Have you ever tried to stand up in a canoe?
You’re about to launch out into an exciting adventure, and you’re eager to go, but first you have to walk the length of the canoe to get to your seat.
You feel unstable, insecure, and out of balance, like anything you might do could capsize you.
Take that feeling and stretch it out over about four years, and you have some sense of what teens feel from the time they’re 16 until they’re about 20.
It’s called “launch anxiety.”
Experts on teen development call it launch anxiety, and it’s something parents experience too. Imagine a teen and her parents, all standing up in the same canoe, all trying to get balance and footing in this strange new season of life.
Now you have some sense of why life in a home with teens can seem chaotic and out of control.
What do parents and teens grab for, as they try to gain stability?
It times of change, uncertainty, and instability, human beings naturally – instinctively -- grab for something steady and stable to hold onto.
In best case scenarios both parents and teens, separately, intensify and further develop their focus on a steady, unchanging God through a real and relevant relationship with Jesus Christ.
In the words of author Leanne Payne, they “stand up straight into God.” Parents in this posture view their teens as having purpose, a “calling” on their lives – whether ministerial or not. They see their teens as possessing specific gifts from God that will enable and bring excellence to their life’s work. For families in this posture, college (or other post-secondary training or education) makes sense in that it develops the gifts God has specifically given this teen. It’s a means to an end, not an idol to be bowed to.
This is the best-case scenario. In many families, though, reality looks quite different.
Grabbing for what cannot provide stability
Sometimes, even committed Christian parents and teens are tempted to leave off “standing up straight into God” in the crush of the pre-college years.
The tug is insidious and ever present - to bend down, to bow toward the earth and all it provides, to try in vain to “get life” and security and stability from things such as enormous numbers of extracurricular activities, prestigious college admissions, or plans for medicine or aerospace engineering.
“Surely these things are the key to a good life, right?” parents ask each other hesitantly. “There’s nothing wrong with a focus on education… is there?”
When there’s excessive focus, that is a problem.
When the pursuit of the next step in education becomes an idol to be bowed to and worshipped, teens report feeling suffocated and exhausted, and pressured almost beyond their ability to bear it. It’s in situations like these that teens sometimes begin to turn to unhealthy behaviors, in an effort to cope - in an effort to escape.
One teen girl put it this way: “Some people say that figuring out the college stuff is like building a bicycle while riding it, but IT’S NOT. It’s like building a 747 jumbo jet while flying it! You better believe it’s scary.”
I’m a parent. Are there practical things can I do to counteract this?
- Frankly look at whether you might be bent toward the earth, “getting life” from your own education, career, or earning potential. If you are, begin to “stand up straight into God” where your own career and earning potential are concerned.
- At the dinner table or while riding in the car, let your teen know about problems or obstacles you are facing at work. Let him or her know that you are actively praying about these things and listening for God’s response, because God helps people to find ingenious solutions to problems at work.
- Consistently see your work as part of a much bigger picture, and let your teen hear you praying for God’s presence and blessing in that bigger picture.
- Hard as it is in our culture, keep your own work within boundaries, with time carefully set aside for play, rest, worship, and connecting with others. Each time you make this choice, you are communicating to your teen that work is not to be worshipped.
- Seek out and learn a new skill that will help you to be better at your work. Communicate to your teen that you’re excited about the opportunity -- because you’re not just working for a paycheck; your daily secular work is an act of worship to God, and you want to do it as well and as beautifully as possible.
- In age appropriate family meetings, pray together and thank God for your income. Tell God together of your desire to manage your income wisely. Make giving decisions as a family, and then lay the offering check in the middle of the table and pray this prayer: “God, we’re giving this because our family wants to be a part of what you are doing on this earth.” Who could resist the invitation to be a part of something as beautiful as that?
Life As A Teenager
Don't Push Me!
Thoughts on Fatherhood