Boomerang Kids: A Revealing Look at Why So Many of Our Children Are Failing on Their Own, and How Parents Can Help

Boomerang Kids: A Revealing Look at Why So Many of Our Children Are Failing on Their Own, and How Parents Can Help

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by Carl Pickhardt

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"She's 22 years old, for heaven's sake! We thought she'd be grown up by now. But no, it's one more crisis after another. And then she calls on us-for emotional support, problem-solving advice. Even money...although we've gotten pretty tough about that. It's like she's still a teen! Why is it so hard for her just to act like an adult?"

Around age 18, most young

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"She's 22 years old, for heaven's sake! We thought she'd be grown up by now. But no, it's one more crisis after another. And then she calls on us-for emotional support, problem-solving advice. Even money...although we've gotten pretty tough about that. It's like she's still a teen! Why is it so hard for her just to act like an adult?"

Around age 18, most young people expect, and are expected to, move out and live on their own-either at college or in an apartment. But more and more often, "boomerang kids" are returning home defeated, leaving you frustrated and at a loss for how to help them.

In this breakthrough book, Carl Pickhardt, author of Why Good Kids Act Cruel, exposes the hidden period of development that's causing increasing numbers of post-high school and college age kids to fail on their own and tells parents what you can do to fix it. His new approach to understanding young adulthood proposes that 18—to—23 year-olds have reached not adulthood, but a final stage of adolescence called "trial independence."

Boomerang Kids helps parents understand this little-discussed period in your children's lives, so you can help them get through this last and most difficult stage of adolescence and get back out on their own, to become fully, and successfully, independent adults.

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Editorial Reviews

In this trade paperback original, psychologist Carl Pickhardt (Why Good Kids Act Cruel) identifies a transitional period between adolescence and young adulthood that he calls "trial independence." During this testing stage, which usually occurs between the ages of 18 and 24, young people gain self-confidence and experience before they take off into the outer world. There is no guarantee, however, that they won't return. In fact, each year, hundreds of thousands of these "boomerang kids" return to the nest that once nurtured them. Not content to simply identify a social phenomenon, Pickard explains its common causes and describes measures that parents can take to become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

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"I figured I was ready to move out and make it on my own. I had a little money saved, a job lined up, a place with a couple of roommates to stay where we could share expenses. But it just got away from me. Maybe it was too much, too fast, I don't know. For a lot of reasons I just couldn't catch hold. I crashed. And when you crash in life, where else are you supposed to go except back home? Disappointed? Sure, I'm disappointed. And so are my parents, though they don't come out and say so. I just need a safe place and some time to get my feet back under me so I can try moving out on my own again."

For many parents, hearing from their child how hard it is striking out alone in the world is difficult, even heartbreaking. But the reality is that such stories are becoming more and more common.

Today, the adolescent journey from childhood to adult independence is a long one, and the hardest part is usually saved for last. This final stage of adolescence, what I call trial independence, typically unfolds between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three and ends a little after the college-age years, when a young person finally establishes social, psychological, and economic independence.

The problem, though, is that most parents and adolescents have been led to believe that graduation from high school signifies that one is ready to act self-sufficiently and responsibly grown-up. This assumption is reinforced by many of our books, television shows, movies...even our laws. For most older adolescents today, it normally takes at least three to five years after high school, when they are living away from home and struggling to operate more on their own, to actually master the skills needed for independent living. And most adults (and most young people themselves) vastly underestimate the complexity of this final struggle for independence. This miscalculation becomes most apparent when it results in boomerang kids-last-stage adolescents who lose their footing and come back home to rely on their parents' support for a while longer.

I have written this book to help parents understand this last and most challenging stage of adolescence, the one in which most boomerang kids tend to return to reside at home. By understanding the nature of this challenging time and identifying the multiple causes for returning home, parents can move past frustration and instead focus on helping their child move on to adulthood.

Hopefully, this book will help you understand why your son or daughter has returned, what you can do to support your child's recovery, and how to strengthen your child's readiness and resolve to try for independence again. So what I have written is primarily a manual for intervention when your last-stage adolescent returns home; but it is also a guide for prevention, since it discusses how you can prepare children before they depart from the home, making a boomerang return less likely.

Chapter 1 describes the last stage of adolescence-trial independence-setting it within the context of four stages of normal adolescent development. Chapter 2 examines how immaturity or delayed development from earlier adolescent stages can put off readiness for independence, and how adequate preparation before the child's departure from home can increase the chances of a successful launch.

Chapters 3—13 walk you step by step through the main life challenges encountered during trial independence. When one or more of the following challenges comes to the point of crisis, it can cause a young person to boomerang home to recover:

Missing home and family-coping with loneliness after moving out on one's own
Managing increased freedom-handling a greater range of choice
Flunking out of college-failing to complete further education
Unemployment-seeking or losing a job
Roommate problems-sharing a domestic living arrangement
Broken love relationships-finding and losing love
Substance use-living in a drug-filled world
Indebtedness-overspending and credit card living
Stress-coping with excessive demand
Emotional crisis-feeling overwhelmed by unhappy feelings
Fear of the future-facing what to do with one's life

By understanding these challenges and how to help children navigate through them, parents can learn how best to ready children before they leave or support them after they return home.
Chapter 14 makes recommendations for how parents and boomerang kids can structure this period of residence so that it works as well as possible for all concerned. Chapter 15 describes the gifts available to young people in each type of crisis, and how these gifts can help them grow. Finally, Chapter 16 describes how to recognize the end of adolescence, identifies some developmental tasks of young adulthood that follow, and recommends how parents can adjust their parenting to stay well connected to their grown son or daughter during the independent years ahead.

At the end of each chapter, I give a "Parenting Prescription," which summarizes several actions that parents can take and topics for them to discuss that can be helpful to their son or daughter at this trying time of life.

My hope is that this book will help parents in three ways:
1. Give you a road map to normal life challenges your son or daughter will face during trial independence (age 18—23) and the final stage of adolescence, as well as an appreciation of why this last of the four stages is typically the hardest of all
2. Describe eleven major life challenges that most young people commonly encounter during this final stage, and how those challenges can come to crisis and cause a young person to return home
3. Suggest ways you can support your child's recovery in each crisis and help lead the young person closer to adulthood, readier to try independence again

Most of what I have to share about understanding and managing boomerang behavior in older adolescents arises from counseling parents and young people over the years. From this experience, I have come to believe that this is a trying time for all concerned. Parents who thought their active parenting was over now have more to do. The young person feels that returning home is necessary, but wishes that this wasn't so. Sometimes mothers and fathers will wonder if they shouldn't be out of the parenting business by this age, but in general, I think not. Just as adolescence often lasts longer today than it used to, active parenting must last longer, too. When a young person boomerangs home during trial independence, this simply means that he or she has more growing to do. This book describes how parents can be there to help.

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Meet the Author

Carl Pickhardt, PhD, is a psychologist in a private counseling practice. Dr. Pickhardt, whose books include Why Good Kids Act Cruel, The Connected Father, The Future of Your Only Child and Stop the Screaming, is married with four grown children and one grandchild. He lives in Austin, TX.

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