Uncharted territory

By Karen Holford, Family Ministries Director for the Trans-European Division


I sometimes wonder what it was like to have been Captain James Cook or Sir Francis Drake. What did it feel like to cast off from the dock and have no idea where you were sailing, no idea how you would get there, and no idea what you would find if you ever arrived? They must have been incredibly excited about their adventures or they’d never have left the shore.

But I also wonder what it was like to be the parent of an adventurer. They probably stayed home, worrying, praying, and never knowing if they’d ever see their sons again…

And yet, as parents, and young people, we enter uncharted territory almost every day. Technology, social media, legal highs, an uncertain economy, housing shortages, college courses in subjects that didn’t exist five years ago…For thousands of years most young people grew up facing the same experiences to their parent and grandparents. But now we’re discovering new horizons every few days. Negotiating 21st century life is like trying to sail around the world using a map that’s different every time you look at it.

So now we are adventurers whether we like it or not. And this brave new world doesn’t have a chart, a guidebook, or even a GPS signal. Not for parents. Not for young people. No wonder it’s difficult to negotiate at times. No wonder we sometimes feel lost and confused.

When I was three I lived next to a tropical rainforest. One day I decided to have a jungle adventure. It was amazing! I saw iridescent butterflies, colourful flowers, and a snake that I wanted to take home for my mum. I had no idea of the dangers. I was just having fun! Meanwhile my parents were terrified. They had no idea where I was. They knew that I didn’t have the knowledge and skills to cope with the jungle. They were scared I’d be lost, hurt, or even killed.

In today’s jungle of new possibilities there are lots of excited explorers venturing into the unchartered territory of the latest social media experiences, apps, relationships, alcohol, drugs…They want to experience every possible adventure.

And there are those, often their parents, who are worried about the dangers. Maybe they’ve been bitten in other jungles; maybe they’ve heard scary stories from other explorers; or maybe they’re worried because no one really knows everything, safe or dangerous, that’s hiding in the ever-changing world of today’s culture. But, unlike the parents and partners of Cook and Drake, we can actually see the effects of the adventures on our young people every single day. Sometimes it feels as if they are the other side of the world, when they are just sitting in the next room.

The adventures can be challenging for all of us. The further the explorers enter the jungle, the more anxious their parents become, and sometimes the more anxious the parents become, the deeper the explorers want to venture into the unknown…

If you’re a young person:

– When you think your parents are nagging, interfering or trying to spoil your fun, they mostly just want to know that you’re happy and safe, because they care about you.

– What would you find most worrying about your adventures, if you were the parent instead of the young person?

– What do your parents need to know so they won’t be so worried about you?

– Try reassuring them: ‘Hey, I know it must be pretty weird for you when you see me doing X, and maybe you’re worried about Y and Z, but you just need to know…’

– How can you let your parents know when you’re really in danger and you need their help?

If you’re a parent:

– How can you let your young person know when you’re really worried about their adventures?

– When your young person is ‘having an adventure’ you don’t understand, ask them to describe what they most enjoy about it. ‘I’d really like to know how such and such works, and I think you’re the best person to explain it to me.’

– What would you most want your parent to do or say to understand you and support you if you were the adventurous young person?

Karen Holford, Family Ministries Director for the Trans-European Division

Karen Holford is a qualified family therapist. She currently works across Europe training all kinds of people in how to nurture healthy, caring and peaceful relationships. And she’s still developing her listening skills! She has been married for 36 years and has three adult children and three grandchildren.

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