September 19, 2020

Some Mistakes to Avoid With Young Adult Children

1. Assuming they don’t want to hear that they are loved. (Dads….are you listening?) No one is as mature and “beyond” the need for affection as they appear to be. There are some hard cases, but most of us are never too old to treasure those people who tell us they love us.

2. Assuming they no longer appreciate a hug. Ditto from above. It’s a small thing, but there’s something primal about it. I sure didn’t ask for enough of these from my mom and dad. My loss.

3. Assuming all they want is money and material possessions. Such an easy mistake for us to make because that it is such an obvious and frequent place to hear the words “I need…,” and so much conspired to tell us this is what “love” means in our culture. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

4. Criticizing them for cultural differences between our generation and theirs. Lay off the clothes, tattoos, piercings, music, video games, movies and so on. It’s not that important. Our young adults don’t need us to imitate James Dobson or bombard them with links to articles warning them to not waste their life. They need a solid example of true joy, simple pleasures, genuine spirituality and the ability to see beyond the cultural distractions to the important places in a relationship.

5. Not asking questions in the right way, in the right spirit or with the right attitude. Be gentle. Intensity needs to be in the service of compassion. Don’t harbor the illusion that its OK to throw your frustrations and fears onto your children when we are commanded to cast them on the Lord.

6. Failing to remember what it is like to be a young adult, especially in the areas of insecurities, emotional wounding and feelings of insecurity. It wasn’t a picnic, and there were times when we were all so afraid we weren’t going to get anything right. And for many of us, there was a particular fear that our parents would be especially disapproving of any of our failures.

7. Fussing at them about their spiritual journeys. Assuming that their relationship with God must follow a path that we recognize as acceptable. God has a unique path for all of us, and no one can see or anticipate how God is going to work in the lives of their children.

8. Forgetting how much failure is a part of growing and acquiring wisdom. God forgive us for perpetuating the myth that Christianity is a religion of prosperity and success. When our children fail, we should be their most certain supporters, not their judges.

9. Forgetting that no matter how much a person has said they want to be an adult, when you get there it’s not at all what you expected it would be. My students like to say “Keep it real.” I think it’s the job of a parent to help an adult child to always keep a realistic view of what it does and does not mean to be an adult. Believe it or not, most of them consider us to be the best model for what it means to be a grown-up. Ha!

10. Sometimes, it’s very hard to be away from home, to be on your own and to be convinced you’ll never find someone to love you. We lose track of the emptiness and loneliness. We buy the idea that it’s great to be a young adult, but there are so many moments when things are hard and confusing. Don’t forget those moments when life seemed completely overwhelming and what it means that mom and dad took some small opportunity to acknowledge that with kindness.

11. Contemporary culture has made the addictive sins of young adults a high priority. We should have great compassion on those who are caught in them. I think it’s really time to get past being shocked and start being constructively helpful. We all have a sin problem. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes not. But the person who is in the ditch isn’t very different from those of us who aren’t.

12. We should remember that young adults need to grow as Christians. They do not need to be thrown into positions of leadership and ministry before they are ready or because they make the church “look good.” We’ve been incredibly selfish as evangelicals when it comes to our goals with young adults. We’ve been far more interested in what they can do for us than in what we can do to encourage and develop them as Christians and fellow brothers and sisters.


  1. All of these points are right on target. #3 stands out to me, because so many of us have bought into the lie that having material possessions and a great education is somehow the answer to life’s problems.

    It is so easy to sacrifice our time with our kids so that we can have more money to give them. What we end up with are children wearing the latest fashions and driving the newest and fanciest cars, but who are lonely and angry.

    nice cars and nice clothes are not wrong to have, but they make poor substitutes for a parent’s time and involvement.

    Thanks imonk,

  2. Memphis Aggie says

    Very nice, number 8 got my attention.

  3. A poignant post, iMonk.

    4. Criticizing them for cultural differences between our generation and theirs…

    I remember distinctly how much my entire vision of what it meant to be human and to relate to adults changed when my mom said to me, “You might look nice with an earring… you know, a nice little gold hoop.” (This was in the days of wearing-an-earring-in-the-wrong-ear-means-you’re-‘gay’ weirdness … which I suppose is still going on in some circles.)

    A real, profound freedom set in that day. “Wait mom, do you mean it wouldn’t be … gulp … wrong?”

