Ministering To Troubled Teens

Ministering To Troubled Teens
Darrell W. Johns


All young people experience the stress and pressure that comes from growing up. Most of them struggle through normal youth problems and survive to become adults. This seminar is not targeted at the teen who has it all together. We are faced with a growing number of young people who lose their way, trying to cope with the stresses of our society. This seminar is directed at troubled teens with the hope that you will be better equipped to minister to them.

I The Sad Statistics

Statistics often vary. Many times statistics conflict, such as which cause is the greatest killer among teens. Statistics, however, do represent numbers of young people, many of whom we never reach. Statistics tend to lose their meaning when someone we love is in trouble. For the record’s sake, what are the sad statistics?

* 1.3 million American teens have a serious drinking problem.
* 25% of young people drink more than once per week.
* 1 out of 9 smoke pot daily. 40% smoke pot regularly and 70% have tried it.
* Each year over 1 million teenage girls in America become pregnant, 30,000 of them being under the age of 15. Those girls write the majority of their life’s script with that mistake. We end up with children raising children.
* 44% of teens ages 13 – 18 admit to having had sex at least once.
* 55% admit they cheat at school.
* 54% say teachers don’t care about their ideas and opinions.
* 29 – 30% of teens say that school is their biggest problem.
* 28% of senior high students say they have the most trouble with their parents.
* The greatest fears of teenagers are: losing their parents, dying, and not being successful.
* An old poll, 1977, asked 21,000 Christian youth about themselves. 20% said that they were self-critical and lonely.
* Each year 2 million teenagers run away. Most of them, sadly, are running from a disintegrating family.
* 40% of them are not welcome back home.
* Suicide is the third largest killer among teens.
* Every 90 seconds a teenager attempts suicide.
* Every 90 minutes a young person between the ages of 15 and 25 is successful in suicide.
* That adds up to 5,800 wasted lives each year. That number is probably much higher since many suicides are disguised and classified as accidents.
* Boys are four times as likely to kill themselves than girls, although five to eight times as many girls attempt suicide.
* There are over 2 million cases of child abuse each year, including physical, mental, and sexual abuse.
* It is estimated that over 80% of all prisoners in the United States were abused as children.

II Beneath the Symptoms (Depression)

The causes of suicide and other harmful (as well as sinful) adolescent behavior are many. However, there is an underlying emotion that seems to dominate the causes. That emotion or condition which lies beneath symptomatic behavior is depression.

Depression occurs when certain negative factors act on a person’s nervous system triggering sadness, hopelessness, and self-depreciating thinking and behavior. Depression has both causes and symptoms. First, we will look at some of the symptoms.

III Reading the Signals (Symptoms)

Designed into the electronic system of most modern cars is a warning system. Lights will flash, alarms will sound to get your attention. The warning device is not the problem. It merely alerts you to the problem. Our human body works much the same way. An internal physiological problem will trigger a symptom. The warning signal or symptom is not the problem–only the result of one. The following are symptoms to watch for in troubled teens. As the list is covered, make a note if a young person in your care seems to be exhibiting symptomatic behavior.

Extreme Moodiness
Some moodiness is characteristic of adolescence, partly due to the hormonal changes occuring during puberty. Look for increased sadness or a sudden drop of interest in favorite things. Other mood symptoms are obvious–unhappiness, preoccupation with sad thoughts, crying, and tearfulness.

Changes in Eating and Sleeping Habits
The lack of an appetite or a voracious appetite which is extreme for that young person can indicate a problem. Inability to sleep or a desire to sleep all the time is also suspect.

Social Isolation
A loss of interest in friends, or breaking ties with friends may indicate depression. A lack of friends, or peers who seem to desert may mean that they sense a problem.

Sudden Change in Behavior
In church, watch for a sudden lack of worship. If a young person suddenly moves from the front to the back of the church, take note. Young people in pain may act distant or cold toward leadership and peers. Defiance or rebellion may also occur. Listen for physical complaints, such as frequent headaches, etc.

Acting Out Behavior
Young people may mask their depression. Look for running away, cutting classes, missing church, shoplifting, alcohol or drug use, becoming sexually promiscuous. A troubled teen may suddenly create discipline problems in youth services, at home, or at school. Also, be alert to outward symptoms of a broken relationship with God. This problem will show up in physical changes that violate Biblical principles.

Look for nervousness, irritability, a young person who becomes involved to an excessive degree.

Excessive Self Criticism
Listen for put-downs, extreme guilt, or response to teasing with emotion. When young people are hurting, a light joke aimed at them may hurt deeply.

School Problems
A drop in grades, loss of interest, fighting, skipping class, resistance to authority, loss of concentration are all possible symptoms of depression.

Extreme Passivity
Look for withdrawal, loss of interest in hobbies or other interests. Listlessness is not typical for teens.

Substance Abuse
Sadly, when young people are depressed they often take something instead of doing something. Remember, the behavior is a symptom of a deeper problem.

Sexual Acting Out
Sexual behavior may be an effort to eliminate depression, increase self-esteem, and achieve intimacy. By committing fornication, a young person can write most of their life’s script in one night, and the story is not a pleasant one.

Suicidal Talk or Behavior
Look for verbal hints or warnings, such as giving away important possessions (they may say, “I want you to have this; I won’t be needing it anymore”); putting their affairs in order; saying good-bye (often they will make an effort to contact the people who meant the most to them); and suddenly seeming much better after a long battle with depression (possibly because a decision has been made to take their life).

There may be other symptoms that could be given. When you see a constellation of symptoms . . . beware. You are dealing with a troubled teen.

IV Possible Root Causes (Triggers of Depression)

Young people are easily idealistic. They dream of a perfect world, the perfect relationship, the perfect achievement. When life deals them less than best they are often depressed. Below are offered seven possible root causes for teenage depression.

