A family epidemic is sweeping our nation: failure to launch syndrome. This development -- or lack thereof -- is characterized by the inability of young adults to achieve independence. I've spent 17 years guiding families through stressful, challenging and troubled waters, and it's clear to me why some families are headed for disaster.
It begins when parents miss the warning signs in their child's behaviors. Those indicators are like small icebergs: If they go unheeded for too long, it's only a matter of time before the captain goes down with the ship.
Too many kids today are on, as we call it, "developmental vacation," and it's difficult for parents to accept their own part in this problem. Refusing to see the situation for what it truly is causes so much heartache and anxiety, and yet it keeps happening.
Spotting the Signs
Failure to launch can be set in motion at an early age. Sometimes, it's as simple as a parent's choice of words. For instance, a parent will use one set of phrases for other people's children, but use a more rational set for their own.
Somebody else's son might be manipulative, while her boy is crafty. The neighbor's daughter is rude, but his is just misunderstood. My daughter isn't lazy; she's just apprehensive. My son isn't entitled; he's unique.
Parents weaken children by excusing their mishaps and misbehaviors. If we believe our behaviors dictate our circumstances, we must also accept that we control our circumstances. When parents intervene and minimize a child's actions through words or actions, they inevitably take away the child's power to act.
Here are three tips I advise parents to employ with their kids from a young age:
1. Parent the child you have, not the one you wish you had. It's easy to live in a fictional world and see your children as doing better than they really are. When friends, neighbors, or co-workers ask how your child is doing, you might paint a perfect picture, even if your home life isn't so. It's a simple defense mechanism that helps nobody, especially your child.
Parenting the child who exists in your mind rather than the real one can be disastrous. You wouldn't coach a lazy, unskilled player as if he were Michael Jordan or Tom Brady. If your son acts like a 12-year-old, then accept that's what he is developmentally. The next goal is to figure out how to help him reach the next level.
2. Develop a plan together, and hold your child accountable. Children need developmental milestones. For adolescent to teenaged children, that means giving them age-appropriate responsibilities.
Getting this process going isn't difficult. Help your child map out his objectives and the time frame needed to accomplish them. Once you've reached a consensus, write it down, and ask him to sign it.
Firm but fair consequences should be laid out in your agreement. The idea is for your child to mature into a person who faces and accepts consequences. Unexpected events, however, can occur. Should they happen, use step three.
3. Let your child experience the same character-building opportunities you had. Stick to the agreement. It may seem unfair, but such is life. Negotiating deals when things get tough doesn't build character. To quote a favorite children's book, "If you give a mouse a cookie, he's going to ask for a glass of milk." You can't prepare life for your child, but you can prepare your child for life.
Failure to launch will always be a problem. As parents, you can decide how long it lasts. If you find yourself covering up or downplaying your child's destructive behavior, you're refusing to accept the truth.
You can steer your children in the right direction by changing your own course. By acting now, you can help them grow into happy, capable adults. Avoid deploying the life raft at the first signs of trouble. Raise your child well, and he'll soon be swimming for himself.
Brook Price is president and co-founder of Forte Strong, a failure-to-launch program that gives young men the skills and character traits they need to tackle the challenges of life.