Extended Insights
Extended Insights

Jun 25, 2008, 11:49

By: Steve Tutty, MA, LPC

Like never before, young adults are failing to launch their lives following high school graduation. Instead of completing college and forging a meaningful career, many young adults become "stuck" in their early adult development - despite a strong potential for success.

Part of the problem in this growing epidemic is a peer culture that intrinsically values immediate gratification. The initiation of studying and working hard for a future reward has been placed on "hold," while playing video games, using illicit drugs and developing cyber-relationships via the internet has been placed on "go." As a result, life principles of hard work, self-discipline and respect have difficulty competing with this peer-approved standard of living.

In addition, parents may also inadvertently reward this lifestyle in their young adult children, despite their best intentions. Many young adults continue to live at home following high school graduation, or return home due to employment, academic or relationship struggles. Parents may feel that providing temporary support to their adult child is necessary to help facilitate their child's transition into adulthood. However, many parents can become too close to their child's life and may have difficulty respecting the daily struggles their adult children experience.

For instance, instead of letting the consequences do the teaching and empathizing with the hard lessons experienced by their adult child, many parents choose to rescue or punish their adult child when they fail to meet specific markers indicative of adulthood. Conditions of worth may then ensue - either directly or indirectly - which can further alienate the adult child from his/her parents and limit their opportunities in exercising their autonomy. Unfortunately, a brief respite can turn out to be a lengthy stay and costly to the child's developmental maturity and cohesion of the family system.

Given this confluence, it is not surprising that young adults fail to utilize their potential to succeed in life. Why should young adults work for wages when they can borrow and use interest-free money from their parents? Why should young adults study when they have access to video and media entertainment, 24 - 7? Why should young adults shop and prepare their own meals, when their parents have an endless supply of food and prepared meals? In such a climate, many young adults will fail to internalize and master the life principles necessary for actualizing their autonomy.

It has been our experience that many parents may begin to feel really stuck at this stage when their young adult child exhibits symptoms consistent with a mental disorder, such as depression, anxiety, drug addiction or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Such disorders can often delay and arrest developmental movement, and in some cases, regression may occur. Most parents will seek psychiatric treatment for their adult child, whereby psychotropic medications are traditionally prescribed as the first line treatment and, to a lesser extent, individual and family counseling. In other families, psychiatric challenges have been long-standing in their adult child which can also delay their developmental maturity.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of older teens and young adults with DSM-IV diagnoses fail to improve with out-patient interventions. Many parents may then feel obligated to care for their adult child until they get well. Some parents delight in the process of nurturing their struggling adult child back to health while other parents may feel burdened by their child's struggles.

As parents witness the psychiatric challenges wax and wane, many will elect to take greater control of their child's autonomy. Subsequently, young adults may now trade the "conditions of worth" imposed by their parents for a consistent dose of empathy and validation that has been largely missing throughout their development.

About the Author: Steve Tutty,, is the Clinical Director for Dragonfly Adventures in Klamath, OR, 801-360-9174. Dragonfly is launching a seasonal series of 21-Day Wilderness, starting in July, to specifically work with these "stuck" Young Adults and their families discover their strengths, re-evaluate their direction in life, and begin moving in a more mature direction. This series of programs are a blend of psychological testing, experiential quests and therapeutic activities for the struggling young adult ages 18-25. More information is available on the website

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