    I am all for resisting the real dangers of authentic worldliness (be it trendy overpriced clothing or legitimate immodesty – as opposed to what some promintent young men falsely, dangerously and rather haphazardly lable as such), but your children’s clothing and manners ought not be your billboard advertisment in the culture war.

  4. Thanks for this.

  5. It was great to find this today, my oldest returned to college today and I am missing him. You do a consistently good job on your site, thank you.

  6. Michael,

    I say this with the utmost sincerity.

    You have written many things that have touched me deeply and helped guide me directly. Among those are your writings about the glorious nature of the gospel. But nothing, and I do mean nothing, has affected me as deeply as the three posts you have recently done on parenting.

    The reasons are too numerous to elaborate in a comment on a blog. And I don’t really want to air it all out here. But nothing has caused me to be so full of guilt and self-condemnation as being a parent – particularly a Christian one.

    I love my kids (15,13,7) very, very much. I love them so much that sometimes it hurts. I have sought to be the best father I know how. We’ve had our kids in church, done family devotions, strictly monitored TV, movies, music, etc. But I have carried so much guilt because we never seem to meet the “Dobson” standard. And in the last year or two we quit trying.

    Instead we are just trying to be real parents with real sin who are raising real kids with real sin. But we do it in light of the real grace found in Jesus Christ.

    Your posts have affirmed and helped us on this new path. And for this I am grateful. Thank you and bless you my brother. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

  7. Reminds me of three things I learned from my dad…

    1) “There’s no amount of trouble YOU can get into that WE can’t get out of together.”

    2) “We don’t have it all together, but together we have it all.”

    3) He simply quoted Psalms 103:12ff over and over again…

    “As far as the east is from the west,
    so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children,
    so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust…”

  8. Wonderful post, but I’d like to particularly praise you for point 12. I have seen young men and women encouraged to get into the ministry, or consecrate themselves to Christian work, or take positions of leadership, long before they were ready. Some of them were damaged by this, because their humanity could not cope with the responsibilities that were laid upon them, and they fell under intense condemnation. Some became bitter because they realized too late that they could never restore the opportunities to be normal human beings for a few years. May the Lord have mercy to heal those who were harmed by the church because they were never allowed to be young people.

  9. 13. [If you are a babyboomer, like me] Forgetting that our generation rebelled against too many rules and too many expectations. I am consistently surprised at how our generation managed to both breed an incredible number of rules and managed to breed helicopter parents. Lay off the rules and expectations and listen to see what your children’s dreams may be, even if it is to be a hippy just like you were. You survived; and by the grace of God, so will they.

  10. Number 10 is very much true. As more an more people are graduating college while still being unmarried and single, they go out into new places and live on their own, often away from their friends. It was a very hard and lonely first two years on my own, so I know. Number 12 is also very much true. And sometimes people forget, training in a classroom only goes so far in preparing someone for ministry (Or just about anything really, considering the number of teachers who start out almost completely lost. But often they have a better support system of other teachers right there in the building with them, Pastors don’t often get that kind of luxury.)

  11. 14. Remember that your kids are still kids. Don’t treat their ignorance or failures as the evidence of failure that such missteps would be if they were 40. Doing something really dumb when you’re 15 because you’re fifteen is not the really bad sign if would if you did something 15-level dumb when you were 40. The whole point of them being 15 and you being their parents is that they are still growing up.

  12. “When our children fail, we should be their most certain supporters, not their judges.”

    I have had the “privilege” of experiencing that myself. At a time when I most disappointed my parents as an adult and preparing for the worst in terms of anger, judgment, etc., I was amazed and blessed (in the deepest sense of that word) by their love, support, and affirmation. Parents as a means of grace… what a concept!

  13. As a struggling young adult myself, who also happens to be a seminary student, I was struck by number 12. I am a gifted speaker and a gifted linguist (Greek, Hebrew, Chinese, Korean etc), and somehow I can’t set my foot inside any church without being immediately shunted into “leadership.” But unfortunately, I know that I am struggling in deep and serious ways and that I am not ready to lead a hamster to his wheel much less teach the Word. But I can’t find a church that will let me just exist for awhile. Surely there must be one out there, but so far I’m constantly frustrated that my gifts show themselves and I’m immediately hussled into doing something. Anyway, IM, your advice all seems good. I’ll remember it 20 years later when I have a young adult of my own around.

