The teen years can be scary. Adolescents stand on the cusp of adulthood and face a flood of newness—new feelings, new experiences, new relationships, new responsibilities, new decisions, a whole new stage of life. It’s overwhelming, like we’re standing at the edge of a cliff, told to jump but unfamiliar with what’s below.
And we’re afraid.
As a teen just now crossing into the threshold of adulthood, I’m all too familiar with the fears of adolescence. All that instability, confusion, and decision-making can be stressful and even painful. I’ve laid awake at night because of a melting pot of fears bubbling in my mind, poisoning my peace.
Above all, three fears have screamed the loudest and lasted the longest: fear of the future, fear of failure, and fear of both intimacy and loneliness.
1. Fear of the Future
When I was little I thought I had my future figured out. Like most kids, I painted a picture of adulthood with beautiful, happy colors, cheerfully envisioning precise details of my life. At 12, I’d planned out my education path, career plan, car model, and the homeschool curriculum I’d use with my future kids. And then God abruptly tossed my pretty puzzle pieces out the window and directed me to a different path. He invited me into different opportunities, and filled me with different dreams and desires.
While I don’t pine after those displaced dreams, my future no longer looks so sweet and simple. It has lost its rosy, predictable blush and has been iced over with a harder edge. It’s unknown. As teenagers we start to realize the idealistic plans we made as kids aren’t sure things. We don’t have control.
Last winter, a few months after I turned 18, marked one of the most unstable times in my life. Mentally and spiritually, I was settled, but in every other part of life, I was in-between: in-between school, jobs, plans, and security. Stress lingered. My future was a blank slate, everything was up in the air, and I felt swallowed by the unknown. Fear of the future pressed in.
2. Fear of Failure
If teenagers are honest, it’s not just the unfamiliarity of the future that scares us—it’s the idea of failing in it. Failing in school, work, relationships, driving—basically, failing at life. We’re afraid of disappointing those we love and messing up in some extravagant, irreparable way.
The fear of failure is paralyzing because it inhibits us from taking risks and moving forward—which is, of course, what growing up is all about. Becoming an adult is embracing the process of trial and error, repentance and grace. As teenagers, though, we often long to skip the failure. We want life handed to us in a color-coded game plan. Go to this school, get this job, marry this person, and you’ll win. We want to know it all, and we want to know it right now.
That’s me. I’m a perfectionist, and I dread mistakes. Failure would give me nervous sweats. It was always there, hovering darkly and persistently on the horizon. It has genuinely terrified me.
3. Fear of Intimacy and Loneliness
One of the greatest things I’ve feared failing at is relationships. Many of us teenagers struggle with two below-the-surface (and seemingly paradoxical) relational fears: intimacy and loneliness. Intimacy connects to a fear of being known for who we truly are. As teens, we’ve become more self-aware and have started to carefully examine our own hearts. We usually aren’t too impressed with what we see. This is the season of my life where I’ve never been more aware of how sinful and broken and flawed I am. Yet it’s the season where I’ve never been more aware of trying to cover up my flaws. I’m afraid of people seeing the real me.
But I’m also afraid of being alone. Isolation and loneliness are serious threats to my happiness. I want to be loved. I want close friendships. I want community. I don’t want to be by myself. But I fear the risk of relationships.
Four Ways to Help Teens Overcome Fear
Teenagers wrestle with much crippling, shame-fueling fear. So what can you do about it? You’re the parent of a teenager, or you work with teens, or you are a teen, and you want to know, How can I help teenagers overcome their fear? Here are four suggestions.
1. Teach them to put their trust in the right place.
All fear bleeds from misplaced trust. We trust in ourselves or our circumstances or our dreams, and we idolize our security over our Savior. To fight fear, we must cultivate trust in the one person who’s in control and never changes. Faith is fear’s ultimate weapon.
2. Prepare them for difficulty.
Telling teens that life will be easy if they follow Jesus is a spectacular deception. It gives us false expectations and only feeds our fear. After all, what happens when our dream job falls through or we fail dramatically? It shakes our already faulty foundation. Help us face fear, then, by preparing us for fearful circumstances.
3. Encourage them with your experience.
Fear isn’t an exclusively adolescent sin, not by a long shot. Have you thought about sharing your own struggles and stories of fear with your teenager? Encourage them that they’re not alone. Then show them how the gospel has freed—and continues to free—you from fear.
4. Combat fear with gratitude.
Fear withers where gratitude thrives. Teach your teens to root out fear with intentional thankfulness. If they’re afraid of starting a new school, help them create a list of things about the experience they’re thankful for. Show them what it means to put their focus in the right place.
Don’t Forget to Remember
Jesus told us we have no reason to fear (Matt. 10:28). No reason whatsoever. Whatever happens, God’s in control and he’ll take care of us. Yet we still fear, teenager and senior adult alike.
We fear because we forget. The cure for our fear, then, is to remember.
Remember God is sovereign. Remember God is good. Remember God loves his children. Remember God is faithful. Remember God is present. Remember God is on for us in Christ, on our side no matter what.
Why, then, should we fear?