mom and dad can be an effective nudge in getting your teen to face their fears and take the plunge into self-sufficiency.
4. Stop fearing failure
Teen years can be tough for both parents and their children; parents are used to the days of brushing their kids’ teeth, packing their lunch, and making sure they have clean underwear. Whether it be school work, household chores, or social situations, avoid the urge to rescue them every time they stumble. Independence requires understanding the consequences of actions, as well as maintaining resiliency through missteps. Your teen can’t develop these critical traits without being given the space to work through age-appropriate challenges, even when it means they must be late to a job interview or wear dirty socks.
5. Keep your love unconditional
If your teen isn’t showing the motivation or work ethic you think will be necessary for them to achieve independence, you may get understandably frustrated. Try not to express your frustration by lashing out or giving ultimatums. Teens and young adults who struggle with life transitions are often dealing with low self-esteem already; feeling that their parents’ love is conditional on their performance will only worsen the anxiety that holds them back. Let them know that you love them unconditionally and empower them by fostering their passions and persistency. Click here to listen to a podcast by Dr. Marta M. Shinn on fostering passion and persistence in your child.
6. Visit a specialist
Emerging into adulthood can be a scary and confusing time, and struggling to achieve independence can impact both parents and their adult children. A specialist in family therapy can help families unravel the different factors leading to their child’s difficulties and give practical strategies to improve the parent-child relationship and empower adult children toward independence.
Cynthia Johnson, LMFT, is a specialist in Parenting and Child Therapy at Variations Psychology. Cynthia is experienced in helping parents build strong emotional connections with their children and provides parents with practical tips to support their child’s mental and emotional growth.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in child and educational psychology. Dr. Shinn specializes in helping parents understand the educational and emotional needs of their children and can evaluate areas that might be getting in the way of teens reaching age-appropriate milestones such as attention or learning differences. Dr. Shinn helps parents and children overcome challenges and support one another other in reaching their goals.
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More about Variations Psychology
Variations Psychology is a group practice specializing in Child and Family Psychology.
Our specialists provide therapy to infants, children, adolescents, and adults to help them overcome the many challenges they may face throughout the lifespan of a family. We also conduct diagnostic testing of child and adult conditions that may impact the family’s mental health and development (e.g. ADHD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, Learning Disorders, college entrance exams).
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Variations Psychology is located in Newport Beach, CA and provides counseling to residents throughout Orange County and its surrounding areas including Newport Beach, Newport Coast, Irvine, Shady Canyon, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Coto de Caza, Corona del Mar, Costa Mesa, Yorba Linda, Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Aliso Viejo, Mission Viejo, Pelican Hill, Crystal Cove, Rancho Santa Margarita, San Clemente, Lake Forest, Huntington Beach, Sunset Beach, Seal Beach, and more.