Troubling Behaviors: A Guide for Parents of Disengaged Young Adults

troubled young woman

Parenting a young adult can be a challenging journey, especially when red flag behaviors
emerge that signal disengagement from life. There are three worrisome behaviors often exhibited by young adults in distress – disengagement with the world, heavy substance use, and limited social connections. Understanding these red flags is crucial, giving strategies for parents to navigate this delicate stage while avoiding the pitfalls of enabling is my goal.

Disengagement with the World:

When a young adult disengages from life, it can manifest in various ways. Perhaps they
didn’t pursue post high school education, quit a job without a clear plan, or they’ve shown no interest in
seeking new employment opportunities. The emerging adult appears to be stuck, unmotivated, and unwilling to move forward. This behavior can be alarming for parents who witness their young adults
losing direction in life.

Heavy Substance Use:

Substance abuse is another red flag that demands attention. If a young adult is using drugs or alcohol excessively, especially in isolation (in their room by themselves), it indicates a coping mechanism that’s hindering personal and professional growth. If there have been legal issues (like DUI or multiple DUIs) this is something a parent can’t deny as merely reckless behavior. Getting professional help and looking into insurance coverage for substance abuse treatment (if you still cover their health insurance) are key next steps.

Limited Social Connections:

A shrinking or non-existent social circle is another worrisome indicator that a young adult is struggling. They should be establishing connections, fostering relationships, and expanding their social networks after high school. If they withdraw from social activities, isolate themselves, or lack a supportive social circle, it can contribute to a sense of stagnation and hinder personal development.

Understanding the Enabling Trap:

Parents often find themselves at a crossroads when faced with these red flag behaviors. The
conventional parenting strategies used during adolescence, such as imposing consequences
like grounding or taking away privileges, may not be as effective when dealing with a young
adult. The challenge lies in recognizing the difference between helping and enabling.
So, let’s take a moment to clearly define these two words.

Helping is a reciprocal act, done occasionally, where both parties contribute to the solution.
However, enabling involves repeatedly doing things for the young adult that they can and SHOULD be
doing for themselves. It creates a pattern where the parent inadvertently supports the
stagnation rather than encouraging growth.

If you are a parent who has found themselves identifying with much of what I’ve shared here,
the first step is acknowledging there is an issue. Ignoring or downplaying red flag
behaviors can perpetuate the problem. Parents must confront the situation head-on and
recognize the need for intervention. The denial phase must end for change to begin.

The next step is to create a plan to approach the young adult. When two parents are involved, it is really important they are on the same page as much as possible. A clear, confident, cohesive, consistent message is the best possible. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work when dealing with disengaged young adults. Each situation is unique, requiring a tailored plan. This may involve seeking professional guidance, such as a therapist or counselor, and when inpatient treatment is needed working with a treatment placement specialist to help you find the right location and program. Working together to develop the strategies for moving forward.

Professional Guidance:

A further note on why professional guidance can be invaluable in navigating complex situations. A therapist or counselor can help parents understand their emotions, work through anxiety or fear, and develop effective strategies for guiding their young adults towards positive change.
Parenting a disengaged young adult can feel like a big challenge, but acknowledging the red
flag behaviors and taking proactive steps is the key to fostering growth. It is essential to
differentiate between helping and enabling, recognizing that continued enabling only
perpetuates the problem. Seeking professional help and developing a personalized plan are
essential components of moving forward.

Remember, as a parent, you are not alone in facing these challenges. By addressing the
issues early and adopting a thoughtful, tailored approach, you can provide the support and
guidance necessary for your young adult to navigate through this challenging phase and find
a path toward personal and professional fulfillment.