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What Is Failure To Launch?

Written by O'Connor Professional Group
Published on May 19, 2020

We look at modern comedies like “Stepbrothers” and the appropriately named “Failure to Launch,” where the almost middle-aged young man has decided that there’s no reason to move out of his parent’s home and continues to live comfortably under their roof. The star of the movie is portrayed as the dropout, slacker, or the black sheep of the family, but these movies show a genuine struggle for some families.

What is Failure to Launch?

Failure to Launch Syndrome, sometimes known as “Peter Pan Syndrome,” is characterized by a young adult not making the jump into adulthood.  While failure to launch is more common in men than women, the important defining characteristic of this is a lack of motivation for a young person to search for a job, contribute financially, and, ultimately, begin to stay at home and withdraw from the world.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

A young person is nearing the end of his or her high school career, looking at the future, and instead of making a plan for their life, they gradually become withdrawn.  Maybe they blame their parents for putting too much pressure on them; perhaps they complain about the cost of higher education or the struggles of the job market.  While a temporary hiatus may not be cause for concern, the defining characteristic of this syndrome is continued procrastination or out-right refusal of this person to participate in daily life and develop both short- and long-term goals.

A young person with Failure to Launch Syndrome lacks the inner motivation and faith in themselves that drive people to create a fulfilling life, either financially, academically, or socially. In earlier developmental phases, this same person may experience anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues and can contribute to failure to develop a sense of “self.”

How Can You Help?

It’s hard for a parent or caregiver to stop parenting even when their child is no longer a child. The most important thing to do for a family dealing with a failure to launch situation is changing the focus from seeing this as the sole responsibility of the young adult to change, and focus on how the family system as a whole needs to change.

Start by getting guidance from a professional.  If your loved one is struggling and unwilling to get help themselves, start by giving yourself the best tools you can to help you deal with the situation. This can help you to start a difficult conversation, hold a family meeting, and set expectations for the young adult, and learn how to engage with them compassionately.

Some advice you may get can be difficult because parents often want to do everything they can to help their loved ones.  But sometimes the best thing you can do is stop accommodating.  The longer a parent caters to the need of a child, the longer they are not developing the necessary skills to succeed on their own. Sometimes that may mean watching them fail.


If you or a loved one needs help supporting an individual that is struggling with mental health, feeling stuck or unable to reach goals, O’Connor Professional Group is here to help. Call (617) 221-8764 or visit our Contact Us to schedule a consultation and see how we can help.


Meet the Author


Sydney Breteler is the Intake and Business Development Associate at OPG. In this role, she is primarily focused on responding to inquiries about services and communicating OPG’s capacity to best cater to the needs of individuals and families seeking help and guidance with behavioral health issues. Sydney also works with the marketing and business development teams, lending her eight years of prior administrative and communications-related experience. Sydney earned a B.A. in Psychology from Clark University. She lives in Boston and has a passion for worldwide travel, hiking, skiing, and always has a book in hand when she’s not spending time with family and friends.

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