I just finished speaking at the DOLLS (Daughters of our Living Lord and Savior) “Think Again” conference. DOLLS is a great organization doing the Lord’s work in high schools, so it was inspiring to be there. This is no stereotypical high school youth group; young women in DOLLS get meaty *training* and discipleship, not entertainment and insta-inspiration designed to draw a crowd. I hope my own daughters one day get the opportunity to be part of a DOLLS group.
Both before and after my presentation--which was on relativism--I stuck around to hear some of the other talks. I’m glad I did that, because it was good stuff! One talk in particular--by Mama Bear Apologetics founder Hillary Morgan Ferrer--really helped me wrap my mind around some things I’ve noticed, but haven’t had the concepts to think clearly about and articulate.
She spoke about doubt--its different manifestations, causes, and how to address them in oneself and in others. Doubt is not synonymous with sin or unbelief, and each different type of doubt requires a different approach.
The talk was chock full of great wisdom, but one stood out for me--transitional doubt. This is when kids who are raised in Christian homes (though it is not sequestered to that environment--it can manifest itself in religious and non-religious contexts) get out on their own, and that newness of environment and its intense personal challenges contributes to their foundation and previous belief structure “falling apart.” The culture shock makes it feel like they are standing on sand.
I have seen this plenty of times--in fact, the frequency of something like this happening in young adults’ lives is the major factor that motivated me to start Daniel Collaborative--but had never categorized it as a kind of doubt. I had always focused on the peer pressure and intellectual challenges part of it, where kids get questions and challenges to their worldview intensely thrown at them for the first time, and had never really thought that the transition itself--being in a new environment on your own--could be a key source of the doubt. But she is right, that is just the right way to think about it. Transitions can be incredibly unnerving and jarring, just like your garden variety culture shock can be: emotionally destabilizing.
The real question is how parents, pastors, and other adults can help prepare young adults for the jarring transition. Other tips I’ve laid out can help give them courage and a good intellectual foundation, but what about preparing for how the *transition itself* feels? As Hillary alluded to in the talk, when someone moves your cheese, that can be hard to deal with.
Those of you who are familiar with my writing and speaking know that I eschew the common “business as usual, things will be fine” way of familial living, that focuses on raising “successful” kids (aka those who are “good” people with respectful careers and a hopeful financial future) while outsourcing a good bit of the educational and formative enterprise to schools and youth group. Teach them to work hard and be nice, and the rest will take care of itself. We'll pray at meals, the youth pastor can lead them spiritually and we can trust our local public school to teach them reading, writing, and arithmetic.
That’s a recipe for failure.
Instead I recommend intense intentional planning and sacrificial habitual living. Some typical middle class American focuses and values might have to take a back seat, and you might have to put a lot of elbow grease into it...but its worth it.
Preparing your kids to overcome transitional doubt is no different.
The first part is to educate yourself on it (Mama Bear has lots of good stuff on it), and then talk to your kids about it. Not just once, but often. Point out the elephant in the room. For any problem people face, spiritual, transitional, or otherwise, being able to put a word to it reduces the overwhelming feel.
Second, stress to them the importance of putting down roots in a local body wherever they transition to. This means a CHURCH. Para church ministries are important and key, but they should supplement, not replace, life in the local body. Again, this should be a constant theme of talk in your home. If their teen years right before leaving home is the first time you start talking about the importance of embedded life in the local church, well, better late than never, but that really should be addressed well before those years.
The Bible knows nothing of lone ranger Christianity, and if your young adults try that avenue when they get out on their own, the transitional doubt will feel like a tsunami.
Your life should back up this verbal message. Go to church when it hurts and is inconvenient. Attend a small group Bible study every week--hopefully, one that is somewhat friendly to having kids around in some fashion, so your kids can see you do all this. Roll up your sleeves and serve in the church, and like with everything else, take your kids with you as you do this.
They need to see the message lived.
Resist, of course, the temptation to lawnmower parent on this. I would avoid actually contacting churches yourself and trying to do the job of connecting your kids to the body. This is something they’ll need to own themselves. But you can impress upon them its importance.
Third, give them opportunity before they leave home to do life on their own in measured ways. Ben Sasse, in his book *The Vanishing American Adult,* tells the story of how the Sasse family sent one of their daughters to work on a ranch on her own one summer, a ranch owned by a family member.
Even if you are uncomfortable with or can’t do something of that caliber, find little ways to give them the chance to do things on their own in the years leading up to their departure. This will reduce the intense feel of the big transition when it comes.
Fourth, manual labor of some type. What? Yes. For both boys and girls. How does that help reduce transitional doubt? Hear me out. Hard, physical labor helps ground you. It puts you in contact with parts of yourself and the world that few other things do. I know we have an informational economy that prioritizes mental tasks over physical nowadays, but physical labor still plays a key role in young adult maturation. The summer before I went away to college I spent bailing hay and working on a land restoration crew. I grew up a lot that summer. It gave me both the confidence *and* humility (they are not opposite virtues, and can work in tandem) to face the world. In a strange, ineffable way, it helped me figure out who I was and what I was made of. This knowledge came in handy the next year.
Fifth, youth pastors should look into what Brett Kunkle calls “Immersive” experiences--Brett and his staff take different church youth groups to UC Berkeley as a missions endeavor. There they train their minds, and then do missions on a college campus. They hear presentations by atheists and members of other religions, and interact with college students and professors of a progressive bent. This is all to prepare them for the challenges that await. These are great opportunities to motivate and prepare kids.
There are other ideas, but those are just a few. The book I alluded to earlier, by Ben Sasse, is chock full of great advice how to prepare kids to flourish as adults, and it addresses the transition phase too. Read it.