Monday, February 11, 2013

Failure to Launch

With the help of a film of the same name, the phrase "failure to launch" has entered the common lexicon.  Not that it needed that help.  Many a college parent has experience with the issue, whether it be direct or the source of chronic fretting.  Once, on a flight home from our nation's capital, I even overheard a very prominent legislator opining over his student's launching issues.  It was difficult to avoid thinking that we are beyond hope, if such a well-connected student was having a problem with developmental stagnation.  But of course no one is beyond hope of successful transition into adulthood.

There are a great many factors involved in the matter, many more than can be addressed in a brief blog post.  But I have noticed a few recurring themes among students struggling with emergence into independence. In no particular order, these are:

  • Lack of information and/or inadequate education.  Some students have just not been exposed, for whatever reason, to the world of employment and career-making.  This group does not know where or how to begin.  A solution: Get thee to the career center, and learn what is known about career success.
  • Privilege and entitlement.  There are some students for whom the words "no", "limits", or "deference" are unfamiliar.  This group often demonstrates adaptation deficits in the areas of ambition, diligence, labor, and "paying one's dues".  They may also feel unchallenged and bored.  A solution: Get thee to the counseling center, and work on adjusting expectations.
  • Lack of resources.  Many students have the knowledge and the willpower but not the financial or other necessities for taking the next steps in advancement.  This one is harder to address of course, but not impossible with enough persistent creativity.  A solution: Get thee to financial aid and the labyrinthine network of scholarship and grant funding.
  • Aiming too low.  Students sometimes drift downward in their selection of friends, activities and goals.  It's tempting and easy to do the thing that's, well, easy.  A solution: Get thee to a mentor, and be mindful in your choice of heroes. 
  • Too much partying.  It bears repeating that this can dull the senses and result in loss of motivation for enjoying the normal vicissitudes of living, like the rhythms of sleeping and waking, resting and working, pleasure and discomfort.  A solution: Get thee to the counseling center, and stop numbing out on life.
As already mentioned, there are other contributions to this problem, but these are some big ones.  Parents have role in monitoring these dynamics long before their children arrive at college.  It is ideal for rich dialog to occur beginning in elementary school, if not earlier.  Chances are that even small children have opportunities to address the themes at various developmental milestones, such as first attending school, first exposures to some form of labor and service to others, first responsibilities to others or pets, first earning of income, and so on.  Too often we parents let these pass by assuming the lessons will be learned and achievements earned.  Those early adults who remain frozen in stagnation will tell you this assumption is very faulty indeed.