WASHINGTON — After graduating from college, many young people find themselves back at home with their parents. But if grown children stay too long without goals, parents may have to send them packing, suggests a psychology professor at Catholic University of America here.
Despite stresses accompanying a move home, most graduates adjust to the real world and leave the family fold before conflict becomes too great, says James E. Youniss, a specialist in changing family relationships.
But, he adds, even the pressures of living with parents and desire for independence aren't enough to push some young adults out of the nest. Parents may have to give their children the push they need.
"I've known graduates who stayed home for months. They became dependent on their parents. They were afraid to get into the game," Youniss said. "The longer this situation lasts, the lower the graduates' self-esteem becomes. They are caught in a downward spiral of depression that makes it difficult to act."
Life after college represents the great unknown to most graduates, he points out. It is the first time in their lives when they don't know what to expect and can't follow a simple path.
"It's not that they don't want to work," he said. "Most get jobs but find them boring or beneath their abilities. At college, these young people had ample opportunities to socialize. In a work environment, they may find themselves with older people and also learn that they are competing for raises and promotions and practicing office politics with employees their own age."
Today's economy makes it difficult for new graduates to set up housekeeping, Youniss noted. While entry-level jobs in engineering and computer science pay well, jobs in many fields do not.
And many students go through college without a clear idea of what they want to do after graduation. These people have particular difficulty finding a satisfactory first job, he explained.
While the process of decision and action is trying for graduates, it is trying for parents as well, Youniss said.
"Most parents want to help their children get a start," he said. "Parents may have a positive attitude when the graduate moves home. But after four years of having a child at home only during school vacations or not at all, the parents' life style has changed."
"Parents start to feel helpless and at some point may have to ask the child to leave," he said. "They may feel guilt at first but usually find the graduate rises to the occasion. And parents can still provide emotional and even financial support when a child first leaves the home.
"There's no rule saying a child must leave home at a certain point. But if being home leads to dependence and inertia, parents should consider forcing their child into action."