Friday, March 15, 2013

Coping Skills: How Teens Think

If there is one thing that I can point out about some of today's teenagers is their lack of coping skills. When difficult situations occur, which can be frequent and sometimes back-to-back, they can become so overwhelmed that they either close themselves off to other people (stonewall) or they just completely quit all together (fall into depression/suicide). Which, in today's performance-driven world, the fear of failing and the fear of looking "incapable" is a huge concern. Heck, I'm concerned with those things and I'm 25 years old. So it should come as no surprise when teens freak out when they don't know how to handle the pressure of difficult situations. 

The complex part out of all of this is that teenagers, just like adults, have to live within several overlapping contexts. Contexts are simply the different arenas in which we live out our lives. (Examples: Family Home/Step Homes, School, Neighborhood, Church, Extracurricular Activities, etc) If two or more of these contexts were to present hardships during the same time frame then that could cause an overload. And for the brain of a teenager where their prefrontal lobe is no where near finished developing and connecting to the rest of their brain it can lead them to drastic, unwise decisions. Why? Because the prefrontal lobe is in charge of decision making. It's not until their mid-twenties before they can fully answer the questions, "Is this a good idea? What would be the consequences of my decision?"

Knowing this information should help guide us in how we counsel and talk to teenagers. Not only should we focus on "what" they are thinking, we should also focus on "how" they are thinking. 

Bad decisions on their behalf will happen. It's inevitable. We need to get that through our heads. Don't blow up at them when they create a mess of things because that will only further their insecurities of how they feel they are being perceived. "Man, my counselor thinks I'm a screw up...can't ever do anything right. Must be true. Why do I even try?" As youth specialist we have to understand that the front part of their brain is running sluggish right now. A bit slow. We should just suck it up and continue to meet them where they're at.

Each teenager is different. They come from many backgrounds and they all have their own story. Some come from healthy homes. Others don't. Some know how to have healthy relationships with others. Others don't. Some know that boundaries are important and necessary. Others don't. Why do you think the "at risk" kids are at risk? Because no one has helped them learn how to process stress and how to make wise decisions.

A big part in knowing how to help a teenager sort through their thoughts and even desires is to know them as an know their story and how they relate to others. Then and only then can we begin to understand which angle to approach them by, in order that we guide them in the appropriate direction. Teenagers should learn how to solve their problems. That's what life is about--growing and learning. Once they grasp that idea they may begin to view their life in a different perspective...a healthier perspective.

Here is a scary reality.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in colleges
For every suicide completion, there are between 50 and 200 attempts.

Here is what I gather from the above trends. Teenagers are not making any positive progress from their adolescents to early adulthood. Stress can be found at any corner of life. We already know that as adults, that is why it's so important that we help teenagers learn how to cope before it's too late.

My prayer for you is that you realize how crucial it is to mentor a teenager. As an interim youth pastor, I see on a daily basis how important it is for teens to know that they are valuable and capable of living a fulfilling life. And to be honest I believe that a life fully surrendered to Christ is the best option for them. A life that is full and completely worth living!! (John 10:10)

Only the power of God can completely change the course of history in a teenager's life. And I hope that I see that happen to many teens.

So go and make a difference in a teen's life. If you're willing and ready to lead by example in every area of your life then do it!

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