Anxiety is the number one struggle we are seeing among the next generation. It's rampant among us too, but the statistics for our kids are absolutely alarming. What's interesting is the cultural context we're in right now - the middle of a pandemic. A lot of us have been at home being homeschool parents for our kids. Several of my friends' kids are going to counseling for anxiety, and their counselors have told my friends that they are no longer seeing kids virtually. Why? Because kids have been doing so much better at home rather than surrounded by the chaos and pressure of school, sports, schedules, and their peers. That's not surprising. If they're protected from the things that stress them out, their anxiety will get better.
I have a couple kids that struggle with anxiety too, and I've noticed it has gotten better while they've been at home. But the reality is we can not protect them and keep them at home for the rest of their life. They will face pressure and stress at some point. We've shifted into a lower gear of life for the last six weeks - we're sleeping in, we're doing school but it's pass/fail, and there's not a ton of pressure. So what does it look like for us to stay in a lower gear, but still let our kids out into this world. What does this look like in real life?
I think there are some simple choices we can make that would help our kids. We don't have to go back to a crazy, chaotic lifestyle that stresses them out. There are kids out there who are struggling with real chemical imbalance, but in my book and on this podcast, we're talking about the things we can control. But it's also important and necessary for some to see counselors, doctors, and get medicine if needed. Those are tools God can use to help bring healing. Here is what I'm not saying: I'm not suggesting that having less sports in your life is going to cause your chemical imbalance to be corrected. I am saying that these choices can help alleviate some of the pressure that they feel. Anxiety is a natural response to fear in our lives. God gave it to us to protect us. But when our anxiety grows to an unhealthy rate and it takes over our lives, we've got a problem. So let's talk about what anxiety is and what God says about it.
Philippians 4:6-8 Paul actually talks about anxiety. He says, "do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." The next verse says, "finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." He's telling us we can take our anxieties to a God who loves us. He cares about us and he's built to carry heavy loads. In Matthew, it talks about our yoke being easy and our burden is light. How? Not because our life is easy, but we have a God who is with us and he can lead and carry the burden that feels heavy to us. It's not hard for him. He is very capable! We can make our requests known to him. It's not that we don't have problems. It's that we have a God who is sovereign over all the problems.
If you're older and have been walking with God, you've watched God deliver you from stress and problems again and again. We know he's going to come through for us. But our kids may not have that yet. They need examples in their own life. I'm an aunt to a lot of nieces and nephews, and one of my nieces struggles with anxiety. She would say the best thing her mom can do for her in the midst of her anxiety is to grab her shoulders and ask her really clear and practical questions. She gets her thinking logically about the problem. For a kid, to logically know that God is with them, that God sees them, that God is in control of the universe, helps them. Ask them questions like: what do you think God thinks about this problem? What do you think God thinks about you? How do you think he feels when you're worried and scared? All the sudden, there's an exhale. If they know God, they'll know he loves them. He sees them. He's there with them.
We have to believe that too. I've said it before, but we have to make sure we're not in bondage to anxiety and fear either, because that rubs off on our kids. We've got tools like the anxious thoughts guide that can help you work through that, and we've created one for kids too.
The first thing is to listen to your kids. Get them talking. Get them to articulate what it is that they're afraid of. A lot of the time when they start talking, they realize their fear or anxiety isn't rational. But listen to them without inserting emotion or correcting them. Just listen and be there. It will take everything in you to hold back your words when your child is believing lies about themselves. You'll want to fix it so quickly. You can speak truth over them and do all that, but wait before you do. Hold your tongue and let them process, because they'll learn so much by just hearing themselves talk.
The second thing is help your child think about their thoughts. What is it they're thinking? What are they noticing? What are their worries like? Help them learn to journal. If they're not old enough to journal, just help them articulate it and you write it down for them so they can see it. When we make our thoughts more concrete, it helps us fight those thoughts. That's true as adults too.
