Jeffery S. Smith M.D.

Healing and Growing

Failure to Launch Syndrome

Why do young people get stuck?

Posted Nov 30, 2016

Andy, Flickr CC
Source: Andy, Flickr CC

Why are so many capable young people unable to launch into adult life? Many reasons have been suggested, but in my practice, it boils down to one thing. Today's young adults are afraid of pain and stress. Who told them that being uncomfortable was necessary or even good? They have learned to think of discomfort as poisonous, and that leaves them locked into a very limiting comfort zone.

Fear of stress is like a straight jacket. It keeps us from trying anything new. It keeps us from discovering life. It keeps us from finding our strengths and weaknesses. It blocks us from learning what might be our passion. It shuts off the possibility of discovering the joys of intimacy. All those good things require a readiness to experience pain, and that is exactly what young people have learned to avoid at any cost.

That young people are afraid to stress themselves should not be a surprise. Our generation, as parents, have done anything and everything to shield our children from insecurity and hurt. We have learned from the healthcare profession how stress causes all kinds of illnesses and disability. We protect our children by "childproofing" our homes, cars, and even playgrounds. What a lovely cocoon we have created for our children. Is it any surprise that they avoid discomfort?

Meanwhile, we listen to motivational speakers tell us to "think out of the box," "take risks," "get out of your comfort zone." Those are all true, but what if all our early learning were in the opposite direction? The inevitable result is that a sizeable number of our young adults develop remarkable skills at avoiding anything stressful, especially those efforts that will be "rewarded" by having to move out and face an unfriendly world.

What this means, is that in order to help our grown kids successfully launch, we are going to have to motivate them to undertake a series of painful, stressful and uncertain actions in the world. Is it surprising that the job is not an easy one? Is it surprising that they avoid and resist?

What I have found is that parents are usually the ones in the best position to help develop the needed motivation. In the next post, we'll talk about just how that can be done.

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Jeffery Smith MD, Scarsdale, NY