Flashback with me to high school literature class. You probably read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee and wrote at least one paper on racism, social inequality, or good vs evil. (Don’t worry, school is out for the rest of the year because of a worldwide pandemic, so you won’t be assigned any essays or projects.)
Lee wrote one truth that resounds through the decades: “It’s not time to worry yet.” The scene sets around Atticus telling his daughter Scout that “It’s not time to worry yet” because harder times are coming—in particular, the upcoming trial where he would represent an African American man.
Isn’t that true of us right now, that it’s not time to worry yet? We’re in the midst of empty schools, a shortage of toilet paper, grounded airplanes, and a new normal. Yet when it comes to our kids, “it’s not time to worry yet.”
You might be thinking, “But what about my senior who had to miss prom and graduation?” Or “What about my child who is anxious about dying?” Or “How on earth is it not time to worry when I’m left to parent, teach, and occupy my kids—all while working from home?” And there are probably a million other questions in your mind revolving around health precautions, anxiety, or re-entering society.
Here’s why it’s not time to worry yet: their fears are realized but not actualized—yet.
The fears of Gen Z
The amazing bunch of kids born between the mid-1990s and the mid-2010s are known as Gen Z, or the selfie generation. If your children are still living with you at home, they are probably from Gen Z (unless they are itty-bitty).
It’s easy to assume that this generation would be consumed with fears about self: self-esteem, self-confidence, self-control, self-love, etc. But, according to recent studies, this group actually has outward-focused fears that generally surround societal issues.
If we take a step back, this makes sense. After all, these kids grew up in a world of social media, international news, and world interconnectivity. Endless knowledge is at their fingertips, either from the internet, a smart home device, or—you guessed it—social media. News, current, events, and social issues are blaring at them from every angle. So it’s no surprise that their fears focus around societal issues.
According to recent studies, the greatest fears of Gen Z are:
- School safety
- Gun violence
- The state of the government
- Debt and lack of ability to find work
Throw in a pandemic, and the glass of water is no longer half empty or half full—it’s overflowing with fear. Will I have a job after I graduate? Is my grandma going to die from Covid-19? Will the government be able to stimulate the economy? Will my family have enough money during this recession? How can everyone get paid for unemployment? Will my future turn out the way I imagined?
Our teens are drowning in fears. Previous generations took a negative “the glass is half empty” approach or a positive outlook like “the glass is half full.” But our kids are stuck underwater in fear.
How can we turn our kid’s fears into peace?
1. Acknowledge that fear is real
First of all, acknowledge that your fear is real. I bet you ponder some of the same questions that your teens think about, like having sick relatives or trying to keep a job. So establish the understanding that fear is not something to be ashamed of.
In fact, fear broods power when it’s left in the dark. Our minds over dramatize and elaborate when thoughts are kept hidden. But as soon as fears are acknowledged, they’re brought into the light. The tiniest match can illuminate even the darkest places, and the smallest acknowledgement of fear can eradicate its power.
When topics surrounding fear are kept hidden, your teen might wonder if it’s off-limits. So when you as the parent acknowledge your fears, you’re opening the door for your family to talk about their fears and assuring them that it will be received with love and not judgement.
2. Don’t hide your fear
Don’t hide your fear like your secret stash of Halloween candy (c’mon, we all have a hidden reserve of chocolate). Instead, appropriately share your worry with your family.
Your fears reveal what you care the most about. When you are afraid of your grandmother catching the virus in her nursing home, you are sharing how much you care about her and value her life. When you are afraid of losing your job, you acknowledge that you enjoy working and providing for your family.
As always, share your fears on an appropriate level with your children. Assure your kids that grandma will eventually die, but you love her so much that you want her to be healthy. Remind your family that you still have a job, but are worried that you may lose your job because the economy is struggling and many people have become unemployed. Teens may want to discuss these topics more deeply, but younger children need to be comforted that everything is okay even though you’re afraid.
This process starts with acknowledging your fears to yourself and your family. Try talking about one fear over dinner tonight. Name the fear, share why you fear that, and ask your family what they fear.
3. Model a healthy approach to fear
Now that you’ve acknowledged your fears, model how to walk through that fear well. Worry is never beneficial, but unearthing the root of your worry is monumental. How can you still thrive while walking through life with worry?
Using the same examples, you can be worried about grandma and call her every other day to check in. Or you can send her a little gift in the mail. Or you can reminisce over the fun memories that you shared years ago. This demonstrates that you can move forward while feeling worried.
If you’re fearful of losing your job, you can model a wise approach to saving money and lessening expenses. Or you could live for genuine experiences instead of seeking out a surplus of material possessions. Or you could continue writing that book you never finished. Creatively show your family that you can still continue forward while in the midst of fear.
As believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can seek God and His Word as our ultimate source of comfort. Proverbs 14:26 says “Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.” When you center your life around God, both you and your family will remain secure. And your kids are observing how you handle this situation, so model a healthy approach.
4. Keep talking about fear
A one-and-done conversation is not the best method. Fears will morph and twist like your son’s transformer—especially in light of today’s global pandemic. New information and sharp life adjustments happen weekly, so make your conversations a regular habit. Ask about the present, but delve into the “What if…” or future-oriented topics as well.
Remind your children that they can live in God’s light, grace, and freedom. Teach your family that God cares for the birds and the flowers, so how much more does He care for you! Reflect on the ways He provided for characters of the Bible and in your own life. Train your family to walk in peace, not fear.
Whatever you do, just keep talking. Your adolescent’s brain is soaking in information like a sponge. Instead of letting that sponge grow moldy, gently squeeze out the thoughts, fears, and discussion.
When you need more direction
Like Atticus said, “It’s not time to worry”—yet. Your teen is living with present and future fears that are real but not actualized. Address the fears now so your teen can learn how to battle those fears for the secure hope of peace.
Those four steps are fine and easy in theory. But we completely understand that application is another ballgame. If you are struggling to acknowledge your own fears or to help your adolescent express their fears, we are here for you. Reach out to us today so we can help your Gen Z kids navigate this ever-changing landscape of quarantine and post-pandemic life.