Helping Teenagers with Racial Tension

Youth Specialties
December 16th, 2014

Original photo by The All-Nite Images.

If you’re a youth leader or parent of teenagers, you probably have had a few opportunities to talk (or not talk) about the racial tensions that have surfaced since the tragic deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Let me just say, that I don’t have many words. My heart aches and is disoriented with you.

Love begs for it’s place in the world and we want to join in the plea.

But I want to talk about how we do that, with teenagers specifically. Where do we start?

How do we help teenagers out of the woods of confusion, grief, doubt, dizzying disorientation that comes with racial tensions in our country and in our world?

It seems as if many of us are afraid to talk about much of it because we aren’t sure who is safe and who we can trust with our broken hearts, doubts, questions, fears, hopes, dreams, and vision for the future. We’re not sure if we’re in the clear yet, if it’s safe to go toward making things right in our own ways.

Teenagers are feeling the same and asking the same.

They’re wanting to know that we’re with them and for them as they do their best to sort all of this out. Not only is this a crisis for them, it’s a crisis during their unique crisis (a.k.a their adolescent journey).

I’m asking God to help us and give us new eyes and abilities. Because how we work this out (or ignore it) will say a lot to our kids about who we think God is and what we think love looks like.

I’m hoping that we would exercise our faith in ways that require more of it. And in this case I mean that I hope we would begin to have conversations,  listen and support in ways that say “I grieve with you” and “I care about whatever woods you are wandering in and will wait with you until you come out of it.” We can support them by giving them to ability to grieve life’s losses.

·       We can teach them how to grieve when people are hurting.

·       We can teach them how to grieve when they are hurting.

·       We can teach them how to grieve when things happen that we can’t control or explain.

·       We can create safe and intentional environments that cultivate the holy ground of vulnerability.

I began thinking about this after I had slipped into a youth ministry seminar at the National Youth Workers Convention this fall. I’ve wanted to learn from Beth Slevcove for years, and finally found a moment to learn from her. She teaches on the spirituality of grief and loss.

Not only did I begin a journey into my own grief and loss, but I also saw a picture of how we can help teenagers.

Beth helped me to see the fear of the abyss as it might exist when we open up places of grief. Teens fear that they won’t have what it takes to get through whatever happens once they’ve named it and faced it. They may feel like talking about racial tensions will be too overwhelming or too costly.

That’s why we need to help them begin to process. Beth explained in a way that resonated deeply with me. All of us need grief muscles. We need prayer practices. We need options if we are to help teenagers heal. Especially if it’s our hope that they would become people of peace and reconciliation in the world. Here are a few things we can do to help students begin to grieve what they are seeing, hearing, and experiencing.

·       Be humanly present – Sometimes this means sitting in silence. Sometimes it means sitting in places that are symbolic together.

·       Help them name the loss – When it’s the right time to talk about a loss, ask them to name it. We have no control over the things that will hurt us or others. But we do have the ability to name those hurts without judging ourselves, judging others, or minimizing the problem.

·       Be creative – Beth said, “some people need to have grief vacations.” This is so true. To paint the picture, imagine the effect of holding a baby or petting a new puppy. Art, music, animals, play…these are things that give us a break from the stress of grief.

·       Affirm the person who is hurting – Grief can make us feel paralyzed or even irrational. We can show immense amounts of support simply by offering gracious and loving words to the one who is hurting or who is confused by what is happening in the world around them.

·       Teach and practice prayer – Help teenagers hold the tension. We live for a kingdom of God that is both here and now but not yet. There is no reason why we should only look to heaven for our source of relief. Relief can be felt now, even in the reality of our world and lives, which are not yet whole again. There are a few different ways we can teach teenagers to pray…


Continue reading the rest of this post at BrooklynLindsey.com

Brooklyn Lindsey is a youth worker, writer, and communicator who lives in Florida with her husband and daughters. You can learn more about her ministry, resources, events, and connect socially on her website. www.brooklynlindsey.com

Youth Specialties

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