How to have better conversations with your teenager about the future

Photo by Jonathan Daniels

Somewhere between hovering and abandonment; between nagging and silence.

These are the relational poles between which many parents try to position themselves with teenagers on the road toward adulthood. We know we shouldn’t hover, helicopter, or bulldoze the path for our maturing kids. We also know our kids need more than a clean cut, cold shoulder, or radio silence. The metaphors alone are enough to suggest perhaps we need better language for talking about our relationships.

Language is hard to come by when much of our daily communication is driven by text, or by brief conversations about logistics. It can be even more challenging for families navigating generational linguistic and cultural divides, financial uncertainty, or histories of poor relational dynamics.

Whatever your parenting reality, chances are good you could use more insight about what young people need from the adults around them as they navigate emerging adulthood’s transitions.

Preparing to launch

Over the past few years, FYI has partnered with family systems experts Drs. Terry Hargrave and Jim Furrow from Fuller’s School of Psychology. Together with marriage and family therapist and pastor Pisey Sok, they developed a resource to help families like yours have better conversations in the “launching” phase between adolescence and young adulthood. From their clinical work, research, and interviews with emerging adults during this project, they’ve constructed ten aspects of the most helpful conversations parents and kids need to have during this phase of life.

At the heart of this project is the conviction that what young people need most in emerging adulthood is enough relational stability and emotional connection to keep them grounded while they are in the process of testing their own abilities to manage the demands of adult life. Both roots and wings. Both sails to buoy them away into new waters and safe harbors to return home for rest.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the team found that parents end up focusing most on the practical and logistical aspects of transition much more than the emotional and relational. Only about 30 percent of young adults interviewed got any sense of vulnerability or open discussion from their parents about the emotional process of leaving home. While understandable, this is unfortunate given what young people deeply need.

Equally regrettable, only about ten percent of young people interviewed for this project reported having intentional conversations about their parents’ spirituality or formation. From our prior Sticky Faith research, we learned that parents’ conversations about faith—their kids’ and their own—are correlated with faith that endures across the transition out of the home and into early adulthood. So this gap is concerning when we think about our hopes that our kids will walk with faith into the next stage of their lives.

In our conversations and training with parents over the years, we find that parents are often longing for better ways to talk about faith with their kids and to have deeper emotional connection with them. They just struggle to know how, or to reach out in ways that their kids might actually respond. As a parent of adolescents, I feel this tension almost daily.

That’s why I am thankful for this new resource, and am so pleased we can offer it free of charge to our parent community. This 10-session guide can be used individually, with a spouse or friend, or in a small group or class setting. You may find it’s a resource you turn to again and again in the coming years as your teenager grows through the emerging adult stage.

Together we can change the conversation about preparing our kids for adulthood. Whether your son or daughter is about to graduate or about to enter high school, it’s not too late or too early to start.

Download the free guide

Read more about parenting emerging adults