My family loves visiting Cox Farm every autumn to pick pumpkins, drink cider and enjoy a hayride. The highlight is riding the giant slide. Although sliding on a burlap bag is good old-fashioned fun, the slide is big enough to scare small children. And that’s exactly what happened to my 5-year-old son, Josiah.
But I knew that if my son didn’t face his fears, he’d forfeit all the fun. So I bribed him with kettle corn. Riding down that slide together was an unforgettable memory and a teachable moment. When it was over, I explained to Josiah that fear keeps us from experiencing life to the fullest. Then I came up with a family mantra that I’ve repeated countless times since: Remember the slide!
One of our responsibilities as parents is to help our kids face their fears. During the teen years, our kids encounter new fears, bigger fears. The fear of failure becomes more acute. The fear of rejection intensifies. And fear of the future enters the equation as they approach life after high school. No matter what form their fears take, our job remains the same: to help our teens make faith-based decisions rather than fear-based ones. As our teens learn to trust God, their decisions will be guided by confidence in Him rather than by the fear of what might happen.
We need to help our kids find their security in a relationship with Jesus Christ. As we model the love of our heavenly Father, our kids find security in that love, and it gives them the courage to live by faith.
Although the teen years are fraught with insecurities and fears, our teens can live with confidence. Here are four keys to helping teens face their fears:
Conquer our own fears
We can’t encourage our kids to face their fears if we’re not doing the same, so we need to start by asking ourselves, Do I function out of faith or out of fear? When we take a fear-based approach to life, our teens will sense it.
We also need to set the example. A few years ago I hiked the Inca Trail with my oldest son, Parker. After completing the four-day trek, Parker wanted to go paragliding over the Sacred Valley. Although I have a fear of heights, my love for my son helped me face that fear. Parker knew I was scared, so in facing my own fear, I set an example for him to follow.
Let teens make decisions
It’s essential during the teen years that we let our kids make more and more decisions for themselves. We need to establish clear boundaries like curfews, computer limits and relationship rules, but once those boundaries are established, we must give our kids room to make mistakes. We get to teach them, pray for them and then put some faith in them. We need to parent out of faith in God and faith in our teens. Our trust will help to build their confidence.
Challenge teens to take risks
Small steps of faith can result in giant leaps of spiritual growth. Whether it’s going on a missions trip, trying out for a new sport or volunteering at an inner-city ministry, it’s important that we encourage our kids to take steps of faith into unfamiliar territory. Overprotection just might short-circuit the development of a teen’s faith because trying new things is how we discover our limits and build faith.
Keep the focus on God
In my family, we believe this to be true: Your focus determines your reality. If we focus on fears, they become bigger and God becomes smaller. If we focus on God, He becomes bigger and our fears become smaller.
But how do we teach our teens to train their focus? Two primary ways include prayer and reading Scripture. Helping our teens cultivate those spiritual disciplines will equip them to overcome their fears. As parents, we also get to proclaim the promises of God to our teens. They need to know that their footsteps are determined by the Lord (Proverbs 16:9); God is preparing good works for them to do (Ephesians 2:10); and in all things God works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
It’s our consistent love that gives our teens the security they need to overcome their fear of failure and rejection. It’s our faith in them that helps them approach the future with a sense of hope. And it’s our faith in God that helps teens declare with the psalmist, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).
This article appeared in the August/September issue of Thriving Family magazine.