Every teenager needs someone in their corner. Someone that wants the absolute best for them and will stick by them no matter what twists and turns life throws their way. There are a tonne of crisis teenagers may end up facing in today’s world – bullying, self-harm, addictions, abuse, depression, suicide, death of friends or family, divorce of parents, eating disorders, hazing, questioning their sexual identity, addictions to pornography, break-ups…The list could go on.
As followers of Jesus, one of the most beautiful opportunities we have is to walk faithfully with teenagers through crisis. It is not easy, but it can make such a difference. It can infuse God’s hope into a situation.
One of the things that will change our neighbourhoods is learning how to care for each other well, especially during times of crisis. We have a God who is close to the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
I’m so thankful when I think about all the caring youth workers, parents, teachers, pastors and coaches spread across Atlantic Canada, ready and willing to walk with teenagers through their hurts and heartaches. Thank you, you are making a difference!
Here some pointers on walking with teenagers (or anyone) in crisis:
- Listen well – invite the teen to tell you more of their story. Listen well, with all your best active listening skills. Listening communicates immediate care and support. Ask lots of non-judgmental, open-ended questions that show you care and are interested in what is going on in their world. E.g. Why have you been feeling that way lately? How’s that affecting you? What will be that like when you…? What’s it feel like to…? What do you think will happen if this keeps going on?
- Normalize and magnify – access how serious the situation is and if they need immediate intervention and help. With teenagers I listen with an ear to help them “normalize” and “magnify”. Sometimes my roles is to “normalize” what they are feeling. Sometimes a teen feels a circumstances is a really, huge, ginormous deal, but actually everyone goes through it and I can reassure them that they’ll be ok and will get through it. My role is to be a calming presence. This is not to minimize what they are feeling in any way, but it is helping them recognize when this is a situation that will quickly pass. Other times my role is to “magnify”. When a teen is saying “it’s no big deal” but as they share their story I hear it needs to be a big deal. When I hear how much it is affecting them and/or others my role is to “magnify” it and say things cannot go on this way because I care about you.
- Support – point the teen to more help, resources and other people that can help them in this journey. It might be professionals, counsellors, pastors, it might be someone who has gone through something similar, it might be a website, it might be an accountability partner or mentor. Help the teen make a plan to connect with the appropriate supports.
- Ask – Ask what role they want you to continue to play. How can I be helpful to you? Where do you want this go next? Where do you want to be a year from now in this journey? Unless they are in danger or something is happening that you have to report, give them power to say what is most helpful. This will involve them in the process and help them start to take some control of their circumstances. You are a partner in helping them towards healing, you are not the Saviour.
- Be discerning in involving parents – with children parents should be quickly involved. With teenagers we have to be a little more discerning depending on the situation, the age of the teenager, the relationship with the parents, the parents’ potential reaction, the parents’ personal involvement in the situation, and our relationship with the parents. God will give you wisdom. Whenever possible I encourage a teen to talk to their parents directly themselves. If it’s a situation where you deem it necessary (e.g. risk for harm is high or abuse is involved) to talk to the teens parents, at least let the teen know you will be talking to their parents and why. Otherwise you are breaking confidences with a teen who trusted you. Ask the teen questions like: what do your parents know about this? How do you think your parents would react? How could your parents support you in this? Would you be willing to talk to your parents about this?
- Infuse hope – encourage, encourage, encourage. When someone is in crisis hope is a scarce commodity. It can be hard to see the way out. Keep encouraging the teen of the hope you see in their situation and encourage them in the steps they are taking, even in the step they took of talking to you. Be the light in their darkness, to let them know you believe in them and God’s work in their life.
- Follow up – check-in with the teen particularly around the helpful steps they wanted to take. Pray for the teen regularly. Do your homework and educate yourself more about the crisis they are facing and what life is like for teens today.
Here are a few resources to help you:
- Centre for parent/youth understanding (CPYU) http://www.cpyu.org/ In fact Walt Mueller the founder of CPYU will be talking about “Five Pressing Mega-trends in Youth Culture” that we must address on November 6, 2015 at the Canadian Youth Workers Conference in Atlantic Canada http://www.cywc.ca/moncton-nb/
- A book - “The Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis” By Rich Van Pelt and Jim Hancock
- For teen mental health issues three helpful websites are:
- Marv Penner is coming to Acadia Divinity College to teach a one-week intensive course called “Counselling Adolescents and their Families” on June 6th to 10th, 2016. You can either audit the course or take it for credit at http://www.acadiadiv.ca/
Hope this helps as you continue to be good news in your neighbourhood.