  14. “Our young adults don’t need us to imitate James Dobson or bombard them with links to articles warning them to not waste their life. They need a solid example of true joy, simple pleasures, genuine spirituality and the ability to see beyond the cultural distractions to the important places in a relationship.”

    Wow. One of the best lines I’ve read anywhere in a while. This entire post is something that I needed to be reminded about – being the proud Dad of a growing 15 month old daughter.

    Thanks again!

  15. This probably relates more to raising children in general, but here’s a quote to keep parenting in perspective:

    “A parent raising children is like a handicapped carpenter trying to make fine furniture with warped wood.”

    It’s truly the grace of God they come out like they do.

  16. #11 is huge, and we all need to remember it.

    For any of the dads out there, I’m a 25 year old man living in a different state from my folks. When I got an award at my job at the end of this last year, the first person I called was my dad. I can remember the handshake my dad gave me when he congratulated me for being cast in my first play in my high school’s theater program (theater was my deal in high school). That’s a moment I will never forget.

    My dad’s support (or whatever you call it) is more important to me now than ever.

  17. I gotta say, God gave me great parents. They pretty much were good at all 12 of those, even after I left for college a decade or so ago. Sure, my dad being a laconic fellow was always a little light with the verbal “I love you”s, but he showed ’em nonetheless. Granted no parents are perfect, but I hope that when it’s my time to be a dad, I can do as good a job as they did.

    As far as #12 went, I wonder if my folks had been living in the same state and going to the same church as me they’d have counciled against the fast-track-to-leadership stuff I got on. About a year ago I got off that and am so glad I did. Too young, too soon.

  18. A dozen times a week I want to pick up the phone and tell my dad or mom something…and then I remember than they are gone. But that desire won’t ever change. There’s no measuring how much I miss their support and love in my life.

  19. #12 – Thank you for confirming a nagging concern of mine. My two oldest sons have been in different evangelical churches as older high school students and college students. Every church has almost immediately made them small group leaders for teens, worship leaders for youth services, or some such. One recently visited a large church a couple of times, contacted a youth leader about what areas of ministry he might participate in, and was offered a role. . . before even making a commitment to the church!! That son seems to have his head on pretty straight for his age. But I hate to think how often a charismatic young person who can sell himself is pulled in to leadership and shipwrecks himself and others with him. The context is elders and deacons, but Paul tells Timothy “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” In teen pregnancy we have ‘children raising children’, and it seems we have that in many churches as well.

  20. Come to think of it, that son who visited a church and looked for a leadership role – I guess that’s not having your head on straight either, at least in that area. We have set some dangerous expectations for our young adult believers.

  21. Excellent post. Five and seven hit me most. Regretfully, I have done them all. One of my greatest mistakes with my kids was in using sarcasm and sometimes a critical spirit in how I tried to get my point across – even important ones. But the “way” defeated a questionable noble end. I wish I had practiced Peter’s words, “love one another deeply for love covers a multitude of sins” mine or theirs, and in not assuming I could judge the motives and intentions of my kids hearts.

  22. Bingo…on all 12 mistakes parents can make with their young adult children.

    Our daughter, 23, is in the second semester of her 6th year at college. She has been on scholarship the entire time. She is type 1 diabetic with an insulin pump. She changed her major two years ago as new doors began to open. She trusts God and believes in open doors. For the first time since high school, she is struggling with the emotional, physical, and spiritual toll such stresses can bring. Seemingly, ‘crossroads’ time is the most difficult. Imonk, you are right! Parental support, understanding, love, and encouragement is crucial as these ‘birds’ have to strengthen their wings by flying farther and farther from the nest.

  23. I guess I have the problem of my parents acting opposite of numbers 3 and 12. On number 3, they are disappointed that their thirty-something kid has never owned a house or a “new” car, or has never made huge loads of money. And they think I was nuts to sell everything I owned to move to Western Europe and become a missionary.

    On number 12, my parents (both active evangelicals) wish I would get out of the ministry, one that I actually enjoy. When I announced I was going into the mission field full time, their outright objection was a kick to the gut. All I’ve heard for the past two years is why won’t I come back home to the States and be a normal Christian?

    I wish they would read what you have here, iMonk, but I think it’s too late for them. Thank you for posting this so others may learn in time.