My oldest son is a high school freshman. That means every decision matters. Because he is so very close to graduating, choosing a college, getting married, starting his own family, investing in a 401K, and thinking about retirement.

Right now what matters are his grades. Just the other day, he texted me his grades for the semester. “Dad, I think I’ll have a 3.98.”

I replied, “You’re grounded.” He knew I was joking. I think.

Recently, my wife and I talked to our son about getting involved in some extracurricular activities at school. Currently, he attends classes. That’s all.

Don’t get me wrong. That’s not all he does. He has won several trophies. It’s just that they’ve all been in Clash of Clans—a make-believe world where he fights battles on his iPhone.

He reminded us his grades were good. I reminded him there are hundreds of thousands of students in the country with good grades, and he should consider what is going to separate him from them when it comes time to apply for college.

I have three great kids. But sometimes I wonder if I put too much pressure on them to perform.

Do my high expectations create a high-stress environment? Am I helping my kids succeed? Or am I am hurting their chances of experiencing the joys of living a healthy life?

A friend once described parenting like assembling a jet engine … while flying 30,000 feet in the air! I haven’t figured it all out. But here are a few questions that have helped me navigate the turbulence of parenting in our kids’ pressure-packed world.

Am I asking my kids to do something they can’t do?

I was talking to my son’s soccer coach after practice one day. He commented that the players were frustrated with one particular player who wasn’t playing at a high level. The player was struggling on the field. But it wasn’t his fault.

The coach put it this way: “They want him to do things he just can’t do. So, they can either keep yelling at him or figure out how to help him.”

There’s a good principle in there. I know it pains us to admit it, but our kids have limitations. So do we.

I can’t get my Ph.D. in astrophysics. And it’s not because I just don’t have the time. I don’t have the mental capacity.

Am I asking my kids to do something they’re not capable of doing? Think about the anxiety that comes from being asked to do something you just can’t do. Our kids feel that, too.

Am I teaching and showing my kids a good Christian work ethic?

The way we work matters to God. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance” (Colossians 3:23-24 NIV, emphasis added).

God cares about the way I work. If I’m apathetic in my work, avoid my work, or constantly cut corners in my work, I’m not showing God’s worth in what I do.

I want my kids to work hard and do their best. If their best in Spanish is a C and they get a C, I want to encourage them for working hard even when it’s difficult. If their best is an A and they get a C, I want to know what happened.

I want to challenge my kids to work hard. Encouraging them to do their best isn’t busting on them. Working hard and doing your best honors God.

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Am I focusing on the knowledge in their heads more than the condition of their hearts?

Do I care more about their character than I do their calculus grade?

My primary goal as a dad is to point my kids to Jesus. What matters is their heart for God is shown in their love toward others.

I’d rather my kids read Habakkuk than Homer, Obadiah than The Odyssey, Solomon over Shakespeare. I know, those are lofty goals. And maybe it’s a reach. But that doesn’t mean I can’t foster an environment that celebrates the right things.

I often ask, What am I celebrating? Do we celebrate signs of the fruit of the Spirit as much as we celebrate signs of academic growth or athletic achievement?

Think of it this way: did you celebrate the last time your son or daughter made the honor roll? Did you celebrate the last time your son showed patience or daughter extended kindness?

Am I frequently telling them who they are or reminding them of what they’re not?

Kids are asking, “Am I accepted?” Think about it. They spend their young lives working hard so they can send a transcript and an essay to a college. Which essentially asks, “Am I good enough for you? Will you accept me?”

God daily reminds us, yes, you are.

This isn’t some theological ivory-tower talk that theologians discuss in smoked-filled rooms. This is where your boots-on-the-ground theology gets legs.

God looks at His kids and says, “Well done!” Not primarily, “Can’t you do better?”

You want to set your kids free? You want to remove the shackles of expectations and performance from your already stressed-out son or anxiety-drenched daughter? Remind them of God’s love toward them. Then offer that same acceptance.

Copyright © 2019 by James Metsger. All rights reserved.

James Metsger is a local church pastor in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is also a speaker and author of the forthcoming book Lavish Love–a daily devotional written for you.  James has a heart for the local church, a love for people, and a passion for world missions. James is married to sweet Melissa, and they have three children. Find him on Twitter @JamesMetsger.