Help! My Adult Kid Still Lives at Home

The Failure to Launch Syndrome

Are you frustrated that your adult offspring doesn’t have a job, isn’t in college, and isn’t in a job training program? Resentful that they aren’t making an effort to get their life together? Fearful they will lose their friends and become a recluse? Tired of footing the bill? Desperate to help them gain their independence and move out? Join the club.

The “failure to launch” (FTL) syndrome is reaching epidemic proportions. Nearly 10 million U.S. Millennials ages 24-34 still live at home with mom, according to a 2016 analysis of American Community Data by Zillow. The rate of working-age young adults living with mom has been on the rise for over a decade, jumping from 13.1% in 2005 to 21.4% in 2014. Increasing housing costs and longer education times are only partially to blame for the trend.

The Failure to Launch Syndrome

Failure to launch has been described as “a dysfunctional adult offspring” who doesn’t take the necessary steps to achieve independence combined with at least one parent who feeds the problem by “providing age-inappropriate services.”

Young adults are stigmatized and viewed as lazy and overly pampered. The shame they feel when comparing themselves to their peers who are starting new jobs and moving into apartments can be so paralyzing it keeps them mired in their situation. On the flip side, parents face scrutiny from their own friends and family for pandering to their adult children.

It’s a difficult situation for both sides.

Symptoms of Failure to Launch

Recognizing the signs of this syndrome in an adult child is a critical step in overcoming the problem. Look for these signs:

  • Lack of motivation
  • Difficulty getting or keeping a job
  • Struggling in college
  • Lack of purpose in life
  • Lack of a sense of identity
  • Lack of persistence
  • Poor work ethic
  • Failure to take responsibility
  • Lack of goals
  • Lack of desire or effort to move out
  • Inability to handle stress
  • High expectations of others without reciprocating

Understand that FTL isn’t solely your child’s problem. It’s a two-way street. As a parent, it is especially important to acknowledge that you may be enabling the situation with your behavior. Ask yourself if any of these signs apply to you:

  • You don’t charge rent for their room.
  • You buy their groceries and cook for them.
  • You do their laundry.
  • You clean their room and bathroom.
  • You pay their car loan and car insurance.
  • You pay for cell phones, the internet, and other items.
  • You give them money for incidentals.
  • You pay their tuition even if they are failing or have stopped going to class.

This codependent relationship can have lifelong consequences for everyone involved.

The Missing Link That’s Holding Young Adults Back

Focusing solely on fixing the symptoms associated with FTL is a mistake. You need to go deeper to find the root cause. What many people don’t realize is that hidden brain dysfunction and mental health issues among adult kids and/or the parents are often contributing to these symptoms. Issues that can keep young people from achieving their potential and make parents enablers include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Posttraumatic stress disorders (PTSD)
  • Lack of focus and motivation due to ADD/ADHD
  • Concussions and head injuries that impact motivation, moods, and memory
  • Mood swings and depressive episodes related to bipolar disorder
  • Negative thinking patterns
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Addictions

Tackling these root causes can help you and your adult offspring overcome FTL syndrome.

How to Break the FTL Cycle

Many well-meaning parents try a variety of things—such as threats and lecturing—to prompt their adult children to move out, but in many cases, these efforts end up aggravating the problem. What can parents do?

In a 2016 study, Dr. Eli Lebowitz, who has been researching the phenomenon for years, suggested it would be better for parents to stop calling it a “failure to launch” and start thinking of it as an opportunity for growth, change, and development.

To spark that growth and break the cycle, follow this process.

1. Start with tiny habits.

Recognize that changing habits can be a difficult process and don’t expect major improvements immediately. Making small changes can lead to big results.

2. Adopt rational thinking.

As a family, learn to kill the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) that keep you and your adult child locked in this unhealthy pattern. Whenever you or your child feels mad, sad, or frustrated, write down your thought and ask yourself if it is true. Then talk back to the ANT to kill it.


ANT: My kid will never get a job.

Is this true? No, I can’t know that it will never happen.