A Significant Loss
Includes death of a parent, relative, good friend, or pet. The greatest fear for most teens is losing a parent. There is grief from the loss, a sense of rootlessness and hopelessness. For some teens there is also guilt. They regret the pain they inflicted on their parent while alive.

In one case, a teen’s brother died. In his grief he questioned if his parents would have preferred for him to have died instead. When one young person lost a pet, they were ashamed to voice their grief for fear of ridicule. They felt a great sense of loss because their pet cat loved them no matter what. A significant loss can cause depression.

Separation from a Loved One
Divorce is worse than death in some ways. The wound is left open. There is a cycle of hope – disappointment – rejection – despair. Some young people feel responsible for the divorce. The separation from a loved one may be due to a family move or a romantic breakup.

Loss of a Familiar Way of Being (Normality)
This may be due to a change of life circumstances, growing up, the loss of childhood, and closeness to the family.

Loss of Self-Esteem
Comparisons, criticism, a personal blunder, or other factors may be self depreciating. Low self-esteem is a major teenage problem.

Troubled at Home
Selfish parents and a lack of spiritual values at home are killing kids. Colossians 3:21 says, “Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged.” The truth Paul presented was that trouble at home takes the zest for life out of young people. A large majority of troubled teens come from troubled homes. Christian parents errantly rely on church teaching, activities, and youth programs to instill proper values in their children while the parents are preoccupied with life and essentially absent at home.

One source of trouble at home is abuse. There are many cruel forms including incest. It is important to mention the subject of incest at this point. Studies reveal surprising information on this subject. Father daughter incest accounts for 90% of reported cases. The average age of the incest victim is eleven years. The relationship lasts from three to five years. The stunning news is that incestuous families seem to live by a strict moral code. Because of a desire to keep things within the family unit, a morally weak person may fall prey to the sin of incest. To be sure, the victim will be shattered and require extensive help if they are to survive.

Loss of Boundaries and Guidelines
Many teens lack an adult role model. With the increase of two-career families, family life and continuity is slipping. Young people need guidelines, guideposts and a sense of discipline. Proper boundaries create security. The loss of boundaries causes depression.

A Broken Relationship
The major cause of depression is a broken relationship. Fellowship and peace with God, ourselves, and others is essential to a fulfilled life. When a significant relationship is broken, depression can occur.

V How to Help (Ministering to Troubled Teens)

Ministering to troubled teens is based on loving and caring for them. Here is some advice to make ministry take direction.

Investigate Physiological Disorders
Physical problems often are the underlying cause of depression. A chemical imbalance needs healing or treatment. Counseling and love will not suffice alone. Cases of severe depression are often caused by blood-sugar levels that are out of balance. Understanding puberty and its hormonal explosion will assist you in dealing with teens who may be feeling the pains of adolescence.

Teach the Truth
God’s Word speaks to the troubles youth face. Teach young people how to cope with their troubles through the Word and Spirit of God. Spend several weeks of youth services or Sunday School classes dealing with problems teens face and how God can help them to be a survivor.

Create Involvement
Activity does not eliminate problems, but if young people are integrated into the life of the total church, they will have a system of support. The problems that cause depression for teens may not immediately disappear. For them to be involved in a cause greater than their own life will give them a reason to overcome. Involving a young person who is living in sin is not advocated. Keep young people tied closely to a loving church.

Build Them Up Spiritually
We are people of faith and prayer. Through your intercession, a hedge of protection can be built aro0und the young person. Pray in faith seeing that young person becoming victorious through the power of the Spirit.

Create a climate of Spiritual power. Be sensitive to the Holy Ghost and give young people opportunities to be delivered from depression through the power of God. We have spiritual tools and weapons in our arsenal. Use them!

Counsel with the Troubled Teen
First, a few qualifying statements: we are not psychologists and there may be a need for professional help in some cases, if the counselor uses a Biblical approach. Also, if you are not the pastor, make sure you are within the boundaries of your responsibilities. Thirdly, there is excellent material available to assist you in your counseling abilities. The purpose of this seminar does not permit a detailed discussion of counseling skills.

The goal of your counseling should be to help troubled teens find the freedom that comes through obedience to God. If a teen’s condition is serious, a single counseling session will not suffice. Set up a weekly meeting or whatever is necessary and measure the progress of the young person. Spiritual victory can come in an instant. Patterns of thought and behavior must be gradually replaced with proper ones over a period of time.

Never Give Up
Even if the young person fails to respond, leave the door open for future help. Believe in them, express it verbally as well as in action. Seldom does a young person give us the satisfaction of being a finished product. The results of your efforts may take years to be seen. Many times your commitment to the young person will motivate them to make a commitment to God. The bottom line is that you must minister to troubled teens. And, ministry can make the difference.

Hunt, Morton, Gay, What You Should Know About Homosexuality, Farror/Straus/ Giroux, New York, 1977.
LaHaye, Tim, The Unhappy Gays, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, IL.
Lewis, Howard R. and Martha E.; The Parent’s Guide to Teenage Sex and Pregnancy, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1980.
McCoy, Kathleen, Coping With Teenage Depression, New American Library Books, New York, 1982.
Norman, Jane and Harris, Myron, Phd., The Private Life of the American Teenager, Rawson, Wade, New York, 1981.
Raphael, Maryanne and Wolf, Jenifer, Runaways, America’s Lost Youth, Drake Publishers, New York, 1974.
Sanford, Linda T., The Silent Children, Anchor Press/Doubleday, Garden City, New York, 1980.

**I do not necessarily endorse the total message of these books.

The above article, “Ministering to Troubled Teens,” is written by Darrell W. Jones. The article was excerpted from the Youth Ministry Resources Notebook in June of 1979.

The material is most likely copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.