I (Tasha) remember being 17 and talking to an adult about some of the things that was stressing me out only to hear him say, “Enjoy it while you can, Tasha. These high school years are the best years of your life.”
I thought, “Are you freaking kidding me!?!! Did you even hear what I said? My boyfriend (who was also my prom date) just cheated on me, my ACT score is joke, my math teacher hates me, I have no clue what I want to do with the rest of my life, and my car that is the size of the Titanic is now backfiring every time I turn left. If these are the best years of my life then I think I’m suicidal.”
Last week we started a two part blog series on teens, anxiety, and youth ministry. We were inspired to write the articles after reading anxiety specialist Dr. Richard Leahy’s quote, “The average high school student kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s” (quoted in Tullian Tchividijian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace For An Exhausted World). Click here to read part one.
Today’s teenager is stressed, and the implications of the anxiety experienced by teens when untreated is significant. Anxiety that is ignored can lead to:
- Low Motivation
- At-Risk Behavior
- Low Self-Worth
- Excessive Sleeping
- Health Problems
- Faith Issues
It’s difficult as youth workers to know how to help teens manage their anxiety in the context of youth group, but healthy teaching about anxiety can include:
- Help teens understand that God loves them because of who (and Whose) they are, and NOT because of what they do. Performance is king in today’s culture, but in the Kingdom of God, knowing who we are in Christ is key to self-worth.
- Help teens understand the difference between perfectionism and excellence. Dr. Kevin Leman wrote about perfectionism vs. excellence in his book, “Why Your Best Is Good Enough.” Click here for a PDF listing 8 differences between a perfectionist and a person who is legitimately pursuing excellence.
- Help teens understand that God wants to carry them through their anxiety, not shame them. God is not offended that we are anxious. Our faith only needs to be the size of a mustard seed, and feeling anxious about what’s next in life might be part of our faith journey.
- Help teens experience grace in the midst of their anxiety. God never promised to remove all trouble from our lives (in fact, Jesus said just the opposite in John 16:33), but he promises to be with us in the midst of it. When grace meets anxiety, we can know that even though we are anxious, God loves us and accepts us.
- Help teens unpack their anxiety by providing a safe environment to share. Small group is the great place to unpack anxiety, but make sure your leaders are equipped to meet a student’s anxiety with compassion and grace and not shame or judgment.
- Help teens feel supported in the parts of their lives apart from youth ministry. There will be times when students need to miss a bible study or youth event to complete a school project or participate in an extracurricular activity. You can help reduce their anxiety by choosing not to guilt them for missing your event.
- Help bridge the gap between parents and their teen by partnering with parents to become part of the solution for reducing anxiety in teens. Granted, some parents are part of the problem, but don’t let that stop you from working to inform and equip parents (be sure to manage your own anxiety here). Most parents want the best for their kids and will do whatever it takes to help their children grow and move past any struggle.
———–Click here for additional resources to help you meet your students where they’re at———–
We can become effective youth leaders in the lives of students when we acknowledge that the teen years may not be the best or easiest years of their lives. In fact, it’s these very years that many of us spend a lifetime trying to overcome. The struggles teens face are very real and need attention, support, and counsel. Helping students manage their anxiety can have a huge impact on their spiritual formation and increase your effectiveness in their lives.
What do you think?