When I think back to my young adulthood, I can see what a difficult season of life it was. I was trying to figure out who I was, I felt the constant pressure of measuring up to those around me, and I felt like my self-worth was constantly hanging in the balance. As difficult as my experience was, as a counselor, I find myself having a special empathy for the young adults today. They face unique pressures I never had to deal with. When I was their age, when I would struggle with drama at school, it would stay at school. Now, the drama comes home with young adults through social media. Messages bombard them constantly on how they should look, act, what they should value, what they did wrong, and if other people value them. It is too much. My heart hurts for everything they have to navigate.
Teaching them the value God has placed on them is a great foundation for helping them to know their self-worth. As Christians, we know our worth is not based on the world's value or measuring stick, but rather in God's love for us. We often tie our sense of self-worth to our accomplishments, but God doesn’t operate this way. We don’t need to do any task or reach some level of righteousness to be loved by God. Scripture tells us that while we were still sinners Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8). Not because of what we did, but because of who he is. He created us as his image bearers. He died for us because he loves us. We need to step off the hamster wheel and learn to just be with the God who loves us.
The God who created the entire universe created you exactly how you are. He knows every hair on your head. He gave his only son to make a way for you to have a relationship with him and someday dwell with him in the new heaven and earth. What value, what worth!
Talking to the young adults in your life about these truths and helping them understand the incredible value God has placed on their soul will give them a foundation of truth to help them sort through all of the lies that are constantly being thrown at them.
As I typed out the heading to this next section I felt my young adult client rolling their eyes at me. I am not saying that you should force them to go to youth group, or participate in the nursery at church. I am saying you should encourage and guide them to use their strengths in the church community and encourage them to make relationships with both older adults and other young adults. I believe there is room to be open with them about where they feel led and give them some of the control in this. When I was in high school I tried so hard to fit into my church youth group and never connected. Eventually a friend invited me to her youth group, and I felt accepted and valued there in a way I had never felt before. The friends I made in that youth group are still many of my close friends today, 17 or so years later. So my encouragement is to try to be open and flexible with this, focusing on the purpose of encouraging them to find their voice and a place where they can find relationships that encourage, and accept them as they are.
Social media is depressing; not only can it be a source of direct conflict, it's also a constant scroll of people showing only their best selves to the world. It's not reflective of real life. We all need to limit social media time to be reminded of our self worth. Social media can be used as a tool for good, but it can also be a breeding ground for comparison and shame. The decision making part of the brain isn’t fully developed until 25-26, so can you imagine how difficult it must be to navigate through all the lies and comparisons on social media when your brain isn't even fully equipped to do so. We need to encourage and direct limits on social media, be aware of our young adults social media presence, and have open conversation with them over the effect it is having on their value and thought processes. Maybe this means as a parent you don’t even allow your kid to be on social media, but it's more helpful to teach them how to see reality and set limits as a life skill. Every family, every young adult, and every situation is unique, so there is no right or wrong on this but no matter what path is best there should be conversations about limits.
Parenting a young adult can be difficult, and there will be times your frustrations get the better of you. Yet, be aware of how your words are affecting their self-worth. Are you quick to take control when they can’t seem to do something right? Do you find yourself pointing out where they could have done better instead of celebrating what they had done right? Do you make subtle comments about their weight, appearance, or fashion choices? All of us care about our parents' approval, even as we become adults or even seniors. I have worked with many senior clients who continue to wrestle with parental approval issues. Remember the power our approval has to them as we choose how to talk to them about our concerns or give our opinion. Is what we are going to say true, necessary, and kind? Is what they are doing actually wrong or just not how we would have done it or what we would have chosen? “Kind words are like honey--sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24).
Your own self worth will have a direct affect on your young adult’s self worth. They are looking up to you as an example far more than you realize. If you are calling yourself ugly, fat, or stupid, it will be difficult for them not to make the same judgements about themselves. You can teach the truth of God’s love and value for them all day long, but if they don’t see you live it out it will be a hindrance to their understanding of it. I am not saying this to cause shame if you have fallen short in this area, but as an encouragement to seek out the truth of your worth on your own, and pray for God's help in you truly believing it.
Your young adult’s self worth can have such a huge impact on the next chapter of their lives. If your young adult believes they are worth waiting to find a partner who truly loves and respects them, what an incredible impact that will have on who they decide to marry? If your young adult has the confidence to say no and make boundaries when they are feeling pressured into doing wrong things, what an incredible impact this will have on the friends they choose and the decisions they make? If your young adult believes their worth is found in God, and see’s the amazing value He has given them, how much more brightly will they shine in the lives of those around them?
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra
Rev. Deb Koster