We are making it easy for our college graduates to not grow up

While attending college graduation at Trinity University recently, I watched many bright, accomplished young people cross the stage to accept their diploma, including my daughter. She, like many of them, does not have post-college plans. While that is fine – it’s hard to have your life figured out the second you graduate – what worries me is how many of her friends plan to move back home indefinitely.

In 2012, a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data found that 36% of the millennial generation, 18-31 year olds, is still living at home with their parents, 18% of whom are college graduates.  Sixty percent of all young adults receive financial support from their parents. According Wall St. CheatSheet these young people are hindered by a still weak labor market, high cost of living and significant college debt, making a move out on their own more difficult financially and less appealing.

While the job market and mounting student debt are important contributing factors to the number of college students who move home, I also believe the attitudes of many parents and care-givers, as well factors like children being able to stay on their parent’s health coverage plan until age 26, make it easy for our children to not grow up, to “boomerang” back home, especially compared to when we, their parents were growing up.

In 1983, the year I graduated from college, the New York Times cited that year and the previous to be the “bleakest years for college graduates in decades.” I moved back home for 6 months and worked part-time, while I searched for a professional job. Once I secured a position, although I only made $1000 per month, I found a small, inexpensive place of my own that I shared with a friend. That was what was expected. While my mother still enjoyed spending time with me,she also really enjoyed my emerging independence.

Today, even though first post-college jobs appear harder to obtain, according to Forbes Magazine 4 million jobs are currently unfilled in the U.S. Forbes writer Adam Lewis said, “When it comes to this mismatch between unemployment numbers and vacant jobs, blame is cast in all directions: Job seekers are unwilling to move cities or work in unfamiliar positions; Employers are holding out for the elusive ‘perfect candidate’; and schools just aren’t providing the right skills.” This millennial generation is characterized by their willingness to trade off a higher paycheck for meaningful work, in the location they desire with the flexibility to live the lifestyle they choose and since those jobs are hard to find, one may argue that it’s not that college grads cannot get a job, but that they are waiting for the “perfect” job to land in their lap. I saw this first-hand in my many years of coaching college students in finding their career paths. Trying to find that perfect, fulfilling job is difficult and some graduates are paralyzed with the job search. Moving back home can feel comforting, like stepping into a security net.

So many young adults have moved back home that in her book New Passages: Mapping Your Life Across Time, Gail Sheehy adopts provisional adulthood as a stage development for 18-30 year olds.  Who is allowing this period of extended adolescence and what is the impact?

In my opinion, while of course acknowledging there are other factors like the rising costs of student debt, I believe it is parents’ responsibility to launch their children after college, letting them both succeed and fail on their own. If college graduates are funded by their parents indefinitely, they are robbed of the important life and developmental experiences: gaining confidence in knowing they are in charge of their lives and can support themselves, learning how to be self-reliant and resourceful, understanding what is important to them, making compromises and sacrifices to get a start in a field that truly interests them. When we, as parents, make it too easy for our children, they delay stepping into full adulthood.

So what? Besides the personal impact to young people, living at home after college also considerably affects our economy. Existing home sales are affected. The millennials are not moving out and buying homes at the rate of previous generations. Besides paying a mortgage, they are also not purchasing furniture, decorating, and laying out their cash for all that it takes to maintain a home. There is a considerable impact to our economy when college grads end up sleeping in their childhood beds well into their late 20’s.

I enjoy my daughter (and sons) as much as anyone and there is nothing that makes me happier than having a house full of family. So it is tempting to encourage her to move back home to live, considering her first job out of college may not pay well. But, I believe my role as a parent is to gently nudge her along to her own uniquely carved out life. She needs to feel good about the choices she is making. She needs to find her values. She needs to know how it feels to earn a lifestyle.

Suzanne McFarlin has raised four children and is a Board CertifiedCoach, as well as Executive Director of Greater Tucson Leadership. She is a Public Voices Thought Leaders fellow, a program of the OpEd Project