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Parenting: Teens and Beyond

Launching Your Eighteen Year-Old

“Do you have any helps for how I can work with my twenty-year-old young adult?” “How do I disciple my eighteen-year-old?”  “Do you have any advice for me as my children approach the adult years and leave home?”

I hear these and similar questions at every conference that I conduct. And I understand that pain. As a young father I wanted to be intentional in my parenting. When my children were young, I read a number of resources that helped give me a strong foundation. Later, I also began to develop biblical principles of discipleship appropriate to the ages of my children. That material is found in my book The Disciple-Making Parent, and forms the basis of our ministry.

But when my children hit the late teen years and early college years, I found myself floundering. I discovered there were numerous resources to help Christian students as they went off to college. But I could not find anything to help the parent. I found myself stumbling through that period. As a result, I determined to try and think biblically about principles that should guide through that period of a child’s life. That is what this booklet is about.

As disciple-making parents, our goal is for our children to grow up to love and follow Jesus Christ. We want them to be not just disciples but disciple-makers. We pray they will be young men and young women who stand like Daniel and Esther in our chaotic culture and who seek to take the gospel to the nations. The years of eighteen to twenty-two are crucial in setting the trajectory of a person’s life. Though we cannot nor should not control our children, we can aim them in the right direction. We can seek to “launch” them well. 

The goal of this modest booklet is to help you do just that, launch your high schooler into the young adult years.  It is the booklet I wish I had when my children were at that stage. My prayer is that it will help you in both in having a positive vision for that launch and also give you help to avoid of the problems that can occur at this time.Arrows or Airplanes?
When Sharon and I were in the midst of raising our four children, we often heard speakers use the metaphor of an arrow from Psalm 127. 

“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior, so are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies at the gate.” (Psalm 127:4-5) 

Children, we were told, are like arrows to be developed and then shot out. We found this scripture helpful to remind us of a number of biblical truths: We are raising children in the midst of a spiritual battle. Discipling children who love Jesus Christ and his church is one way we participate in that battle.  We, as parents, have the incredible privilege of shaping these young lives. In addition, this metaphor reminded us that arrows are not meant to stay in the quiver. They are meant to fly out to accomplish their purpose. 

There is only one, very big problem with this analogy. Young people are not inanimate arrows! They have a mind and will of their own. You can aim and shoot a child in one direction and they can decide to go the exact opposite way. When an adult child decides to go in a different direction than he or she was pointed, the arrow maker can feel betrayed.

Instead, I think a better analogy is that of launching an airplane from an aircraft carrier. Why do I like that analogy better?

First, like the arrow, it reminds us that our ultimate goal is to send our children out into the world to make their mark. They are not meant to stay at home forever. Rather, we want to raise them to stand strong as salt and light in our broken world. We want to raise them to take the gospel to the nations.

Second, the launching from an aircraft carrier reminds us we are not in ultimate control. Another individual commands the plane. While the arrow is passive, the pilot of an aircraft is not. After the launch, he is the one who controls the airplane. The ship can only communicate with the pilot.

Finally, not all launches go as planned. Perhaps you have seen film from the early days of aircraft carriers during World War II.  Airplanes, fully loaded with fuel and weapons, took off from the ship’s deck. Sometimes, after the plane launched, it dipped precariously below the deck as it is gained speed to fly. At other times there were launch malfunctions leading to a plane ditching in the sea. 

Thankfully, launch problems are not common in our modern military. However, they are common in our families. Sometimes, after we launch our child, we see them fly at half throttle below the level that we launched them. At other times, they can be like pilots who ignore their training and head into a completely different direction. And unfortunately, there can be those that do not launch successfully and end up in “the sea.”