Updated: Dec 9, 2022
Have you noticed how many mental health buzz words are cycling through your teenagers conversations? I get the privilege of speaking with people from all over the nation. Pastors, youth pastors, counselors, bankers, plumbers, electricians. You name it. And the votes are in. Mental health is trending. And DUDE, mental health is so ON POINT right now with your teen.
What used to be considered boring clinical words are everywhere. And diagnosing yourself has become quite the fad. Especially among our teenagers. I had a clinician tell me the other day, "I'm going to lose my mind if one more 13 year old tells me they have Borderline Personality Disorder!" And she's not wrong. Words like depression, anxiety, bipolar, narcissist, gender dysphoria and borderline, are all the rage. And their counterparts too. Gaslighting, co-dependency, cutting, suicidal ideation, depressive episode, and manic episode. Each of them have been spoken by a person under the age of 18 in my office in the last 6 months. And every time I ask, "Where did you hear that word?" Do you want to know the most common answers?-- YouTube and TikTok.
As a therapist I find it fascinating. As a parent of two teenagers. I find it frightening. I don't want my children diagnosing themselves off of what a YouTube star or TikTok personality says. And neither should you. The world of psychology is confusing enough without a 20 year old armchair professional telling everyone what depression is or isn't.
So What Do We Do as Christian Counselors, Teachers, and Professionals?
At first glance, it seems hopeless and impossible to stem the cultural tides. To battle against ideologies that are being promoted to millions of people per hour. But I do have an answer for you. Rather, my alma mater, Dallas Seminary, has a wonderful call to action for you. Teach truth. Love well. It is simple and doable, and will have a profound impact on the people you serve. We all know that small things often is a viable technique in changing human behavior. And so we must practice what we preach. You may never have 1 million followers on YouTube. But if you have one client, start there. If you have 30 students, start there. And teach them the truth. Teach them the truth about bipolar. Teach them the truth about depression and anxiety. And do it in a loving way. Without condescension or some know-it-all attitude. And if you don't know the truth, seek it out from a reputable source.
You do know mental illness is not fun and sexy. And it being trendy appears to trivialize the pain and suffering of so many clients, friends, and family we love. But there is a silver lining. Mental illness is on the cutting edge of our culture and it is at the forefront of our teenagers minds. Which means, we no longer have to advocate for it to be taken seriously. Now we have to advocate for it to be taught and talked about truthfully. And so if you spent the last 20 years as a professional advocating for mental health to be important in American society. Congratulations, you did it! We're here! And it appears the leader behind you, well, their work is just beginning.
As Christian Parents, How Can We Help Our Teens?
Back in September I had the pleasure of doing a talk with my church's youth group on sadness and depression. The kids were taking pictures of my slides with their phones. At first I was tempted to think my slides were that good. Ha ha, not so much. In reality, the topic was that important to them. I had a friend approach me afterward to say his daughter was texting him the images of the slides on levels of depression and the purpose of sadness. I was blown away.
Fast forward to November. Same youth group. The youth pastor had the kids write out their "labels" on a note card, and put them into a bucket at the front of the sanctuary. These labels were things they called themselves when no one was looking. Who they believed they truly were on the inside. Do you want to know what they wrote?
"Depressed", "Anxious","Broken", "Addicted", "Unlovable". And the list went on: "Slut", "Man-Whore", "Porn-Addict", "Drug Addict", "Worthless".
I was blown away again as the youth pastor and senior pastor told me about the labels. I thought to myself, "These can't be the same kids I was speaking to in September." I started to think of all the retreats, all the expenses, all the worship experiences, all the games, and all the opportunities that surrounded them day in and day out. Things I naively thought would make them feel loved. Make them feel valued and cherished. How could we be missing the mark so poorly?
As my conversation continued with the senior pastor he struck gold. He had a very simple solution to my quandary. Because he immediately landed on the importance of discipleship in the youth group. Duh! Same answer! Teach truth. Love well. Because there is no better way to do that than through discipleship.
So parents. Listen up. Don't get tempted or sidelined by feelings of hopelessness and despair. This is not a time for mourning. A battle is on for the hearts and minds of our children. And a blow is being struck right beneath our noses. Their value as creations is being questioned. Their purpose and their sanity is at risk. We must invest relationally. As our campus pastor so succinctly put it, "We must devote ourselves to their discipleship." The coolest worship, the trendiest message, the hippest new gadget will not cut it. It will not make them feel loved or valued.
But you mom. You dad. You will make a difference in their life. Teach them why they are here. To bring glory to God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Teach them why they are valuable. Because God created them and loves them, and has a purpose for them (Psalm 139:2-18). Teach them how to fight depression with thankfulness and love (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Teach them how to fight anxiety with faith and trust in a sovereign God (Philippians 4:6-7). Never quit teaching them. Never quit showing them. Never quit repeating the love of God for them (Deuteronomy 11:19-20). Do not avoid telling them, out of shame or fear, of the sacrifice that was made for them through Jesus Christ and the healing peace that comes by accepting Him as Lord and Savior (1 Peter 2:24). Never quit.
Help them develop grit and endurance through patience and perseverance. Model it for them!(Romans 12:12). Help them understand that this comes from God through the Holy Spirit. And that it is forged through trials and temptations. Dark days like depression, and instability like anxiety. And they can't rely on themselves to produce or set themselves free from these ailments. Their success will be God's success. And their failure will be covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. Do not falter in telling them not to give up. Even in their depression. Even in their anxiety. Stand firm on the promises of God and give them hope. Hope that one day there will be no more mental illness. There will be no more pain. Because God will redeem this earth (Revelation 21:1-4). Give them that hope. Hold onto that hope for them. Let them know that no matter what, it's going to be okay. Not because we have a big house, or because we have top notch medical care with the latest vaccines. Or because mental health is trendy. These things won't last. They don't last. Instead, it's going to be okay because the God of heaven and earth proclaimed it so.
To the Parents with "Issues"
You know who you are. You think no one sees you having issues in your marriage. Or you think no one sees you struggling with that addiction. News flash. Your kids do. They may not be able to put words to it. But trust me, they can feel it. And it only confuses them more. And 5 to10 years from now, they're going to start putting the pieces together. And then you'll be in real trouble. Because then they'll have ten years of pent up frustration, contempt, and fear. And by then, they won't be in the mood to listen to your explanations. Trust me. I see it every day.
So what's your solution? Get help. Do it now. Don't wait. Talk to someone. You were not meant to be perfect. And Lord knows you need to find someone to help you. We all do. Start today.
About the Author:
Dr. Corley is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor (LPC-S) in Missouri and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in Kansas. He specializes in marriage counseling and trauma recovery.
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