Jack Stoltzfus of Parents Letting Go On How We Can Solve The Loneliness Epidemic Among Young People

An interview with Pirie Jones Grossman

Pirie Jones Grossman
Authority Magazine
Published in
12 min readMay 25


Parents play a critical role in reducing the experience of loneliness in young adults. Showing unconditional love and letting these young people know they matter can be a significant buffer to loneliness, depression, and the risk of suicide. Young adults prefer to confide in their parents over their peers if the parents are open and supportive.

Our youth are facing a loneliness epidemic like never before. They have “social” media, but many are lacking healthy social lives. Many have likes and virtual “friends” but not real live friends. They can text and tweet but not speak and listen and connect. And they are feeling it. Humans were made for real live interaction, and we crave it when we don’t get it, or don’t even know how to go about looking for connection. How can we solve this loneliness epidemic that young people face? As a part of our interview series about the ‘5 Things We Can Each Do Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic Among Young People ’ we had the pleasure to interview Jack Stoltzfus Ph.D.

Dr. Stoltzfus is America’s Launch Coach. His mission is to help parents and young adults struggling to transition to adulthood, popularly known as failure to launch. He has over 30 years of clinical experience with parents and young adults and provides resources to parents through his website, Parentslettinggo.com. Jack is the father of three adult children who are gainfully employed and self-sufficient, and have blessed him with ten grandchildren.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?

As a psychologist, three experiences have led me to my work with parents and young adults. First, I had the challenge of closing the gap between my father and me to become an emotionally healthier adult. Second, as a result of my work to resolve young adult issues with my father, I pursued a Ph.D. dissertation where I demonstrated the degree to which the expressions of love and letting go were critical to helping late teens attain healthy separation from their parents. Finally, in the last ten years, I began to see more parents of young adults with failure to launch challenges, discovered there was a lack of resources, and decided to make it my mission to help these struggling parents.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

A single-parent mother asked me for help with her son, a young adult college dropout. He was living with his mother, staying up all night because he couldn’t sleep and fearing rejection in seeking employment. I worked with him to address the depression and personal hygiene- he didn’t bathe regularly- and sent him to a sleep psychologist. One day his mother talked with a neighbor who indicated that he had a job opening and would speak to her son. Her son took the job, liked the work and his co-workers, and within two days, he was back to a regular sleep schedule. He has since moved out of his mother’s home, is self-sufficient, and working full-time. The lesson I learned from this is how important a job can be to lift depression, reduce loneliness by relating to co-workers, and help a young adult transition out of the home.

It has been said that sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

In my career as a therapist, I have had problems managing my calendar. I have a faulty calendaring chip in my brain. I once had a client named Steve call me and ask when his appointment was. I looked at my schedule and saw Steve on Saturday at 10:00. I never use last names for confidentiality reasons. Imagine my surprise when Saturday came, and I had two Steves in my office. I also worked at 3M for several years and once scheduled a meeting on Thanksgiving Day. My troubles started when 3M failed to retain secretaries, and I had to take over such duties.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes. I have a book being considered by publishers through my agent entitled The Launch Code: Loving and Letting Go of Our Young Adult Children. This is scheduled for release in 2024 but in the meantime my book Love and Backbone is available on Amazon.

Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority on the topic of ‘The Loneliness Epidemic Among Young People’?

Yes. I’ve dedicated the last ten years to working with parents and young adults who fail to launch. These young adults are often isolated, anxious, and depressed and spend countless hours gaming or surfing the internet. The parents are also typically anxious or depressed and wondering if their son or daughter will ever leave or be able to make it on their own. These parents and young adults are part of a silent epidemic, exacerbated by the pandemic, and don’t want to talk about the status of the young adult. Parents don’t want to answer the question from friends and extended family members as to what their young adult is doing. Likewise, these young adults avoid their friends because they don’t want to tell their peers they are still living in their parents’ basement.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in the New York Times, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US, but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?

