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What's Really Going On With Your Recent Graduate?
By Michael Felberbaum   View more articles by this author
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November 10

I hear from a lot of parents that their recent graduate or college student is not motivated or that he is just lazy.  Does it seem like your child just wants to watch TV and hang out with her friends?  Maybe at your kid’s age, you not only had a job and your own house, but were married and had 3 children.  So how do you get your “unmotivated graduate” off the couch and on the road to his life?


In most cases, laziness or lack of motivation is only a superficial explanation for a “failure to launch.”  Because it’s a superficial explanation, it’s not particularly useful for the purpose of understanding behavior and making real change in the life of your child.  So, from my perspective as a coach, laziness is almost never the real cause of why your recent graduate is home, waking up at noon, eating tater tots, and watching DVDs at 3pm.  It may look like laziness, but it’s probably something else.  


In terms of engaging recent graduates and helping them to move on, it’s important that you shift the conversation from laziness to the bigger picture. At its root, laziness is a choice: for example, your child might allow present comfort (watching tv) to outweigh financial considerations (having no job).  Sometimes that might be a really good choice, and other times it might not feel like a choice at all – it just seems automatic and part of a routine.  I find it constructive to explore why someone makes that choice, especially if they’re doing it consistently.  If your son or daughter has a real aversion to discomforts – perhaps big ones like rejection or failure – then watching TV starts to look a lot less like laziness and a lot more like avoiding failure or rejection, which is something that can be addressed.  Your child could also be depressed and lack the energy to make any changes herself.  The question is how to engage in a productive dialogue as a parent, a friend, or a coach.


Let’s face it, if we’re all really honest (parents and kids alike), most of us will admit that we are, to some degree, lazy.  Nearly all of us like to take a load off, put our feet up, and procrastinate tasks that are difficult or onerous.  We might be lazy about cleaning or cooking or fitness, or something else that seems like a really useless chore.  For parents worried about their child’s apparent laziness, I encourage you to create a genuine dialogue using non-threatening communication and a little benefit of the doubt.  I recognize this can be extraordinarily difficult since there may be years of entrenched patterns of behavior and lots of “baggage.” To challenge your child’s beliefs and create a new dialogue, you as a concerned parent may start the conversation like this:


“Dave, I see that you’ve been home for 8 months now, and you’re doing a lot of the same things you did in college: going out, watching movies, eating tater tots.  I was expecting you to find a job by this point and I haven’t seen resumes going out or interviews coming up.  I’m starting to get concerned that we might not see this situation the same way.  I know you’re not lazy, so what’s really going on?”  


Of course, any parent who wishes to try this approach would want to put it in their own words.  The point is to redirect the conversation from one about the child’s qualities (i.e. laziness, motivation, fear) to the big picture of expectations.  As a parent, this can be an effective way to gauge where your child is in the process and how he or she is seeing the situation.  They may respond by saying any number of things:


  1. I’m not finding any interesting jobs -- there are none available.
  2. I don’t know what I want to do.
  3. I am getting to it, leave me alone.
  4. Why are you always pestering me?
  5. Can we talk about this another time?


As a parent, the important part is to make any of these responses okay and to work with it.  In any case, simply asking an open-ended question like “I know it’s not laziness, so what’s really going on?”  tends to shift the dynamic.  The conversation has moved from an accusation of laziness to something else – a true dialogue.  From my perspective as a career coach, many recent graduates simply have too many ideas of what they might do and are unsure of where they fit in.  They are frustrated because they do not have a good “mental model” in which to think about their career.  It’s not comfortable or easy to talk through these challenges: it requires parents, friends, and others who are supportive and will take the time to listen without prejudice.  A genuine dialogue can be a great starting point for both you and your child to move forward in a new direction.

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Comment by CHROZA
29 Aug 2016 05:56 AM
Yes, it's important not to over pressure. If parents get too annoying the kid will just get the first job he/she is offered just to move away far and quick. Even if the job has nothing to do with what they want.
Comment by janeo
17 Apr 2011 06:14 AM
I agree that what looks like lack of motivation really be many things. I think, as a parent it is important to move beyond judging your child to open up conversations with an open mind and heart to find out where they are at. Lord knows that can be difficult. I think back to myself at that age (late teens and 20's). I really didn't think I needed my parents advice, suggestions or approval. I went on my merry way however much I was fumbling or stumbling through my decisions, barely keeping my parents up to date with plans, much less my feelings. That was my misguided picture of independence.Little did I realize what I would gain from openly sharing, weighing decisions with the support and guidance of those who cared about my best interest and who had many more years of experience. I also think that I felt I needed to have everything under control and not make mistakes. I feel that the more we parents can share our own mistakes, challenges and confusion that we felt during those young years the more approachable we become and the more acceptable it is for our children to have and express the doubts or questions they must surely be experiencing. I wonder if today's culture and economy makes leaving the structure of high school or college much more challenging that 40 years ago when I was out making my way. There's so much competition out there for jobs or grad school,scholarships etc. Anyway, what adult likes job hunting and interviewing for that matter. I gotta say that Im glad im not 20 now. my thoughts, Jane
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