Lately, I’ve been hearing from my adolescent clients that they are afraid to grow up and that ‘adulting’ scares them. I didn’t make much of it at first. It’s pretty common that the closer kids get to adulthood, the scarier it becomes to leave the carefree world of childhood behind. The increasing frequency of this confession has caught my attention and raised concern that it may be pretty prevalent in today’s teens. There’s an actual name for it: gerascophobia. Of course, not all anxiety about growing older needs an unpronounceable name, as most clients are just going through a phase. Others, though, are having a harder go, with even middle schoolers hating birthdays for fear of getting older. Although the latter is rare, parents can still help their kids in everyday life become more confident and look forward to adulthood. To connect with our kids on this level we need to understand what’s behind their fear.
Why Kids Are Afraid to Grow Up
They don’t feel ready
Few parents expect teens to know everything they do as adults, but many teens I’ve come across believe they know nothing about becoming an adult. They’re saying that they have little practical skills, and the thought of living on their own is terrifying. Of course, skills are picked up over time; however, parents should be teaching kids more practical life knowledge that isn’t taught in school. It’s incumbent upon parents to dispel the anxieties of paying bills, working the lawnmower, changing a flat, and managing finances. With growing years should come a commensurate growth in responsibility, and freedom, so our kids can develop confidence in their decision-making and problem-solving skills. I’ve seen (and am guilty of being) the hover-parent who plays ‘fixer’ to our kids’ problems. Our intentions are good, but the results can keep our kids in an extended state of anxiety as they grow up doubting their abilities. Parents need to fight the urge to ‘rescue’ their kids at every turn, and not back away from gradually increasing responsibility. There may be pushback at first, but the results should be mutually beneficial and go a long way to help them launch when it’s time.
They don’t know what to look forward to
The cultural messaging in today’s world favors the young, where youth is esteemed and the old are relatively put out to pasture. “Only the good die young”, “college is the best years of your life”, “don’t grow old” are common phrases I remember hearing when I was young. How daunting for a new college grad to discover that the best years of their life just passed them by at 22. Kids need to believe that life is to be savored at every age and that God creates purpose and fulfillment throughout the entirety of our lives when we trust in Him. Kids are afraid of lack of fulfillment because few know what they want to do when they grow up. Our kids are watching how we live in the attitude we approach life with, and how we spend our time. If our lives look like an endless grind of sleep, work, repeat, then how can we expect them to want the same? As parents, we should be mindful of the positive outlook, joy, and appreciation we project (or don’t) in our home. Not every day will be a carnival, as we all have obligations, but it’s the frame of mind and zest for life that we carry through the years that will be truly inspirational to our children. We can exhibit passion in our lives even if we’re somewhat dissatisfied with our jobs. Maybe even in the face of some disappointments, we can demonstrate courage to pursue our own passion, while helping our kids discover theirs.
They fear death
This was the toughest realization for me as a counselor. The mid-life crisis is starting early; there is an existential crisis brewing even among youth. For those who trust in Christ, this life is just the beginning. Young people who don’t know what they believe resist growing up because it’s one step closer to fading into nothingness. This is troubling, but it needs to be acknowledged. The route many are taking to cope with this is nihilistic depression or the YOLO (you only live once) defense to risky behavior. Neither yield good results. As Christian parents, we pray and teach the hope of Christ that takes away the fear of the future; however, we can’t force on our kids what only the Holy Spirit can do. Parents need to give their children freedom to explore and express their worldview and how that affects hope and purpose for their future. God has wired each of us for purpose and relationship. My hope is that our children will come into the full knowledge and peace of that calling; however, regardless of worldview, everyone needs a foundation of purpose to give life meaning. Discovering a sense of purpose can motivate kids to work towards goals, and learn to embrace their lives.
Research has reported that aging anxiety is more prevalent now than ever. When I was a teenager I didn’t come across kids who weren’t looking forward to becoming an adult, with all the freedoms that come with it. Anxiety is causing many kids today to resist moving out or even learn to drive. Somewhere along the generational path, modern kids have developed more fear and less interest in adult life. There is hope though. Parents can be proactive to help their kids develop confidence in their abilities, and define a purpose and passion for adult life that gives a positive outlook. Talking with your kids in grace can help them work through these emotions. Crossroad counselors are here to help as well. You can call (225) 341-4147 to set up an appointment.