Numerous research findings have documented loneliness’s detrimental effects on physical and mental health. According to several studies, over 40 percent of young adults, the highest of any segment of society, report loneliness. Specifically, loneliness is linked to immune deficiency, poor sleep, stress, depression, anxiety, and other conditions, according to the National Library of Medicine publication in April of 2022. With young adults, anger, irritability, and reactivity, sometimes referred to as masked depression, can also be linked to loneliness. Also, there is an increased risk of illicit drug use and suicide with the isolated young adults that I see in my clinical practice. There is some evidence from a University of California study that loneliness can lead to physical illness, a weakened immune system, inflammation, and a potential risk of a host of diseases, including heart disease and cancer.

Based on your experience or research, are children impacted differently than adults by the loneliness epidemic? How?

According to the 2017 Ipso survey, young adults ages 18–25 are the loneliest segment of our population. Young adults are facing monumental developmental tasks associated with their transition to adulthood. Specifically, they must establish a sense of identity, which involves what they do and who they are. They also need to attain emotional, psychological, and financial independence. Finally, they must build a social support network and, in most cases, find a life partner. Of those living with parents, 52%, according to a Pew Study in 2020 (over 26 million), have lost contact with peers who are often moving forward on these life tasks. Young adults who may have landed back home during the pandemic became stalled in the transition process. As they observe their peers moving on, they feel like failures and losers. Although one upside to living at home is that they may have parental support, this is often conditioned on them moving forward in life — getting a job, going back to school, and moving out. Unlike their parents, these young adults have found ways to stay in touch via social media and gaming, but such digital connections can’t substitute for going out with friends or dating. The damage to self-esteem and self-concept at this critical stage of life, of living in isolation, even if that is the bedroom of your parent’s home, can be uniquely more devastating than for older adults.

On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness among our youth harming our communities and society?

Richard Reeves, Of Boys and Men, addresses the unique problems of males in society who are failing to launch and falling behind their female counterparts in work and careers. Nicolas Eberstadt, Men Without Work, describes the growing problem of men not entering the workforce or dropping out that, if counted, would lead to an actual unemployment figure of over 11%. In my work with parents and young adults, I see the beginning of this problem as these young adults sit at home and resist leaving for work or school due to a fear of failure. It’s not so much an entitlement problem as an empowerment problem. They have lost their mojo and don’t know how to get it back. What we see in the papers daily of drug overdose, suicides, and shootings, which Reeves refers to as deaths of despair, is the tip of the iceberg under which there is a growing segment of lonely, isolated, and vulnerable males. Let’s be clear. Females are not immune to these consequences of isolation, but males dominate the statistics regarding the deaths of despair. Unless we do something, the impact of these isolated young adults on the social fabric of our society, the health care systems, and the economy may be irreversible.

The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why our young people are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.

The internet, gaming, and social media have been both a blessing and a curse for young people. For some young people, gaming and social media are their only connections to old and new friends. It is a widespread complaint from parents of young adults who fail to launch that these young adults spend excessive time online, often late into the night. Several male young adults I have worked with have connected to females through gaming. However, in one case, this young man racked up $100k in debt by gaming, which he did at the encouragement of this female friend. It became clear that this was a scam. Other males have traveled to other states to meet girls they have met online.

Gaming and talking with friends is a common habit of male teens and young adults, and Instagram, TikTok, And Twitter don’t allow for the human connection of being physically together. There is some evidence from Gary Small, I Brain, that teenagers spending time on social media and gaming have underdeveloped parts of the brain related to empathy. Also, Birdwhistle’s research suggests that human communication is 60–70% nonverbal and tone, often lacking in social media communication. Reeves, quoted earlier, found that young males would reach out to friends with a personal problem 45% of the time in 1990s, but that figure has dropped to 22% today. In electronic communication and without immediate in-person feedback on how the sharing of concern will be received, the tendency is not to share. A further related drawback of connecting via media is the potential for being misunderstood. A text can only communicate so much.

As a result of these shortcomings, the electronically connected younger generation lacks some of the essential aspects of in-person communication. We know how important touch is; clearly, you can’t find a hug or a soothing touch electronically. Internet connections may also contribute to a decline in sexual activity by the Gen Z generation. These shortcomings of the wired communication and experience of young people can lead to increased loneliness. So we have a generation of wired but isolated and lonely young men and women.

