It is no secret that since the mid to late 1990’s young people turning 18 have not flown the nest to embark on their adult lives like previous generations. Parents, expecting that their fledgling adult would be anxious to venture out on their own, away from parental rules and prying eyes, have been unpleasantly surprised that movement toward independent living has been slow or even non-existent. And they are perplexed by the choices their young adult children are making.

I am a member of the baby boom generation. Over the past several years, I returned to school in pursuit of my graduate degree in Social Work and am now working toward my license as a therapist. Attending graduate school with members of the Millennial generation was something of an eye opening experience. What really intrigued me about the delayed launch into the adult world were simple conversations I have had with other adults with Millennial generation children who were still living at home. For example, one day as I was walking my dogs, a brief hello to a father in his fifties turned into a 10 minute sidewalk discussion about his 30 year old daughter and his 22 year old son still living at home. As the discussion ended I had done my best to help alleviate some of his anxiety; that his young adults would successfully make the transition to adult living. But, I could see the confusion in his face and hear it in his voice. What could he or his wife do to help them? At the time, I had not done the research which would help me answer his questions or really even understand the problem.     

Why would a young adult be slow to move to independent living? As with many questions about human behavior, the answer has some complex parts. American society, along with Canadian and Western European societies, has changed its values since the 1970’s. As parents, we have taught our children that tolerance and imagination (what do you want to be when you grow up / you can be or do anything) are primary values to hold. The Pew Research Center report on Millennials,  documents these values shifts between members of the Millennial generation and those of their parents and grandparents. What values have tolerance and imagination replaced you might ask? For one, the value of “work ethic”. As a society, we have moved from being “materialistic” i.e. economic survival, to “post-materialistic” i.e. self-fulfillment. In other words, our young adult children are now more focused on work for experiences that fulfill them than on work for economic gains and basic survival. For example, looking at the work environment and benefits employers like Google provide, who rely heavily on Millennial generation employees, is telling. Google seeks employees who find high levels of personal satisfaction in the work they do and the work environment provides the kinds of support necessary to ensure that occurs. By providing a work environment that supports creativity and personal freedom to pursue work that their employees find personally satisfying and offering the supports which foster healthy living and families, Google receives innovation, creativity, hard work, and loyalty in return from their employees.

So how does this impact me as a parent of a teen or young adult you might ask? First of all, by beginning to understand the perspective your teen/young adult has about the world, which is likely different than your perspective. Secondly, the delayed launch into assuming full personal responsibility is not necessarily a sign of a “problem” with your child. Their “search” for a “fit” in the adult world is a product of the values we have taught them. And, the world in which we live offers extraordinary opportunities to be or do just about anything they can imagine. However, with such an “open door” so to speak, comes significant challenge to face the world and choose a path. Taking the steps to explore the world before you at 18, 19, 20 or beyond when all you have known is your small piece of life experience can feel overwhelming and even threatening or intimidating. This is not the America of apprenticeships, lifelong employment in a single job or a few well-worn pathways into adulthood of previous generations. With unparalleled opportunity come significant challenges to self-esteem, self-worth, courage, initiative and willingness to face the unknown. Parental support can be very helpful as your young adult searches for his/her identity and place in the world. But, sometimes that is not enough to empower your young adult to take the steps necessary to explore and commit to adult responsibilities. In fact, only about a quarter of all young adults make the transition to adulthood relatively “smoothly”. Many others benefit from differing types of assistance along the way.

If your young adult appears to be struggling with moving into adulthood and you have concerns, please call us. We can help you assess your situation and determine what, if any assistance may be beneficial to you and your young adult.