With each school shooting, with the news of yet another suicide, parents, clergy and youth workers are reminded of the rise in teen mental health issues.  And beyond what we see in the media or other reports, for most of us, we have seen it play out first hand in our own lives, some of us on a smaller scale, and some of us in the worst of ways. Anyone with a teenager in their life cannot ignore the high stakes before us.

As Parents, you worry

As you watch your teenager retreat to her bedroom or observe the anxiety overwhelming him, you may fear the worst. Maybe your child is lonely. Maybe you struggle to get her to communicate with you. Maybe there is a constant state of overwhelm and your kid doesn’t know how to articulate what he is experiencing to you. Maybe your daughter doesn’t have any close friends, or your son struggles to find the energy to go through his daily routine. Whatever the scenario, if you’re like most of us, you likely wonder, “is this normal teenage behavior or is something deeper going on?”

And some of you notice your child has stopped eating her meals, he has extreme angry outbursts, you’ve noticed marks on her arm, you know he is getting into alcohol and drugs, and the deeper worry sets in, “what do I do?”

We at Faithtree can help.

As a parent it is heartbreaking to watch your child experience loneliness and severe anxietyIt may be a daily struggle to figure out how to best guide them. You may feel helpless, fearing that your response could go terribly wrong. Perhaps you struggle to deeply connect with your teen; you may be totally lost and overwhelmed by the responsibility of being your child’s only cheerleader. And you likely struggle to know what is normal teenage angst and what is a true red flag.

This is scary stuff.

Our Clergy feel a similar burden

Clergy, we hear your struggles, your yearning for your teens to open up to you, your ongoing battle to figure out the best way to connect to them, and your struggle to relate to what they are going through. You are constantly fighting for more time to properly attend to your teens but the hundreds of responsibilities on your plate make it increasingly difficult. You love your teens dearly and you are sad when they open up too little or too late. You just want to love them but know they wrestle with shame. And at the same time, you worry about the best way to respond, when to escalate a response, and how to best guide them and their families through these serious issues.

This is scary stuff.

As a Youth Worker, I worry too

Parents and Clergy, you are not the only ones worrying. I worry as a youth leader. I feel a deep sense of responsibility to the high school students I minister to. I watch them struggle with high levels of anxiety, I hear about the loneliness and their struggles to fit in. I encounter kids who are self-harming and wrestling with suicidal thoughts. And I am constantly trying to figure out the best way to respond. My heart breaks for my kids. I want to see them thrive; I want them to lean into the knowledge that they are beautiful, worthy, and beloved children of God. I want nothing more than to give them access to the life-giving joy found in a life in Christ. But how do I do that?

This is scary stuff.

I don’t advise spending much time sitting in our fears, it’s far more effective to lean into the hope, but it is important to acknowledge and affirm that this is the scary stuff. This is the stuff that is seemingly impossible to navigate.

The good news is: you are not alone

Over 520 of you who responded to our survey shared with us both your observations and your personal reflections. We discovered a lot from this survey. The data was truly eye opening and we are excited to offer those who want to view all the fun charts, an analysis of our findings, so CLICK HERE if that is you.

If there is one thing this survey confirmed, it is that the fear is real. And here at Faithtree, we want nothing more than to give access to the hope.

What if our Church really was a hospital?

We hear many analogies comparing the Church to a hospital. Our Church is to be a place of healing and our source of strength as we encounter life’s difficulties. What if our churches truly were beautiful spaces that nurtured our teens through these difficult struggles? What if our youth workers and clergy were more than adequately equipped to engage and walk with our children through the most challenging issues life throws at our kids? What if our children found true community and hope in the church? What if the church offers our son or daughter the lifeline they need to keep going? What if our church truly was a hospital for our children?

As a parent I imagine there is nothing you want more than for your children than to feel free to share their struggles and to be able to meet with unconditional love and support. I imagine you want them to find deep friendships with their peers, to feel a sense of security and freedom to be their true selves, to be able to confess their fears and struggles and grow from them. I imagine you want them to not avoid or hide from their struggles but to always be able to reorient towards hope in the midst of their struggles. I imagine you want to be able to offer them a lifeline during the darkest of times. I imagine you don’t want to do this alone.

As a youth worker there is nothing I want more than to create a space of healing. I want my teens to feel most comfortable and loved in their church. I want the confidence to know how to respond when a teen tells me they have been self-harming or that they are so low that they have contemplated taking their life. I want to be able to communicate the life-giving truth of our church in a way that won’t make my teens roll their eyes but rather really connect and engage with. Ultimately, I want to nurture my teenager’s relationship with Christ both in how I teach them and most importantly by becoming a vessel for Christ’s unconditional and self-affirming love to them in their darkest of times. I don’t want to do this alone.

We are here to help!

At Faithtree, we are actively working on a response to these great needs.  According to the survey, the resource consistently requested by clergy, youth workers, and parents was youth ministry curriculum and a mechanism to equip youth workers in the Church.

Since the beginning of our development of The Relationship Project, Episode 3 has been slotted to address teen loneliness. This summer, after our team learned of seven separate suicides or suicide attempts in our community, we knew we needed to expand the episode to address the greater landscape of mental health struggles, and to equip our faithful leaders to be able to offer the life-giving response our church provides.

We are diving into this work full force, collaborating with theologians and mental health professionals, and provided we meet our fundraising goals, we hope to provide you with resources in hand at the beginning of 2019.

How can you help?

If you are as eager as we are to get these resources to your parishes, please consider making a contribution to The Relationship Project: Episode 3. Every contribution gets us closer to supporting you better and making our Churches a more healing place for our teens. Please consider clicking here and making a donation to this project.

We will continue to be in touch with you as these resources progress. Thank you for your support and contribution!

Written by: Anna Kallis, M.Div.
Youth Ministry Programs Director
Faithtree Resources