Durability (noun)-the ability to withstand wear, pressure, or damage
Durable-(adjective)-able to resist wear, decay, etc., well; lasting; enduring.

Many stressors serve as impediments to emerging adults as they make their way in the world. Their ability to manage those stressors, over time and in real time is critical to their effectiveness in coping with the multi-faceted lives they are compelled to live. Depression may keep them from getting out of bed to go to work. Executive functioning challenges might lead to losing track of assignments and due dates in a course of study. Anxiety could cause them to overthink, well, everything actually. And yet, what they are looking for, and what their families are hoping for are in many ways the same thing—durability.

Yes, maybe they have a history of starting strong, like at the beginning of a semester. But then, over time, a corrosive effect takes over that wears away at them. They lose track of things, life piles on, the pressure mounts and they continue a long-standing pattern of succumbing and ending up with some damage to their psyche.  Unlearning this pattern takes time, effort and the support of a long tether. One which allows emerging adults to dust themselves off, expose their inner grit and not feel the current of a circling helicopter care giver from above. This autonomy of the long tether helps them to feel greater ownership of their situation. They know the help is there, but that the expectation (by everyone) is that they will be able to, mostly, figure it out. According to Berk (2013), this helicopter style “likely interferes with emerging adults’ ability to acquire the skills they need to act on their own.” Our colleagues, Clay Garrett and Andrew Moskovitz at Urban Edge (2017) talk about the importance of grit as a predictor of achievement in multiple domains for emerging adults.

In the six months before we opened Onward Transitions, and in the year since, we have spoken with nearly 100 families about how they hope that their emerging adult could come to Portland, put their therapeutic growth to some reality testing, and become more durable in the face of the business of life. One mother said it outright:

We just hope he can continue to become more durable, over time.”

This was early on in our process, and did not know it at the time. She was the voice of her generation of parents, speaking plainly about her hopes for her emerging adult. He had done the “heavy lifting” in therapy, had tried college, tried volunteering at home, and none of it had really come together for him. The team they had put together as a family helped them to recognize that getting out, without a net, but with a tether, might be the right thing. 

We have been able to be part of the lives of a small sample of young adults who have built up their durability through working, going to school, volunteering, cooking meals, exercising, budgeting, paying bills, refilling prescriptions, making appointments, and most importantly—bouncing back after making a mistake. The members of our Pine House, and our step-down “Neighbors” here in Maine talk openly about adding on another “layer of complexity” to their lives, as they gain mastery over the preceding ones. They relish the fact that they are working through their struggles, and report feeling “grown up” when they do.  They report feeling better able to endure, and not collapse when old emotions rise up or life drama takes the stage.

Lots to think about…Thanks for your time. 


Berk, Laura E., 2013, Lifespan Development Series, 6th Ed., Pearson, ISBN: 9780205957606

Garrett, Clay M., and Moskovitz, A., 2017, Autonomous Programming: The Benefits and Challenges of Emerging Mentorship Models, The Journal of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, Vol. IX, Number 1.