Four Principles for a Godly Response to Your Teen’s Crisis

Hi friend! I’m enjoying a bit of a sabbatical this summer and have lightened my workload considerably to spend more time relaxing at the beach.  I hope you enjoy these hand-picked guest posts for Monday Musings on the weeks when I’ll be sinking my toes in the sand.  Just keep livin’.

This is a guest post written by Catherine Boyle and originally shared on Key Ministry.

The phone rang late at night. That’s never a good thing, especially when one of your teens is away from home.

The words from that night are seared in my memory: marijuana, alcohol, police, arrested. So are some of the words from the following week: expelled, school board, conduct officer, suspension.

That phone call came a week before an event organized and hosted by the ministry I had launched a year earlier, the first time I met Key Ministry’s Dr. Grcevich in person. Let’s just say there was some significant spiritual warfare around that particular mental health ministry conference.

For me, the rest of that year and most of the next, were spent in the most important ministry of all: family ministry. After all, man plans his steps, but God directs our path. “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9       

I promise you there were things that I did not do right during that time. But there definitely were some things that my husband and I did well, principles that may help you and help your child when – not if – you find yourself in a crisis.

a – Respond to your child with more grace than truth.

Romans 2:4 says “the kindness of God leads to repentance.” When you’re in a situation where you know you’ve made a bad mistake, the last thing you want is someone rubbing your face in it. Your kids are no different.

The day after the late night phone call was actually pretty quiet. We did a lot of hugging without speaking. When we did have to talk about something
difficult, we kept it to the point, speaking gently but firmly, conveying love above all else. Like it or not, parents represent God to their children, even teens, and a thoughtful response to teenaged mistakes is important for ongoing openness to matters of faith.

b – Think about the possibilities, and let your teen make as many decisions as possible.

I’m good at research, so I began exploring all options with school, but also with counselors and other mental health professionals. Kids have limited life experience, so a decision that upends a teen’s world can feel like the end to them. As a parent, especially in a culture where suicide is widely viewed as a way out of pain, you must do what you can in a time of crisis to show your child love and a direction beyond the pain of the moment.

There were some decisions my husband and I made that were non-negotiable – counseling and certain boundaries at home – but others were too personal and important to my teen for my husband and I to decide on our own. Adults routinely have to make difficult decisions, and part of growing up is learning how to sort through imperfect options.

Beyond the immediate crisis, as a parent you must anticipate depression, isolation, and possibly anger at God as a result of unwanted changes. If adults experience these things when we face broken relationships, job losses, unexpected deaths, or even long seasons of seemingly unanswered prayer, then teens are going to respond in the same way. The only difference is that due to limited life experience, teens will feel the pain more intensely.

c – Prepare ahead of time.

This may sound like a ridiculous concept, but for Christ-followers, it’s not. Being in God’s Word regularly, praying regularly, seeking His will and direction for your life fills your spiritual tank.
Such activity may seem like wasted time, but when a crisis comes, you’ll find that God has made you ready in some important way.

I’m not sugar-coating how hard a crisis can be. No one can be prepared for everything. Years ago, I spent a season in prayer for my extended family. I was impressed to pray for several months that we would all ‘be ready.’ Ready for what? I had no idea. The day that my father had a seizure and doctors discovered he had glioblastoma brain cancer, I got my answer. My dad lived seven months to the day from diagnosis until he died, and it wasn’t an easy season in any way. But in my spirit, I knew God had prepared me.

In the same way, I had been praying certain prayers that spring and summer before the crisis with our teen. Make no mistake, that was a hard season as a parent. The first time my husband and I ventured out of the house, leaving our teen at home, I had a full-blown panic attack. Struggling to contain my tears – and my fears – we left the event before I was a total blubbering mess.

d – Protect you child—and yourself—from those who are not helpful.

You know who I’m talking about. Maybe it’s the friend who loves to share juicy tidbits of gossip with the world, maybe it’s a family member who drains the life out of you. Your mission in such a time is to work with God and those He puts in your life to help your teen repair and rebuild his or her heart, and create a new direction.

You won’t be able to be diligent in this way if you lose focus from the mission of the moment. Your teen’s actual life may depend on you not giving way to anger, despair, fear or losing faith in God. If there are people in your life who contribute to these negative emotions, gently but firmly tell them that you will not be able to talk with them until things are sorted out. During this season and in others, I chose to update certain family and friends by email, rather than attempt to talk to them. Just like you would do all that is necessary to protect yourself from infection when you or your child has a physical wound, protection during the healing of spiritual wounds is also necessary.

No one can prepare for everything that happens as you raise your children. But if you live in Florida, you prepare as best you can for hurricanes. If you live in Oklahoma, you prepare for the day when a tornado is coming. Staying prayed up, connected to your teens and to God will gird you for the unexpected day.

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