Kill the ANT: My young adult child can learn the skills necessary to land a job and keep it.

When you adopt this kind of thinking, it helps you and your child feel empowered to do something about your situation rather than feeling stuck.

3. Stop blaming and start taking responsibility for your part in the problem.

Don’t view this as your child’s fault. Admit if you are enabling the situation and look for ways to change your behavior. This helps you feel empowered to be part of the solution rather than a helpless victim.

4. Help your child find their purpose.

Knowing their “why” can boost their motivation to set and achieve goals. One of the most effective ways to improve goal setting and motivation is an exercise called the One Page Miracle. On a sheet of paper have your young adult write down what they want out of life in terms of education, career, finances, social life, and family. Then before making any decisions, they should ask themselves, “Will this help me get what I want out of life?”

5. Encourage accountability.

Write a contract that spells out what you will pay for, what services you will provide, and what is expected from your adult offspring, and have all parties sign it. Think of this as an agreement between adults, similar to a contract with a tenant. Making a signed commitment increases the chances of success.

6. Enhance brain health to ensure better follow-through.

In order to successfully follow through on these steps, everyone in the family needs to optimize their brain health. This includes treating any mental health issues or past head injuries and making simple lifestyle changes can also boost brain health, including eating a healthy diet, daily exercise to boost blood flow to the brain, practicing stress-management techniques, and taking nutraceuticals to support brain health.

At Amen Clinics, we take a unique brain-body approach to diagnosis and treatment that includes brain SPECT imaging, as well as laboratory testing to check physical health, and other important factors that could be contributing to symptoms. By getting to the root cause of symptoms, we can create a more effective, personalized treatment plan.

If you want to join the tens of thousands of people who have already enhanced their brain health, overcome their symptoms, and improved their quality of life at Amen Clinics, speak to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. I think we should also mention the other factors that cause children to “stay,” at home. Me for example – I carry all the expenses in my name since I was 18 and I have contributed towards the household income since I was old enough to apply for working papers at 13. I’m first generation and the economic struggles even with well educated parents have been countless. They live w/ me now and we’re just making it work. Health issues and loss of employment were the main reasons.

    Comment by Celia M. — August 19, 2020 @ 10:07 PM

  2. Thank you so very much for this wonderful article. It has been very good to see this issue dealt with in a professional and compassionate manner. God bless you.

    Comment by Tricia (Patricia) Martin — August 22, 2020 @ 12:10 PM

  3. I see a lot of my 19 yr old ADHD son in these scenarios & I see how his father & I have played a role in supporting him ; however, let’s face it, young people are just not able to afford to move out with the cost of rent , & the only jobs most 19 y.o. can get these days pay only minimum wage ; not even enough to rent a room. My son did work for a while, at Starbucks, but most of his $ went on commuting to & from his job. His wk hrs were never consistent & oftentimes he could not to get enough hrs to get a decent pay check. He couldn’t help me pay his cell bill bc he never made enough Part-time jobs in many industries are so unfair to young ppl (& adults) who rely on these jobs to make livable wages to support themselves. My son had to plan his life around his job schedule. I admit sometimes I resent my son not being able be on his own because I was when I was his age until I remember, there is no such thing as an apt for $700 including utilities—those days are gone! He was so excited to get his first job, which he got on his own , but I believe his hrs were cut short intentionally by a new mgr who wasn’t as patient as his first mgr; this mgr made him feeI like could not do anything right or took too long ; although he managed to memorize Starbuck’s long listing of menu items within the 1st 3 wks he was there. The customers loved him & worked there during his last yr of H.S. Then I watched my happy son go from being enthusiastic about going to work & earning his own money to a disgruntle employee who ultimately let his boss know what he could with that job, which I did not condone once he told me; I attribute this behavior to ADHD & RDS (Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria ) & tried my best to support emotionally—and of course, financially . What is a parent to do ???

