Failure to Launch Syndrome in Young Adults

Updated: Dec 30, 2021

A young woman suffering from the failure to launch syndrome

The majority of young adults are looking forward to adulthood. They anticipate their independence, privacy, and open possibilities with eagerness. However, a percentage of young people have considerable problems when the time comes for them to mature. For them, the inability to adapt and make progress comes as a heavy burden, making them feel powerless. As for the parents, it's disheartening and often frustrating to watch their children struggle as they try to find their place in the world. This, often called failure to launch syndrome, raises many questions.

Is laziness the main problem, or is it, eventually, something more serious at work? The truth is, many factors can contribute, and determining the symptoms and causes is the only way to fix the situation.

How to recognize failure to launch syndrome in young adults and help them

While failure to launch syndrome is not an official mental health diagnosis, this particular phenomenon describes young adults with serious trouble "growing up". On the surface, not being able to leave home and support themselves looks like they are "stuck" in time. As a result, as time passes, the problem deepens and reduces the chances of changing for the better. For many young adults, additional support is the only way to get out of the dependent situation and point them in the right direction.

When does failure to launch occur?

There are many factors that can influence young people and lead to the failure to launch syndrome. Sometimes, those are external factors from the environment. The way they grow up and socialize with others. But, sometimes, it's the mixture of inner elements like specific mental health issues or problems with the way they observe the world.

Family as one of the major factors

Not everyone has the same parenting style. The principles and rules they follow as a family are often different and based on previous experiences. On the other side, the truth is that being a perfect parent is hard, even impossible. As a parent, you don't have all the answers and don't always know how to guide your child properly. You try, but it doesn't necessarily turn the way you expect. That's why some can be over-protective, spoiling their kids or pushing them too far. While others might seem less capable in the parent-child relationship, failing to react when reasonable concerns arise.

Both these extreme cases can cause the failure to launch syndrome. On one side, children become too attached to their parents, making moving on later harder. On the other side, young people isolate themselves, losing interest in making progress toward adult life.

 A young father teaching his daughter to draw.
Parents want the best for their children but don’t always know how to help.

Addictions and distractions

Unfortunately, substance abuse is still one of the most common issues among young people. Usually, here is where failure to launch sneaks unnoticed.

Another form of addiction, or rather distraction, quite common among younger generations, is screen addiction. The advance of technology and the internet brought us many entertainment sources like social media, videos platforms, video games, etc. However, over consumption can easily entrap young people and make them uninterested in the outside world. This virtualization, observation of other people's lives, and extreme level of interactiveness-made-possible online can easily destroy a healthy social life, make people less motivated to do anything else, and eventually place them in an unenvious financial situation.

Mental health issues

Unfortunately, mental health is also one of the most common causes of the failure to launch syndrome. In general, ADHD, autism, dyslexia, and other conditions make young people's lives already tricky. Sometimes, even to the degree where independent life is impossible. However, even mild depression, anxieties, accumulated stress, and other seemingly lesser issues can easily develop into the failure to launch if not addressed correctly and in time.

A blurred image of a darkened crowd with a focus on an anxious young woman
People with depression feel like they are alone in the world.

Failure to launch symptoms

Since failure to launch is a serious problem that can worsen over time, it's crucial to recognize the symptoms early on, so young people can get the right treatment. The most common symptoms of the failure to launch syndrome are:

  • Problems with adjusting to college

  • Problems with learning

  • Not enough motivation

  • A lack of, or misdirected, passion

  • Difficulties with finding and keeping a job

Problems with adjusting to college

College is usually the first time most young adults move out of the comfort of their homes. They need to leave the nest first time tips and participate in something entirely new for them. Besides learning, this brings a lot of commitments. For the first time, they live without parents, have to prepare food, clean the living space alone, do the laundry, etc. Not to mention that many are already working, trying to cope with the situation, or earning money to pay back the student loans. These daunting tasks present true obstacles for some, and they choose to avoid or neglect them entirely.

Problems with learning

Not everyone has the same learning capacity. Some struggle more to keep up with peers. As it is not enough, it gradually undermines their confidence and marginalizes them.

 A young college student having trouble learning from her books
Not being able to learn at the right pace can be demoralizing.

Not enough motivation

People who suffer from the failure to launch syndrome almost always demonstrate a lack of motivation. Sometimes, this can be seen even from the early childhood days. In essence, it's the lack of interest in doing anything particular or making changes. These young people usually don't have career plans, lack general skills, and reject any offer to acquire them.

The lack of, or misdirected, passion

The average person has at least one hobby before joining the world of adults. Besides this absence of hobbies, going in the opposite direction can also be dangerous. Enclosing yourself completely into one hobby, and isolating yourself from the rest of the world, is a sign something is not right. This is emphasized especially today when people find online activities that ultimately emerge them into the digital world, like gaming, for example.

Difficulties with finding and keeping a job

Young adults suffering from the failure to launch syndrome have difficulties finding a job. Even if they eventually get one, they often struggle to keep it. They usually choose to return home to their parents instead of learning how to cope with life.

Failure to launch syndrome treatment

Failure to launch syndrome in young adults can be addressed with therapy. While recognizing the symptoms early on can help parents mitigate the negative side effects, there is no guarantee it will help without professional assistance. Depending on the severity of the situation, there are sessions where young people can discuss overcoming the problem with their parents. Those suffering from the failure to launch syndrome require all the support and help they can get.



Anthony Paul

With vast experience in Human Resource departments, Anthony Paul has recently been focusing on career counseling. He aims to help young people easily find their call, overcome potential difficulties, and make progress both in private and professional life

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