As parents, we want our children to become successful adults.
Yet, many young people nowadays didn’t live up to the potential that their parents or society expected of them.
As a successful business person or executive, you are great in a lot of areas that got you to where you are.
But at times, you struggled to make sense why your 16 to the 23-year-old kid does not see eye to eye with your own views. You struggled to motivate them to become better in their lives.
Perhaps Mark McConville can offer some advice in helping you connect with your kid.
Mark McConville has been a clinical psychologist for the past 30 years.
A large part of his career is spent talking to children and adolescents and helping them resolve their relationship with their parents.
Mark currently chairs the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland’s Advanced Training Program for Working with Children and Adolescents. Mark also serves as Consulting Psychologist to Hathaway Brown School and University School, both in the Cleveland area.
Recently, he wrote a book called Failure to Launch: Why Your Twentysomething Hasn’t Grown Up…and What to Do About It.
Mark explores in his book why modern kids can’t hold jobs, struggled to form meaningful relationships, and end up still stuck in their parent’s homes. In other words, they “failed to launch”.
The main idea is that modern kids struggled with the transition from childhood to adulthood, where they failed to equip themselves with three critical skills.
If parents understand what the kids are going through, you can help them better.
Mark is a practitioner and not a researcher.
There are a lot of pieces written out there on how young people today are struggling to transition from adolescence to adulthood. Those content tend to be high on blame but when it comes to solutions they do not offer so much.
In this 52-minute interview at the Art of Manliness podcast, Mark explains the core idea in his book in a succinct manner.
In today’s post, I summarized some of the important points from the podcast.
What does Failure to Launch Mean?
Research shows modern kids aged around 18 – 24 years old have a primary task they have to do.
This task is to transition from a phase where everything is very structured in their lives, set by parents and teachers to a phase where they need to be an adult.
This age group can vary but the research shows modern kids around the age of 22,23,24,25 struggled with this the most.
Failure to launch does not mean they are still living with parents (in Western Culture). In Mark’s definition, failure to launch is the relative underperformance versus the appropriate trajectory the young adult should have.
Mark started noticing this in the early 1990s when he started getting more referrals to do therapy work with these kids. His observation is that this group of young people exhibit very adolescent behaviour.
He came to a realization that while he had a very colourful conversation with these young adults if he does not involve the parents, he cannot do much to help the young adult.
Why is it So Hard for Young Adults Nowadays to Transition to Adulthood?
There can be a few reasons for modern kids tough transition into adulthood:
- The job market is tough today. The amount of education that your child needs to have a long, sustainable career is much greater. In the old manufacturing dominant days, a young adult can go to somewhere like Kodak, get a job, move out of his parent’s place in 6 months and get home, and be on the traditional path.
- Tertiary education is necessary today. The amount of tuition loans needed is more substantial.
- Helicopter parenting. Parents are stressed out. Parents do things for young adults where young adults are supposed to be doing themselves. Some parents even venture to ask the bosses of their child why their child is not promoted.
- Too much support from society. If you have a kid with a learning disability, you will be branded more as a nuisance or troublemaker in the old days. Today, there are more support structures in place to make learning easier for you. Parents are also more sympathetic to your situation. The positive with this structure is that it produces academically better young adults but the negative side is that it might leave them deficient in other areas.
What Goes On Inside a Young Person When They Transition to Adulthood?
Many young adults at 20 would naively think that they are supposed to immediately become an adult.
Not many people realize that there is a middle phase in this adulthood transition.
Development Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett calls this phase Emerging Adulthood. This phase tends to start at 18 years old and ends at 30 years old.
The old benchmark of becoming an adult is the following:
- Getting married
- Having a child
- Getting a full-time job
In the older days, a young adult can achieve this at a relatively young age.
Jeffrey Arnett surveyed tens and thousands of young adults around the world. He asked them the question: “Do you feel like an adult?”
One of Jeffrey’s results that Mark found the most interesting is that only at 26.5 years old do 50% of the cohort feel like an adult 50% of the time. (A fun question for parents at this point is to ask yourself when was the point where you felt that you have become an adult)
Jeffrey’s conclusion is that to become an adult nowadays, it is not about hitting those old benchmarks.
Being an adult today is more about a person’s perception of his or her identity.
- Do you feel like an adult?
- Do the people around you acknowledge that you are an adult?
The 3 Tasks that You Have to Master to Successfully Transition to Adulthood
Mark does not come from a research perspective but through what he sees that work while working with many youths in that phase of life.
Here are the psychotherapy themes that kept coming up.
1. Make Them More Responsible
Many youths have an aversion to doing very simple, administrative tasks.
