After years of saying, “When I grow up, I’m gonna be…” there comes a point in which your children start going through the steps of actually making it happen. Dr. James Dobson calls ages 16 to 26 the “critical decade” as young people transition from childhood to an adult. We’ve all heard the phrase “failure to launch” describing young men and women who don’t make that transition for one reason or another. Unfortunately, more and more parents are inadvertently keeping their children from growing up by protecting them from the risks necessary to adulthood. How can you be intentional about successfully launching your older children?
STEP ONE: Be a good coach
As the parent of a teen on the verge of adulthood, you are in the prime of the coaching years. You can motivate, encourage, challenge and advise, but you can’t force feed. You can help your son or daughter articulate what they believe, challenge their thinking, remind them of the “basics” they learned during their earlier years, but the time has come for them to truly own their beliefs. Through that process, you can provide a safe environment to wrestle with and even question the values they learned as children. The key to your influence at this point is in maintaining a strong relationship and frequent, open dialogue.
STEP TWO: Find ways for them to lead themselves
As was mentioned earlier, a common pitfall parents fall into is keeping their children from growing up by protecting them from the risks necessary to adulthood. With the best intentions—keeping them from the pain of mistakes and failures—we can smother our children and handicap them by not allowing them to learn from mistakes that they probably should have made on their own and learned from.
The key is finding the proper places to let them lead themselves and fail on their own. This is incredibly difficult, and requires wisdom and discernment that only the Lord can give. However, it is certainly better for our children to learn to work hard, lead themselves, and even recover from failures and mistakes now, rather than to have to learn these skills later in life as an adult.
STEP THREE: Give perspective amid their big questions
Making the transition into adulthood, your son or daughter will face big questions like: What kind of work should I do? Where should I live? What should I do with my life? The most important thing you can do during this season is to direct them back to their relationship with Christ, and the overarching life-principles found in the Bible. The last words of King David to his son Solomon (in 1 Chronicles 28:9) provide a model for parents advising emerging adults: “And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever.”
In the midst of the practical advice parents may offer on setting goals, choosing a job, finding a spouse and so forth, we must always elevate God’s principles above our own wisdom or the wisdom of others such as…
- Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Psalm 127:1).
- Lose your life to find it (Luke 9:23-24).
- Number your days aright (Psalm 90:12).
- Seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33).
STEP FOUR: Give a vision for marriage and family
Parents today often go to extremes to help their children get ready for college and the workforce, but don’t know exactly what they can do when it comes to preparing them for the more important work of marriage and family. While a small minority will be called to life-long celibate service, most are called to marriage and family (Genesis 2:18-24). We sometimes overlook how much marriage and family serve as the organizing structure of life and the prime arena for our spiritual development. Even if the culture discourages you from taking an active role in this transition, you have a vital part to play in helping your children “leave and cleave.” Actively modeling a Christian family is the foundation, and daily prayer for your child’s future spouse and children is an important commitment. But our highly sexualized and anti-marriage culture also makes it essential that you provide guidance and oversight to help your children form strong families as a key emphasis of their launch into adulthood. They will learn how to prioritize family amongst the other cares of life by what you say, but even more so, by the way you prioritize your own.
Recommended Books -Available from the Faith @ Home Center
Life on the Edge (by Dr. James Dobson) offers Biblical principles to help young adults face “crucial questions about identity, education, marriage, career, God’s will” and more.
Boundless.org webzine provides young adults with a community of mentors and fellow believers throughout the season of transition from high school to starting a family.
Going Further – Church Support
Faith Path: Launch This free kit is available for download or pick-up from the campus HomePointe Center. It includes a special video and other tools to help you launch your young adult as they leave the nest. Go to rbclake.org/faithpath
Life Group Ministry: Authentic Christian community and mentoring is available through Riverview’s Life Group ministry. Contact our Life Groups pastor Michael Beene at [email protected] for more info.