Many of today’s teenagers and young adults are smart and knowledgeable, but lack direction and self-sufficiency. Moreover, young adults who live at home often feel resentment toward their parents for enabling their dependence. With ambivalence, they readily take advantage of support being offered, yet feel resentful for being dependent. Even trust-funders of the super wealthy, who gladly accept financial support, often lack purpose and feel deficient as a result of their cushy dependence.
Initiative and Independence
In our Western culture, economic independence leads people to feel self-empowered and capable. It feels good to be able to rely on yourself, to take care of yourself, and to feel capable of pursuing your own goals.
Although parents may have the best intentions, they can handicap their children by over-protecting and coddling them. Teenagers who are given too much turn into adults who lack initiative and impulse control, often becoming under-achievers. They may act as though they willingly reject the ambitions of the mainstream, but often they are simply afraid of their own ability to persevere and to withstand failure.
The only way to learn perseverance and initiative is through experience, which usually occurs when you have no other choice. You get comfortable with the possibility of failing when you have to start trying and failing, and are no longer daunted by it.
Prefrontal Cortex Development
Until recently it was thought that the prefrontal cortex develops fully by age 20 or 25. More recent research shows that this part of brain development is not age dependent, but contingent upon experience, that is, the experience of controlling impulses, having to plan and use one’s judgment, and suffering the consequences for bad judgment. So children whose parents make all their decisions, and whose activities are limited to well-structured schoolwork and regimented sports, may have delayed prefrontal cortex development, despite high IQs and grades.
If our young adult children are living at home rent free, and we are cooking all the meals and doing all the laundry without them lifting a finger, they are missing out on developing their prefrontal cortex’s ability to plan, make judgments and develop the basic habits required for living on their own.
Moreover, the transition to moving out will be more difficult than if they have to pay rent, do their own laundry and contribute to shopping, cooking, and cleaning. In the latter case, the transition to live on their own will be quite easy, with only a few additional requirements such as signing a lease and paying utilities on time.
Increased Responsibility, Decreased Handouts
By making most of the decisions for our children, we weaken them. By allowing them to make decisions and requiring them to take responsibility for their actions, we strengthen them.
The least traumatic way to help children gain the habits of responsibility and self-sufficiency is through gradually increasing their responsibility and independence. Like anything we learn, progressive advancement is much easier than dramatic revolution. Running a marathon can kill us if we’re out of shape. Yet, almost anyone can do it if they take the time to train properly and continuously escalate their capabilities.
A loving environment at home that fosters independent thinking and appropriate decision-making and that encourages responsibility, self-sufficiency, and contribution, helps form children into capable young adults. Summer jobs are a worthwhile experience, and quite different from summer camp in that the child is not the client to be pleased, but the employee who needs to please the customers and the employer. Children learn the value of work and money when their parents pay for less and less, other than college tuition, and when they are responsible for contributing and for buying their own non-essentials as teenagers and most everything else as young adults.
Rather than projecting their feelings of inadequacy as resentment on their parents, self-empowered and independent young adults tend to feel gratitude and respect for their parents.
Nothing has more strength than dire necessity.
by Alison Poulsen, PhD
Watch the movie “Failure to Launch.”