Mark finds that parents of the youth have a problem forcing these tasks upon their kids.
The youth is frightened of the prospect because they have not experienced doing the tasks before.
They do not know how to do the tasks as an adult. They are afraid that they get found out that they do not know how to do those tasks well enough by an adult. Sometimes they know but it is just more of a confidence thing.
So they keep this insecurity as a secret because they often think that this a problem with them and did not consider whether there is another reason for this.
What society and most often failed to realize is that the youth really do not know how to perform the task. A lot of the friction is attributable to parents thinking the youth know how to do something, and the youth do not dare to confide in someone that they do not really know how to technically perform the task.
What the parent can do, is to de-shame the whole issue. This means showing to them that not knowing how to do these things is not the end of the world and that it is normal for people not to know some of this stuff at the start.
Then parents can provide the instruction or some form of modelling to solve the problem.
2. Have a More Consultative Role than Be the Problem Solver for Them
Kids have a problem relating to adults as an adult.
The social task for kids is to fit in with other kids. But when you are transiting to adulthood, that is not the only necessary skills they need.
More so, they needed to find a place that is relatively secured.
Mark explains that the high school kids he worked with have a problem finding someone that they could relate to, to have a deeper conversation with.
The kids at that age need to
- Find people going through the same thing as they to (be able to relate to them)
- Find people who know more stuff than they do
Youths also find it weird that at a certain chronological age, they are supposed to instantly switch over to become a capable adult.
Some parents have the tendency to use techniques meant for younger kids on their 18-year old youth. One example is to tell them that you are only going to provide funding for their education if they choose to go Business School or else they are funding it themselves.
Parents that do this take the equivalent of a supervisor role.
A consultative role would be to highlight the unique traits the child has, his or her strengths from past results, and the economic benefits of having a business degree.
However, parents need to be ready that despite knowing all this, the child might make a decision that goes against their wishes. So they have to be okay with that.
By being a consultative person, it increases the influence of the parents over the child because the child is treated as an adult who can make decisions.
3. Become Relevant – Humanize the Growing Up Process for Them
When working with young people, Mark observed that beneath everything, they want to get somewhere in life. Having a future. They are less interested in having their head in the sand.
Being relevant is having a sense of direction.
The young person might not know where they are going but instead of staying stagnant, they are taking some courses in the hopes that these courses will put them in the right direction.
The young person may believe that they needed to have the perfect plan before they get off their butts to action on it.
This perfect plan syndrome may be linked to our very structured education system. If the person is not very motivated, there is still a certain structure that if your grade qualifies based on a certain range, you can progress forward.
When a young person leaves this education system, the world outside is much more unstructured.
Suddenly there are many options, and the young person needed to become a decision-maker. The idea that they needed to be a skilled decision-maker fast creates a lot of anxiety in them.
Parents or older folks may need to peel off the layers by showing the young person that when they were at that age, they also struggled to figure some of these things out. Failed at a certain point even. But they moved forward by going to school, doing this and that and this where they are now.
As a parent, you may need to introduce to them to start in a general direction and to fail forward.
The Secret Behind Effective Motivation
Thinking that you can motivate your kids may backfire on you.
There are some young people that look upon their parent’s “motivation” as nagging but the results are somewhat successful. For others, the parents struggled to get through to their kids.
Mark explains that the trick for parents is to create necessities for the kid so that he or she will respond to so that he or she can try to solve the problems in a creative way.
Simple ways are to push the decision making to the kid, give them the responsibility for something that affects their lives.
Push them to do something that they have not done before, that have an impact on their lives.
How can You Help Foster This Responsibility When Your Child is Very Young?
The parents can help to create “loops of accountability” in their children when they are very young.
- Tell them they have a job as part of this family
- Instead of framing it as a job, the task is the frame as the parent’s needed the child’s help
- Farming kids have less of this problem, primarily because the kids know that these farming tasks are essential to the family’s livelihood
The 49% Rule
Mark introduced us to the 49% rule, which is the percentage that the parents will contribute so that the young person can get their life going.
University education cost has created an asymmetrical problem for parents.
It may be hefty to fund their kid’s education, but the result is determined by what the young person does.
So the 49% rule is to share the financial responsibilities with the kid.
Kyith: As a wealth management firm, our main focus is to help you manage your wealth well. However, Providend is a family of people serving families and we know that your family, your relationship with your family are your most important assets.
If we come across resources that can help you navigate something not so simple better, we have a duty to share it with you as well.
If you feel strongly about this post, do write in, or leave a comment on this post as well.
This is an original article written by Kyith Ng, Senior Solutions Specialist at Providend, Singapore’s First Fee-only Wealth Advisory Firm.
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