A distressing number of young adults in our culture seem unable to “launch”. They finish high school, but are unmotivated to go on to college, or seem unable to find or keep even menial, minimum-wage work, just hanging out with other sad youngsters. Some simply retreat to their private spaces to play computer games and surf the Web. Parents are rebuffed when they try to help their child break out of the downward spiral. Care givers are powerless to deal with these “adult” children. Even the most skilled professionals can find these alienated late-adolescents profoundly isolated and emotionally impenetrable.
Others do pretty well in high school, start college, but are unable to maintain their academic trajectory and emotional momentum. They drop out, are thrown out, or find themselves in trouble with the college or local law enforcement authorities. They present as depressed, angry, anxious or detached. Many enter into unhealthy relationships, begin showing serious problems with drugs or alcohol, or with self-abusive behaviors, including cutting and eating issues. It’s not unusual to see these young men and women start and stop their college career two or three times before giving up altogether and slinking home. Their parents are at a loss how to get them jump-started again.
Young adults having these transitional difficulties need help understanding and learning how to accept and deal with the autonomy and responsibilities of adulthood. The acquisition and practice of life skills is paramount. For some this may mean starting with an addictions treatment program, then stepping down to a sustained period of supervision and monitored work or community involvement. Only after these initial interventions are complete can there be a gradual easing back into higher education. For others, parents and their advisors need to find programs to engage the child in prosocial activities while at the same time rebuilding his or her sense of competence and self-confidence.
Mason Associates monitors and regularly visits the rich array of interesting programs, here and overseas, that is emerging to serve these young adults; new ones constantly are popping up. One large category of programs deals with late adolescents who have significant academic or social learning differences. This group would include students with language-based learning differences, processing-speed deficits, Asperger’s, NLD or autistic spectrum disorders. They may need a longer, more gradual transition from home to college; or they may need a life-skills curriculum and a sustained interlude of job coaching or career-skills development before they are ready for independence.
Another group of young adult programs deals with the emotional and behavioral needs of youngsters who were not developmentally prepared for the independence gained after high school and separation from home. These programs range in intensity from primary drug and alcohol treatment programs, followed by aftercare, to psychiatrically-sophisticated, community-based fledging opportunities, to workplace or ranch environments that don’t even offer counseling, but instead rely on a more hands-on, “can do” approach to empowerment.
We call the final cluster of offerings for this age group “supportive gap-year” programs, some of which may be travel-based. Unlike traditional gap-year programs which assume a level of emotional self-sufficiency, behavioral responsibility, and emotional maturity on the part of the willing participant, these more therapeutic gap experiences provide extra supports where appropriate. It is essential, therefore, that each student’s attributes, interests and talents be well-assessed prior to committing for the usual six- to twelve-month enrollment period. We’ve heard many sad stories, after the fact from parents, about time and money wasted because there was not enough attention paid to finding the best “fit” for the special post-secondary placement at the beginning of the process.
Mason Associates has years of experience dealing successfully with slow-starting young adults. What a joy it is when a late-bloomer finally is able to function on his or her own!