I will break the ice. Hi! My name is Fr. Sampson Kasapakis. My favorite color is blue. If I could become any superhero, I would be Batman. I am a new parent, and I am terrified about raising my children in the world today. I am even MORE terrified of the future world my three-year-old and two-year-old will have to experience as teenagers. Well, that escalated quickly, huh? But let’s be honest, you are relieved you are not the only one. All parents experience fear for their kids. They worry about their children getting sick, doing well in school, whether or not they’ll be able to get a job and succeed in life. Being afraid for your kids is very normal, but being afraid of your kids is a phenomenon that has developed over the past several decades, and something that parents need to look at closely. And by the way, sometimes these two fears are tied together. Fears about their child being able to make it in life actually will cause some parents to think they have to give in more; they become a cushion for their kids. But let me be clear: that’s exactly what you don’t want to do. They don’t need a friend. They have those. They need a parent, a guide, and a person who challenges them, who empowers them when they fail and celebrates with them when they succeed.
This new phenomenon of being afraid of our kids has a name: ephebiphobia. The word ephebiphobia is formed from the Greek ἔφηβος (éphēbos), meaning “youth” or “adolescent,” and φόβος (phóbos), meaning “fear” or “phobia.” Ephebiphobia is primarily studied by sociologists and youth advocate organizations. Their research has found that the media, marketers, government, schools, businesses, and products overselling safety to parents have all created this phobia. They have also found that this phobia manifests itself in different ways. For example, you can fear teens because you cannot trust them, or the phobia might exist because a parent feels inadequate to parent in today’s world, or it might exist because as a parent/adult you will have to have conversations about difficult topics such as relationships, sex, drugs, alcohol, body image, bullying, and so on.
With any phobia our natural response is either to fight it or to avoid it by running away. Why overcome our fear when we could just keep avoiding it? This mentality is a large part of why parents today do not talk to their kids about the real issues that they will experience. It is easier to say, “My child isn’t involved with that stuff” or “That will never happen to my kid.” With this mentality we dismiss reality. The reality is that Orthodox youth throughout America are doing drugs. Our youth are drinking alcohol. Our youth are being bullied or are bullying. Our youth are having issues with body image. Our youth are dealing with mental health issues like depression or anxiety that result in suicide. Another harsh reality is the majority of parents do not know because 51% of teens are afraid of talking to their parents about personal problems (Psychology Today). Further compounding the problem here is that 42% of parents have difficulty discussing moral topics with their teens (Psychology Today). Working within this age group, I have found that teens hesitate to speak to their parents because of the following reasons: they do not want to overwhelm you, they do not want you to fix it, they do not want you to get mad, and some believe that you will not understand. So how do we bridge this gap?
Parents, it is time to make our relationship with God a priority in our lives. I know that seems like exactly what a priest should say, and I am sure you have heard it before, but seriously, actually do it. It is time to make the Church and our participation in her worship and ministry a nonnegotiable item within our families. It is time to pray for the strength to overcome our fears, to pray together as a family, and if we don’t know how to pray, that is okay, but it is time to learn. It is time to be patient and listen to our youth and use the wisdom within us to find the words to guide them through the difficulties of their lives. It is time to drop our pride and ask for help and guidance from our friends, ministry workers, and clergy. It is time to talk to our teens about the hard topics. It is time to have the conversations on relationships, sex, drugs, alcohol, body image, bullying, and so on. Talk to your teen with love and respect. With an open heart and mind, LISTEN TO THEM. My ministry experience has taught me that teens do not want to be spoken down to but want to be heard. Teens need someone to simply be there—not to fix, or do anything in particular—just to let them know they are cared for and supported.
“Easier said than done” is an understatement when it comes to talking with teens; however, we must stop making excuses. For the sake of our youth, and for this generation of teens, it is time to overcome our fears and begin opening the communication lines to our teens. Because if you do not, where do you think they will get their information? As I said earlier in this article, with any phobia, our natural response is to fight it or run away from it. No more avoiding. No more excuses.
Kali dynami! Good strength!