Failure to Launch Syndrome

“Failure to Launch” is not an actual diagnosis, but rather a common phrase used to describe a young adult that has been unsuccessful in leaving their home environment, and falling short in the skills of living as an independent adult. An individual experiencing “failure to launch” struggles with the traditional path of the transition from adolescence to young adulthood, and this struggle can be attributed to a number of root causes. Some contributing factors may include:

  • executive functioning challenges

  • anxiety of both the young adult and the parent

  • low self-esteem

  • lack of direction or seemingly unmotivated

  • underdeveloped independent living skills

  • social immaturity, lacking in social skills

  • mental health or general health issues requiring extra care and supervision

  • lacking in ability to work towards financial independence

  • technology addiction

  • depression

  • co-dependence on parents

Young adults experiencing Failure to Launch are often described as being or feeling “stuck” in their parent’s home. This feeling of being “stuck” is often times due to the young adult’s deficits in executive functioning skills, and the skills required to take care of one’s self as a young adult. Often in these cases, parents or other caregivers have acted as the “external” executive functioning for the young adult. This leaves the young adult with a dependency on their parents longer than what is considered developmentally or culturally normal when compared to the young adult’s peers. Young adults experiencing the feeling of being “stuck” in Failure to Launch often times also experience a great deal of loneliness as their friends and peers move on to college or leave their childhood homes. These friends and peers will often be in learning-rich environments, and have new experiences and opportunities that the Failure to Launch young adult will not be exposed to, and this will only further cause that young adult to have social-emotional underdevelopment. Additionally, the young adult “stuck” at home may also have an awareness that they are “falling behind” in comparison to their peers, and as a result experience shame, poor self-esteem, and a great deal of frustration. These emotions often create a great deal of conflict in the young adult’s family system.

How Northwest College Support helps “Failure to Launch” Young Adults

Students who come to NWCS that have experienced Failure to Launch have faced significant challenges with executive functioning, social relationships, emotional regulation, and the daily living skills needed for young adulthood. These issues lead students to struggle in a collegiate environment even though these individuals are not intellectually impaired. These issues create significant barriers and complications when it comes time to transition into independent adulthood.


Forming a relationship with a therapist is important for students who have had difficulties launching into independent young adulthood. The primary goals of a therapist working with this student is to identify the underlying issues that have caused Failure to Launch. This student may wish to process the anxiety and self-esteem issues they may face as a result of their struggles. At NWCS, therapists do a weekly family call. In cases of Failure to Launch, our therapists may work with the family to break old patterns, resolve conflicts, and help parents fit into their new role of being a parent to a more independent young adult. Our therapists are licensed counselors and social workers with experience in a wide range of psychological, emotional, and behavioral issues.

Educational Coaching

At Northwest College Support, our team sees students who have experienced Failure to Launch receive significant benefits from Educational Coaching. Educational Coaches help the student organize and learn to improve self-organization over time. Educational Coaching helps a student remain consistent and persevere through the school term. The relationship with the Educational Coach is one of support aimed at helping students utilize strengths to overcome areas of challenge. Our Educational Coaches do not teach a specific subject, but rather a framework to learn and organize. Through learning how to better study and organize, students have a greater chance at academic success. Typically, a plan would start with a higher amount of coaching at the beginning of the term, and then decrease as the term progresses. The goal of educational coaching is for students to learn to internalize the skills they are being taught, and become good self-managers by the end of the semester.

Life Coaching

Students experiencing Failure to Launch can also struggle a collegiate environment due to challenges occurring outside of the classroom. At Northwest College Support, these challenges are addressed through a supportive relationship with a Life Coach. Life Coaches work with a student to aid in the process of making better choices, and following through on day-to-day tasks. Students who have been “stuck” at home may need assistance in areas such as maintaining a clean living environment, healthy eating, regular exercise, and keeping to a weekly schedule.