Failure to Launch Syndrome

Have you heard about the case in New York of a 30-year-old son who won’t leave home? His parents are suing him to vacate the premises. They say he does not pay rent or help with chores. They gave him five eviction notices and offered $1,100 to get started elsewhere. And yet, he refuses to leave. The local court informed the parents that because Michael is family, they would need a Supreme Court justice to officially evict him. Michel called his parents’ lawsuit retaliatory and has asked the court to toss out the request.

Although this seems ridiculous, I’ve seen other cases in which a court refused to make someone homeless. The consequence of imposed homelessness is to burden social services. A judge might prefer the family remain responsible for their own relations.

Americans value independence. We expect to raise our children to fly the nest. Other cultures prefer to live in family units as long as possible. People live longer with strong family support and have higher levels of satisfaction. But the assumption here is that the children add value rather than become a burden.

Imagine you have an adult child living at home who doesn’t work, won’t respect house rules, or clean up after themselves, refuse to do chores and is rude toward you. Some parents have adult children at home who are abusing them verbally, financially, or even physically. There are laws against this behavior. And yet you provide food, a bed, and perhaps let them drive your car. You are angry and resentful toward them, then blame yourself wondering if you are responsible for this.

The economy, high unemployment rates, and a tough job market are reasons an adult child might need a helping hand. Many of the academic degrees that they were encouraged to pursue are not the types of degrees that are needed. These are outside factors that play a role here. But the length of time that an adult child needs help determines whether they have a bigger problem. A brief stint at home can be normal, but a longer dependent with no signs of progress is problematic.

Failure to Launch Syndrome is not a medical condition and is not an official diagnosis, but it is a phrase that describes a young person who is having a difficult time maturing and transitioning into the next stage of development; adulthood. It is a strategy of avoidance. Common signs of FTL syndrome are:

  • Low tolerance for distress
  • Low levels of motivation
  • Low levels of persistence
  • Failure to take responsibility when appropriate
  • Low work ethic
  • Narcissism
  • High expectations of others without reciprocating
  • Lack of vision for the future or long-term goals
  • Lack of skills needed for adulthood

If they are not at work or school, guess what they are doing with their time? Two common variables of FTL are excessive gaming and marijuana use. These are both a form of escapism and distraction. Look for signs of psychological problems that may inhibit their development. This might include anxiety, depression, procrastination, substance abuse.

I was surprised to learn that there are numerous residential treatment programs designed specifically for Failure to Launch. These programs offer intense treatment outside the home when a young adult has had these symptoms over a long period of time. They offer psychological assistance, education, and coaching.

If you are a young adult who is socially, physically, financially or psychologically stranded in life, there is help for you. If you are a parent, there is help to maintain a warm and satisfying relationship with your child while they launch. Call a counselor to get started.


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