Job hunting is often exhausting and demoralizing for young adults. Creating stand-out resumes and cover letters takes time. Plus, many employers’ online application systems require applicants to create accounts and manually input the info from their resumes for every job they apply for.
More often than not, the reward for this time investment is rejection and disappointment. Many young job seekers put in dozens—if not hundreds—of applications without hearing anything back. Those who do make it to the interview stage may get their hopes up only to have them dashed if they aren’t ultimately selected.
Five ways to help your child overcome unemployment anxiety and depression
The rejection and uncertainty of unemployment are a common cause of stress, sadness, and self-esteem issues among today’s youth. These unemployment-related mental health problems can become a self-fulfilling prophesy; young adults who believe a job hunt is hopeless are likely just to give up.
If your adult child or teenager can’t find a job, they may be feeling hopeless. As therapists for young adults, we see this situation all the time. Here’s how to help:
Most children who complain about their lack of success aren’t looking for advice. They simply need to vent their frustrations. You can encourage your child to open up about their unemployment challenges by resisting the urge to offer unsolicited advice. You can also ask follow-up questions to help you understand their unique situation and struggles.
Be careful not to ask your questions in a way that could be interpreted as blaming—even if your child made a mistake. Most young adults are already painfully aware of their shortcomings and don’t need to be reminded. Additionally, depressed individuals are very sensitive to criticism, and you don’t want to push your child away from you when they need your support.
It’s difficult to watch your child suffer, so you may be tempted to distract them or talk them out of feeling the way they do. However, it’s important they know that it’s normal to experience frustration, jealousy, fear, anxiety, etc. during unemployment.
If you grew up in a household where your own emotions were dismissed, ignored, or judged, this will take some practice. Here are a few validating statements you can try out during your next conversation: “That sounds frustrating,” or “I remember feeling hopeless when I was unemployed, too,” or “That must be really hard.”
You may worry that validating your child’s pain will keep them stuck in a negative mindset. On the contrary, research shows that being validated helps people regulate difficult emotions more effectively. [i] Your understanding and acceptance will also show your child that you care and are on their side.
3. Reframe negative thoughts
Young people sometimes overgeneralize and catastrophize when they have negative experiences. For example, if your child fails to get an interview after applying to ten different companies, they might conclude that they will never get an interview.
Your child may also be in the habit of internalizing their failures—even those outside their control. For example, imagine that your child applies to their dream job, which is located in another state. When they fail to hear back, they might conclude that their college GPA wasn’t high enough or that they should have chosen a different major in school. While it’s possible higher grades or a different major could have helped, it’s equally likely the hiring manager was instructed to ignore out-of-state applicants.
Here’s another example. Imagine your daughter is not selected for a job after an interview with a male hiring manager. In her frustration, she might claim that the manager was probably just sexist. You might respond, “He may be sexist. But could there be any other possible reasons you weren’t selected?” After thinking about it, your daughter might respond that maybe she doesn’t have as much experience as the other candidates. Helping your daughter develop a more constructive explanatory style for her experiences can help her move past feelings of helplessness and take action.
4. Build them up
Getting hired is ultimately outside your child’s control, so don’t focus on that. Instead, focus your attention—and your child’s—on small, achievable goals that build up their self-esteem. For example, you might encourage them to find two positions they are a good fit for every week and apply for them. Have them treat their job search like a job and praise them for succeeding at it.
Focusing on the job hunt (rather than the goal of employment) is also an excellent opportunity to introduce more structure into your child’s life. The uncertainty of job hunting can make your child feel like they are not making any progress, but you can fight this mentality with weekly job-hunting goals. We recommend carving out regular time slots for job-search activities to ensure your child doesn’t work on job hunting too much (or too little).
We also recommend shifting your child’s focus away from career-related goals from time to time. After all, it’s not healthy for a person’s entire identity to be tied up in their career. Did your child do a great job on their chores this week? Score a goal during a sporting event? Go above and beyond to help a friend? Celebrate your child’s successes, even if they seem small or irrelevant to their future success. They’ll need every bit of self-confidence they can muster to survive the job market.
5. Treat failures like learning opportunities
Professional challenges are learning opportunities; don’t take these opportunities away by solving your child’s problems for them. Even if you’re just trying to be helpful, unsolicited advice and assistance can send your child the message that they aren’t capable of solving problems independently. Instead, take a step back and allow your child to learn valuable problem-solving skills.
It’s perfectly okay to offer support, information, and resources that empower your child. For example, perhaps your child struggles with communication. If so, don’t offer to talk to potential employers on their behalf. Instead, connect your child with books and other resources that will teach them communication and other soft skills.
You can also support your child in learning any hard skills they will need in their field. For example, perhaps your child is being passed up for opportunities because they lack certain industry certifications. If so, you might encourage your child to take some time off from job hunting to obtain the needed credentials.
Support can help your child overcome unemployment depression
If your adult child or teenager can’t find a job, we recommend they connect with other struggling job-seekers, either online or through a local support group. Depending on their needs, you can also have your child work with a job coach or other professional.
If your emerging adult’s depression or anxiety are worsening and creating a serious obstacle, you may consider getting your child professional support to address their emotional wellbeing. As therapists for young adults, we’re skilled in addressing mental health issues while also providing practical support to help people get unstuck and progressing through life.