What signs would you tell parents, friends, or loved ones to look for in young people they think may need help? Can you please explain?

In my experience working with parents and young adults, some telltale signs of loneliness exist. First, extensive time in one’s room, whether gaming or just surfing the web. Second, lack of desire to go out and hang out with friends or consider dating via dating sites. Third, avoidance of family and family gatherings like mealtimes. Fourth, signs of depression or anxiety often accompany feelings of isolation and helplessness. Parents need to be aware of these signs. Fifth, reactivity to parents who, well intended, may bug their sons or daughters to get a job, go to school, volunteer, join a health club, etc. The level of reactivity- anger and irritability -that parents often receive masks underlying depression, loneliness, and despair.

Ok. It is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the “5 Things Each Of Us Can Do To Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic Among Young People?” Please give a story or an example for each.

1. Parents play a critical role in reducing the experience of loneliness in young adults. Showing unconditional love and letting these young people know they matter can be a significant buffer to loneliness, depression, and the risk of suicide. Young adults prefer to confide in their parents over their peers if the parents are open and supportive.

2. Parents need to take a more proactive role in engaging young people, getting them out of the house to exercise, volunteer, or in other ways connect to people. But don’t just tell them to go out, do it with them. One mother who delivered meals on wheels to elderly shut-ins took her 19-year-old college dropout with her, and then when she couldn’t deliver meals for one reason or another, she asked him to do this. Helping others is not only a great antidote to loneliness; it has great antidepressant value.

3. As difficult as it is, parents need to encourage young adults to talk to a therapist or a life coach to help them feel better, reduce loneliness, and develop a plan and path forward in their lives. I work with young adults to build a vision and plan for the future, and the steps to get there, which is empowering and engenders hope.

4. Society has a role in helping with the loneliness epidemic among young people. Hybrid or onsite working expectations get these young people out of their rooms, staring at computers and interacting with others in the workplace. The same can be said for higher education- expectations to show up in person for classes or at least a combination of onsite and remote.

5. Professionals, including doctors and other health care workers, need to screen for loneliness as well as depression and anxiety and follow low scores with a frank discussion of the need to connect and the risk to health of not doing so. Young adults may not seek a therapist initially but will talk to their doctor, who can encourage using these resources and other options.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was so inspiring, and so important!

About The Interviewer: Pirie is a TedX speaker, author and a Life Empowerment Coach. She is a co-host of Own your Throne podcast, inspiring women in the 2nd chapter of their lives. With over 20 years in front of the camera, Pirie Grossman understands the power of storytelling. After success in commercials and acting. She spent 10 years reporting for E! Entertainment Television, Entertainment Tonight, also hosted ABC’s “Every Woman”. Her work off-camera capitalizes on her strength, producing, bringing people together for unique experiences. She produced a Children’s Day of Compassion during the Dalai Lama’s visit here in 2005. 10,000 children attended, sharing ideas about compassion with His Holiness. From 2006–2009, Pirie Co-chaired the Special Olympics World Winter Games, in Idaho, welcoming 3,000 athletes from over 150 countries. She founded Destiny Productions to create Wellness Festivals and is an Advisory Board member of the Sun Valley Wellness Board.In February 2017, Pirie produced, “Love is Louder”, a Brain Health Summit, bringing in Kevin Hines, noted suicide survivor to Sun Valley who spoke to school kids about suicide. Sun Valley is in the top 5% highest suicide rate per capita in the Northwest, prompting a community initiative with St. Luke’s and other stake holders, to begin healing. She lives in Sun Valley with her two children, serves on the Board of Community School. She has her Master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica and is an Executive Life Empowerment Coach, where she helps people meet their dreams and goals! The difference between a dream and a goal is that a goal is a dream with a date on it!



Pirie Jones Grossman
Authority Magazine

TedX Speaker, Influencer, Bestselling Author and former TV host for E! Entertainment Television, Fox Television, NBC, CBS and ABC.