How to Help Teens Who’ve Seen and Done It All
Hopeless teens do stupid things. The more hopeless they become, the more reckless and self-damaging.
I’ve added to their hopelessness…I’m guessing you have too. It isn’t that I planned to do, it’s just something I did even though I was trying to help.
Threats are attacking our teens that can cause personal, social and spiritual pain. I have “DON’T DO IT!” talks ready for marijuana, drinking, smoking, pre-marital sex, pornography, stealing, lying, and social media. Give me ten minutes and I can work up something on Snapchat, Pokémon Go and practically any song, movie or TV show.
I’m really good at “don’t do it” but my ministry for the past 13 years has focused on kids who’ve done it. They’ve seen it all…done it all. I’m now focused on helping teens that find themselves living on the other side of our warnings.
I’ve discovered that it’s really easy to shame teens. Shame tells them they are bad and that leads to giving up. Guilt, on the other hand, tells them their actions were wrong and motivates change. Shame weakens and paralyzes.
Here’s what shame sounds like:
- If you lose your virginity, you’re impure for life.
- You need to stop doing that stuff before God will accept you.
- If you really love God, you won’t struggle. Struggle means you’re doing it wrong.
- If you would’ve been stronger, this wouldn’t have happened to you.
Sarah wanted to be famous, but not this way. Everything changed the day her “boyfriend” shared the private pictures she had taken for him. She wants to know, is there hope for a “slutty” girl like her?
Rob’s life was unraveling. Grades were bad. He was kicked off the team. He felt best when he was high, but lately even that wasn’t working too well. Rob’s thoughts are clouded and his brain is slow, but he wonders, is there hope for him beyond being numb?
Larissa is popular and your top leader. You wish you could have a room full of kids like her. Yet behind her smile is fear. She’s anxious. She’s good at hiding things like her bulimia and scars. She wonders when everything will come crashing down. She’s scared. Is there hope for girls who can’t do things right?
Natalie’s stomach aches when sexual topics are brought up. She wants to be pure but she’s been violated so many times. She’s confused, scared and alone. She’s not sure whether to even bother with life.
These are just a few of the teens who’ve seen it all…done it all. They really want to know whether there is hope and a way back to wholeness.
Our gut reaction
I haven’t met a youth pastor who isn’t quick to tell kids that Jesus is ready, willing and able to forgive them for any sin. These teens need the promise that “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). They need to know that, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
These verses are powerful but not enough for kids that are struggling.
How do you minister to kids who’ve seen it all…done it all?
Focus on God’s Kingdom
A kingdom is any place where someone has absolute authority and power. God’s kingdom is where He is completely in charge. There are a bunch of verses that begin with, “The Kingdom of God is like…” All these tell us that God is willing to start small. He is perfectly fine with establishing His Kingdom in our weakness, frailty, and brokenness.
Focus on vine over fruit
There isn’t much you can do to repair bad fruit. There’s a lot we can do to help the root system. Teens often focus on stopping the negative behavior, the fruit. They become discouraged when they continue to struggle. John 15:4 says, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” We’d help many teens if we spent more time teaching the keys to remaining and abiding rather than focusing on bad behavior.
Help them with their thoughts
Teens are overwhelmed by sadness, regret, worry, and sexual thoughts. We’ve failed to teach them how God wants to bring relief.
We’ve missed the power of, “Think about these things…” from Philippians 4:8. We’ve focused on using the verse as a test of what movies to watch rather than a way to help us think.
A teen who loves snowboarding and wants to be pure can think about the perfect run down an untracked mountain when his brain is hijacked by impure thoughts. This practice actually works and our teens need us to teach them.
Speak to their inner motivation
As teens mature, they become less motivated by rewards and threats. A teen who volunteers to help stack chairs feels great but can feel like a hypocrite if you attach a trivial external motivation. Teens have a strong sense of justice and a natural pull to community. They also want to make a difference and be authentic. All these internal motivators can fuel positive choices.
Authentically share hope
The Bible is full of stories of real people who loved God and struggled. All the heroes of the Bible lived in such a way that there is no explanation for their choices other than their Hope of Jesus Christ.
Will you join me in helping kids struggling on the other side of our warnings? Will you help restore Hope for teens who’ve seen it all…done it all?
Learn more about Project Patch at projectpatch.org.
For more resources for mentors and parents, go to todaysfamilyexperience.com
Chuck Hagele leads the team at Project Patch. We help teens through our residential therapeutic boarding school which helps hurting teens discover spiritual, psychological, educational and relational hope. We also help families pull together through a family retreat center and Chuck offers seminars on pornography, video game addiction and challenges of social media.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.