Launching the Stay at Home Son: 7 Steps to Cut the Apron Strings
Another school year is ending—but many kids didn’t graduate from high school or college. Almost one third of teens don’t finish high school, and most who start college don’t finish. They are stalling, and it is affecting families. I had to chuckle when comedian Zach Galifianakas described his character in a recent movie: “I’m a stay at home son.” This has become the challenge of today’s world. A perfect storm of elements is impacting the way adults relate to kids. Consider these shifts:
- Two years ago, when I wrote Generation iY—Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, about 60% of college students moved back home after college. Now, according to The Baltimore Sun, 80% of students intend do so. Often they move home without a plan. Mom and Dad feel they can’t turn them away. How could they?
- Teens and young adults remain the highest unemployed demographic in the US. Employment for twenty-somethings hovers at about 35%. Just 29.6% of adolescents had jobs last summer. Today, kids somehow don’t need to work—parents and grandparents supply their income.
- According to a new Harris Interactive survey, about 60% of parents provide financial support to their adult children who are no longer in school. One in two have finished school but have stalled in launching their career. What’s more, one third of males between ages 22 and 34 still live at home.
- The MacArthur Foundation, which sinks millions of dollars into studying this dilemma, suggested on their website that adolescence doesn’t end until 34 years old.
“Parents are continuing their involvement longer than we expected,” says NEFE chief executive Ted Beck. “Financial pressures are higher for this generation. If I was in their shoes, I would be concerned.”
To be clear, you should know—I love these young people. They’re not bad kids, or stupid kids, or even necessarily troubled kids. But elements such as a troubled economy, fewer job opportunities, and the fact that many older veterans are taking those entry-level paychecks so they’re not unemployed themselves, have made it difficult for youth to spread their wings.
Seven Ideas to Launch Them into Life
So—what can parents do to foster authentic maturity and adult readiness in their kids? Let me suggest some ideas.
- Set clear boundaries and deadlines. If a child moves home after college, set a mutual date for them to prepare to move out, and when they get a job, ask them to pay rent, as preparation for their future. When my daughter graduated, she moved home to save for graduate school—but she’s working two jobs and paying rent.
- Discuss their strengths and passions, and set expectations. Help them connect to online assessments that can measure what they bring to the table in terms of job value. Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, for instance, can furnish feedback on their top strengths. Both of my kids have taken this assessment (and several others) to know what they possess. From this conversation, set realistic expectations. A Jr. Achievement survey reports that 62% of teens expect to be on their own by the time they reach age 24. That’s not happening. You can aid in preventing disillusionment.
- Help them jump into volunteer work. Even if the full-time-career job isn’t open, help them step into some meaningful volunteer work, both for experience and to add to the resume. (It sure beats sitting around the house.) Volunteering has become a popular outlet for grads who find themselves in between school and career.
- Guide them in clarifying what’s really important to them. The new issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology compares traits of college students today with those of previous generations of students. There is an increasing trend of valuing money, image and fame more than inherent principles like self-acceptance, affiliation or community. Push them to think outside of themselves. I met with my daughter and had a conversation about this that turned into several action steps.
- Encourage them to identify a cause and add value, not vice versa. We’ve all heard this before—Generation Y hates the phrase “Pay your dues.” Sadly, they’re prone to build a resume and sell themselves to the highest bidder. Instead, encourage them to not seek the job that pays the most, but one where they can add the most value–one where they actually seek to pay their dues because they believe in the work. They may have to start small, but this is where real career growth happens. Money usually follows a person who adds value.
- Connect them to mentors and colleagues in your circle. I worked with my two kids to set meetings with several colleagues who became short-term mentors–ones that embody the disciplines and passions my children yearn to realize. They’ve gleaned wisdom from those mentors. The mentors are friends of mine who have since shared their contacts with my kids.
- Expect something from your teens and young adults. A hundred years ago, seventeen-year-olds were leading armies, working the farm and contributing to their families’ income—and everyone knew it was in them to do it. Today, we under-challenge kids. We don’t expect much, and they live down to our expectations.
In the end, people mature as both autonomy and responsibility are distributed evenly. If a young person wants autonomy (to be free and independent), they must demonstrate an equal amount of responsibility to earn it. For instance, if my son wants the car keys—he cannot get them unless he agrees to buy the gas. It’s simple, and life only works when the two go together. When autonomy comes without responsibility, parents are doing too much protecting and not enough preparing.
Let’s get these kids ready for life.
What can parents do to launch the stay at home son and foster authentic maturity in their kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts…
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