Teenagers use to scare me, but now, I truly love them. Ages 15-18 are my favorite. I get to sit with them in my counseling office most days, and they have so much to teach me. I am amazed at what they have endured and overcome. They are the truly brave ones.
If they have made it to my couch, then there is a guarantee something hard has happened. Many of them show up because they have asked for help. Some of them are forced by mom and dad. These kids, they are trying to understand so many adult things in their broken world and their developing brains and their bodies are trying to catch up. Many of them have been bullied, most of them have had sexual encounters, a lot of them would say, “Parents just don’t understand.” I want to understand. I want to be the parent, the adult in the room, that understands. Don’t you? Don’t you want to be the safest place in the world for your teen?
According to the American Psychological Association, teen stress levels were reported as higher than those of adults. Teen depression, anxiety and suicide rates are at an all time high. They truly are bleeding hearts, and they are tugged in so many directions, emotionally, physically, spiritually. They have so many questions, ones they are afraid to ask out loud. They have so many fears and condemning thoughts. They don’t think they are enough, they struggle to find the wise decision, boundaries are tough, healthy coping skills are even tougher. They want to fit in, but stand out. They want to speak up but shrink back. Words and feelings are hard to say and identify. They are afraid what others will think so they stay silent. They internalize most things. They’re like the crock pot Jack forgot to turn off. They’re pain is brewing, just waiting to explode, injuring many. If only someone would listen, if only someone could see them, if only someone could understand.
I get to do the easy part. I get to listen and love and send them home. Oh and I get paid. But sometimes they overwhelm me, sometimes their hurt is so deep, that I begin to hurt. I see some themes in the way I’m allowed to love them, I see themes in what we discuss, what we share. I watch as the guarded, shame covered postures in their bodies melt and they begin to lift their heads, relax on my couch and smile again. I watch some of the pain lift, not because of me, but because of safety. They have a safe place – to share the hard story, ask the impossible questions, speak the words they are afraid to say. I recognize these aren’t my children, and I don’t carry their burdens like their parents do. It will be much harder to be such a safe place for my own kids, but I want to be. I am working extra hard to be.
I thought I would share some of the themes I see in my office, some of the good words that are spoken. Maybe this list will help us all to be a little safer for these brave ,brave kids. Maybe this list will actually help us all be a little braver.
- Pain can be a teacher. We all want to run from pain, to avoid the hard stuff, but there are lessons to learn. What if we leaned in instead of running away? What if we actually felt the pain instead of using something or someone to numb it?
- This season will end. It’s hard, especially as a teen, to realize there is life beyond high school. It’s hard, even for adults, to know life has seasons and seasons come and go. Winter does eventually turn into Spring.
- Self worth can’t be stolen. Bullies and boyfriends do not determine your value. When people leave or are unkind, you are still valuable. Don’t give others so much power.
- Envy will destroy you. It really rots the bones as scripture teaches. When we are envious, are eyes are only on ourselves and our lack. We miss all that we do have. Gratefulness and celebration cures a jealous heart.
- Look outside your circle. The “tribe”, the circle can actually be dangerous, especially if it is an unhealthy one. Learn how to pick healthy friends but don’t let that tribe be the only voice in your life. Look for wise voices, regardless of their similarity to you.
- Learn to be alone. There isn’t always safety in numbers. Really the safest place you can be is sitting alone before the Father. Learn to love yourself enough to not need the presence of others to define you or meet your needs.
- It’s okay to say No, even to good things. Guard your schedule and your heart. Rest is a requirement so make space for that. You weren’t meant to always pour out so make sure you are filled up. Boundaries are important.
- Don’t stay hidden. Authenticity is a gift, even when life gets ugly. Hiding will make you lost. Broken and Beautiful are friends.
- Eternity is now. Gain a perspective that reaches further than what is seen, further than today. This life is about more than you. Seek first the kingdom.
- God can be trusted. Your feelings and thoughts can be liars.
Let’s all be a little safer, a little braver…for ourselves, for our teens. They need us and we really need them.