The third thing is to help your kid sort out what is true and what is not true. You're going to have to do this together, because you'll be able to see more clearly what is true and what's not. Tell them why something is true and why something is not true. I think about the lies I believed as a kid, and I can still remember several of them. If I could have said those to my parents, they could have corrected them. I gave so much thought to disapproval from my dad that wasn't even real. But it drove so much of my fear and anxiety. If we can get our kids to say it out loud, even if they feel ashamed, you can begin to help them identify the truth. But again, you'll have to listen first.
Number 4 is to encourage your kid to pray candidly about their thoughts. Pray together over their thoughts. Being aware of your thoughts and bringing them to Jesus is a practice I'm watching adults wake up to for the first time in decades. Let's help our kids be better aware of their mental health and their thoughts. Help them learn how to take their anxieties and fears and burdens to God. Some of their worries are real! We can teach them to depend on God and trust him with those things through prayer.
Lastly, sometimes our kids just need permission to not be okay. I am such a big believer in this. I let my kids skip school sometimes. I let them not turn in assignments sometimes. I'm not a big believer in perfect grades. We're not big believers in participating in every school activity. Our resumes aren't full of a million activities to boast of. We care more about having healthy kids to launch into the world rather than getting into the best college or getting the best job. We care more about their emotional health. I have some kids who can handle more than others, so we weigh that too when we make decisions. We go easier on them. It's not that we don't have a high expectation of them, but our expectations are not of worldly success. We expect them to be honest, to be kind, to like and love God, and to know God likes and loves them. Those are the goals we keep at the forefront. If we see something jeopardizing those values, like a disproportionate amount of stress, we're going to analyze and see if that's a healthy thing or not.
At the end of the day, our kids need to learn to work through stress. Pressure can be powerful and a gift. We have to introduce pressure and stress, but at a rate that they can withstand and grow in. If they're just overloaded all the time, they'll shut down. The enemy is not pressure, but too much of it as a young age can sabotage their mental and emotional health and their ability to work through pressure in a healthy way. Kids can't be excellent at 15 things, and neither can we. That's a negative pattern in our culture right now - our kids are playing 4-5 sports starting at a young age. Then they're also expected to make good grades. Then they're also expected to have multiple friends and be invited to all the social gatherings. That's just not realistic for any human, especially not a 10 year old. Let's be careful about what expectations we're setting for our kids.
We want kids whose identities are secure in their relationship with God - not their performance. Their identity rests in being a son or daughter to God, not their 6th grade soccer tournament. We can strive for excellence and building character and facing fears, but let's make sure that our kids know that winning means thriving. Your kid's thriving may not align with all your hopes and dreams for them. We have to get over our own hopes and dreams, and let God's hopes and dreams be sufficient for them. If you've been putting that pressure on your kid, today is a great day to just say, "hey buddy, I feel like I've put a lot of pressure on you. I want you to know you're loved and safe with me. You can't lose my love no matter what. I'm here for you. You've might've seen me care more about sports, grades, or which college you'll get into, but I want to tell you that none of that matters in light of how much I love you. I want to support you. I want you to thrive. I'm sorry I've put that pressure on you - that wasn't right. I can't go back and change my actions, but I do want to apologize for that." Do you know how far that could go with a kid? My dad did it with me, and I admire him so much. He wasn't a perfect dad, but he was a great dad, and where he messed up I brought that to him years later, and he wept and apologized. It changed our whole relationship. Give your kids apologies. God is a God of grace, and he can cover a multitude of sins. It's his speciality. Keep going back to him in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving.
One of the greatest things I had to realize when I began parenting was that no book would be able to parent my kid. I had to lean on the Holy Spirit to lead me and show me how to handle each situation with each kid. For each kid, it has been totally different. So that's where I want to push you - to pray. When you find out your kid has been watching porn, when they fail a test, when they say they want to see a counselor, when you find a vape in their backpack, when your kid gets in a fight, you need the Holy Spirit. He will give you more wisdom than any book or podcast ever will. Go to him in prayer, and he will give you what you need for that day.