I recently overheard two mothers lamenting about the pressure their children had recently been under during the college application process. Toward the end of the conversation, one woman said to the other, “Thank God she got into the college of my … oops, I mean, her choice.”
They both giggled, but my heart broke for the pressure I imagined her child must have felt from her parent. But before I could even tuck my pointed finger back into the palm of my hand, God invited me to take an honest look at what undue pressure my children might be feeling because of me. Ouch.
Teenagers report high stress levels. One reason for this is that our children are linking accomplishments to acceptance, and success to significance. They are attempting to answer the question “Am I enough?” through their performance:
- How well do I perform on the field?
- How well do I excel in school?
- How many likes do I get on my social media feed?
- How well do I live up to my parents’ expectations?
- How well do I follow the commandments in the Bible?
A widespread message our teens receive is that they have to be the best at everything, which leaves them terrified to reveal their inadequacies and insecurities. Instead, they hide behind the best version of themselves — at times a fake, crafted version — which is easy to do in the digital age.
High performance culture
Recently, after I spoke on this topic at a national parenting conference, a woman came forward to share her own experience with me. As a youth worker in a large church, she revealed that a common issue she sees in teens is that they believe their behavior makes them more or less lovable to their parents.
And because parents serve as a template for how children perceive God, the kids in her ministry link their good and bad behavior to how God feels about them. Her youth group, she explained, is full of kids who never feel “good enough” and feel anxious as a result.
In turn, parents of anxious teens can feel helpless and hopeless, questioning their every move as parents. Their confidence crumbles as they try to help their kids navigate the battles they have to fight and the mountains they have to climb. They second-guess themselves, asking, Have I done too much? Have I not done enough? Am I helping or hurting my child?
That anxiety can escalate and overflow into their parenting and onto their kids who absorb their parents’ anxiety on top of their own. Anxiety in teens is complex, and I couldn’t possibly solve the issue in one article. But here are a few ideas for helping our teens cope with a pressure-filled world.
Set the example.
If we want to raise kids who find freedom from the pressure to get it all right in order to be accepted and loved, we need to find freedom from that same pressure to get it all right as parents. We need to beg God to help us trust Him with the children He has entrusted to us.
While we play a very significant role in our kid’s lives, God, their very Good Father, is sovereign over their lives. We are significant, but God is sovereign. It’s only in embracing this truth that we are freed up as parents to help our kids embrace the Good News for themselves.
Spend time together.
Another way to take the focus off performance is to spend quality time with our children in a way that doesn’t focus on performance issues. Go out for ice cream. Explore nature. Take a road trip. Leave space for relationship with your teen where he has nothing to do but be himself. We want our kids to feel what we ourselves long to feel — safe. Safe to take off their masks and let down their guard.
Delight in your child.
Praise your teen for her unique personality and character qualities, such as kindness, thoughtfulness or sense of humor. Our teens long for acceptance and unconditional love. Noticing who God has designed your teen to be — and making an intentional and ongoing effort to call that out in her — imparts value and security.
Make time for rest.
We live in a fast-paced society where activities can easily fill in any margin we have as a family. This causes stress that teens aren’t wired to absorb. The Bible talks a lot about rest — and how it is a gift from God (Matthew 11:28). Honor your child’s need for rest by making downtime a priority. This may mean skipping out on a sport or activity, or scheduling some dedicated rest time each week. Rest allows your teen to see he has value apart from work.
Escape from anxiety
When the internal and external voices whisper the lies You’re insignificant, You’re not enough and You don’t measure up, we want our children to know, deep in their souls, that the only One who gets to define them is the One who created them and calls them beloved.
This message isn’t sentimental fluff; it’s solid truth from which freedom springs. In God’s eyes we are of great worth, not because of anything we have or haven’t done, but because of what has been done for us in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Cross has the final word on our value.
Believing and embracing that truth isn’t the only thing we need to do to help our kids cope with anxiety. But it is a firm foundation on which to build a life of freedom from the exhausting quest to prove their value through performance.
Philippians 4:19 tells us about our source of hope: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” The good news our kids need to hear is that whether they fail or succeed, obey or rebel, work or rest, through Jesus, God has given them everything they need to be “enough” in Him.