3 ways to help our kids grow up
A few months before my son graduated from high school, I was reflecting with my friend Jeremia on the ways I felt I had parented my son well and the ways I felt I had parented him poorly throughout his adolescence. Of course, like many parents, I was focusing primarily on my perceived failures. To help me feel better, Jeremia told me about a speaker he and his wife had been listening to who said, “If you feel like a failure as a parent when your kids graduate from high school, don’t worry about it too much. You still have another 10 years to make up for it!” Thanks, Jeremia.
He was referencing a relatively new phenomenon many sociologists are calling emerging adulthood. The basic idea of emerging adulthood is that many of the achievements that historically have marked the transition from adolescence to adulthood, such as completing school, leaving home, working full time year-round, getting married, and having children, are simply “out of reach” for many of today’s young adults. The result is these markers are happening later and later in life.
According to Jeffery Arnett, a research professor of psychology, this leaves young adults in a state of identity exploration and feeling ‘in-between’ as they focus on themselves with all sorts of instability. We used to assume the transition from adolescence to adulthood was taking place at around age 18. We now see it shifting closer to 29.
For many young adults, the core challenge of this new stage of development is renegotiating their personal identities. The journey of maturity is not a simple straight line (no one told me raising teenagers wouldn’t be a “simple straight line”!!). This process requires growing the ability to make long term commitments, especially in the areas of faith, relationships, and careers.
So how should you respond?
Well, surprise surprise, if you are a follower of Christ, you have a number of “unique resources” you can access to prepare your kid to renegotiate their faith. Let me give you three.
Speak truth into their “identity formation.”
When you follow Christ, you trust that your identity is not something you create, it is something you discover. Since we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, your job as a parent is to help your children and teens see how God has fearfully and wonderfully made them. Since your kids did not make themselves, don’t tell them they can “be” or “do” whatever they want. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on them to create themselves, which tends to leave them vulnerable to their emotional disposition, generally unstable, and open to manipulation.
Your kids aren’t actually designed to be “whoever they want to be.” Instead, help them discover who they are made to be. As they run and play and interact in their clubs and on their teams, intentionally observe and point out the gifts, skills, and personalities that are being revealed. And then share with them how their gifts, skills, and personalities could be used for great Kingdom work in all different areas of life and vocation in the future, while helping them renegotiate their roles in the communities and activities they currently find themselves.
As you watch the reality of what is in their life now, you have the unique opportunity to give them a vision of what their life could be in the future.
Get your kids to camp.
...And not just as campers. Put them into leadership development programs and on summer staff. There are few environments where teens have a greater opportunity for mentored responsibility in the context of Kingdom community. Yes, camp can be hard, tiring, frustrating, and with little financial remuneration, but it is a deep dive in identity formation, or rather, a deep dive in identity revelation, that results in a lifetime return on investment of deep, resilient faith as young adults.
Actively encourage at least one year of faith-based education for your kids after high school.
Renegotiating Faith told us that students who chose Christian higher education after high school were more likely to share the Christian beliefs of their parents, three times more likely to attend church services at least weekly, more likely to be enrolled full time in their studies, and less likely to say they would be isolated without social media (more on that later), among other things.
As one experiences deep community, like that of a Christian college campus, and comes to an understanding of self/vocational potential (gifts, skills, personality, etc.), one’s identity becomes established. There are few environments next to the family that shape the identity of a young person more than their school and the community of peers where they feel most accepted.
These types of experiences create the opportunity for young adults to make their faith their own as they get a better picture of who they are in the context of a community that shares Kingdom values. The result is a solidified faith and a clearer, more stable sense of identity. In a unique way, Christian higher education actually creates the potential for a young adult to “fast forward” through emerging adulthood.
Not only do I believe these action steps will be helpful in your parenting, they are also backed up by the most recent Canadian research.
Find out more about how Briercrest is helping emerging adults keep their faith.
Sid Koop is an alumnus of Briercrest Seminary who has been involved in youth ministry for over 19 years. He is the founder and executive director of Truth Matters, a ministry devoted to helping the next generation see and experience the truth of Jesus Christ. He is a key member of the Renegotiating Faith research partnership. Currently, Truth Matters runs 8 youth worker training conferences across Canada each year under the title "Canadian Youth Workers Conference."