    Comment by Marietta — August 22, 2020 @ 12:24 PM

  4. You forgot to mention the most likely culprit: Vaccine damage.

    Comment by James Leonard — August 23, 2020 @ 9:52 AM

  5. I don’t know why this is considered a disorder. It is definitely not the norm but generations of young people stayed behind or co-iived with parents and extended family. Culturally, there are still groups who consider this a better way to maintain a family. The notion that at 18 or 19 you should leave for college and never return is absurd. Commuter college, work and online learning has changed the way and time that youth leave home. I would rather have my child leave prepared, no debt, educated and socially mature than demand they launch, ready or not.

    Comment by Deb R — August 24, 2020 @ 4:19 AM

  6. At the age of around 62, I owned a 3 bedroom home that was far too large for me since my daughter had moved out and married. I decided to rent the 2 rooms to other women. I had a lovely, 20 something woman who wanted to move out of her parents house and into mine. She never did, however, because her parents needed the income they were making from the rent she was paying them. The parents were the ones who were unable to let her go live her life. They made it hell on her because she considered leaving them!!!

    Comment by Catherine K. — August 24, 2020 @ 5:29 AM

  7. I remember when I was first looking for a job someone suggested that I write a resume of what i would like it to look like in 20 years and then work on achieving those goals.

    Comment by Dave Foxen — August 24, 2020 @ 7:38 AM

  8. You mention above about FTL issues for adult children and even recognize some mental health issues such as Depression and Anxiety. I have several members of my mental health support group who have adult children with mental illness (e.g. Schizophrenia) who are experiencing many of the same issues as stated above. Do the same “How to break the FTL cycle” steps, process, and tools apply with an adult child who has Schizophrenia and still living at home at age 49? Or are there any additional steps or actions you recommend for dealing with adult children who have Schizophrenia and are still living at home? They are also unwilling to help out, are very demanding, expect family members to be their servants, etc. Any additional recommendations would be very helpful. Thank you.

    Comment by Mark Kulhanek — August 24, 2020 @ 7:58 AM

  9. Just kick them out. It’s not that children are too dependent on their parents, it’s that parents are too emotionally dependent on their children. The parents are lonely and really they don’t want their children to leave. It’s one thing if the parents live on a farm and the children work as hard as the parents. It’s quite another thing of the parents just let the children live there because they don’t want to see them go. Also, it’s really the parents fault because they let the kids sit in the bedroom is looking at their iPhones all day. Parents have done a terrible job with the children lately and turned out lazy and useless people. As far as I’m concerned they should all leave the home and they’re 18 and support themselves completely, even if it means I have to clean toilets to do it. This generation of parents suffers from pathological passivity and niceness.

    Comment by Shelley — August 24, 2020 @ 6:36 PM

  10. definitely a great article, and drawing attention to a topic that means more focus in today’s society. One of the largest contributors to this that I have observed, but that isn’t fully addressed here, is the ways that the codependency is encouraged by the parent. What I have seen more often than not, is that it is a parent who does not want to be alone, has defined their purpose as revolving around their child, has control issues themselves, or is generally unable to detach from their child. In some cases I’ve seen this span more than one generation, with the grandparent, parent, and child repeating the same pattern. Wildest can certainly happen with either the paternal or the maternal parent, it does seem to be a more common trend among the maternal side, and often accompanies that parent not being in a relationship of their own. I personally think this is extremely unhealthy relational behavior for everyone involved.

    Comment by Christopher B — August 25, 2020 @ 1:14 PM

  11. The Twenties have very important developmental milestones. Maturity develops as they experience and cope with hardship in vocation and mating. On average there are 2 launches and returns before the final launch to full adulthood. The brain is not done until 25 so lets look as launch as successive approximation, and encourage it as such.

    Comment by Nancy Sakmar — August 25, 2020 @ 4:55 PM

  12. Hello Mark, thank you for reaching out. We have more information on our website regarding Schizophrenia and Schizoaffective Disorders here: Addressing the root cause with a SPECT scan would be a great starting point to addressing further symptoms and lifestyle choices such as still living at home. For more information, please contact us:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 26, 2020 @ 12:49 PM

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