Brokenness, heartache, disappointment, loneliness…
We all go through periods of times where we feel these things, and during adolescence it seems like a daily roller coaster for many students. As a parent or mentor we have both the experience and tools to offer solutions. But when we swoop in and “fix” things we are missing two important points – difficulties can produce strength, and an opportunity to demonstrate love and understanding.
As a parent I hate seeing my children hurting. It is my natural instinct to provide, and bind up wounds. Taking the hurt away seems like the best goal. But jumping in with that instinct is a reaction, and taking a step back to find out what a deeper need is can prove to be more empowering for my child.
Look back over the difficulties you faced as a teenager, and even today as an adult. Have you grown in wisdom through those trials? Have you been able to empathize with others, or have a deeper understanding of the challenges they are facing because of your own personal experiences? Has your relationship with God and those you trusted grown as a result of that struggle? Without that struggle, would you have experienced the same growth of wisdom and empathy and relationship? Perhaps, but it is through difficulties in life that many times we see ourselves go deep and emerge stronger than before. Especially when we have a trusted person walking alongside us. Brené Brown offers insight into what this looks like in her video on Empathy.
None of us wishes pain for our children, but we may do them a big disservice by removing struggles for them, and miss out on an opportunity to share absolute love.
What adolescents look for is support, support that they can count on, support that will accept them and not judge, support that will allow them explore and fail and cheer them on as they get back up again, and encourage them as they do. In this kind of support we find that absolute love.
I love you enough to respect that you will find a solution. I love you enough to allow you to figure things out. I love you enough to want more for you than a quick fixed easy life that will give you a shallow foundation, a foundation that may be shaken and break more easily in later years. I love you enough to connect with you on a deeper level, to be with you while you hurt.
So, as that trusted person, how do we approach our child or an adolescent that is hurting or reeling from disappointment in the world?
Avoid the temptation to jump in and rescue with a solution – that might come, but not first. Let them know you are there – not “for them” but with them. Do this by stopping what you are doing, giving them all of your attention, and being quiet. Don’t try to keep them talking, don’t look for what to say next, just listen. They may want to talk, or they just might want a hug, or someone to sit with. Are they wanting to talk? If so, can they see a next step? It might be to talk with you, or with someone else, or to give it some time before they move onto the next step. But if they can think forward to a next step, and not one that comes from you, then they are working through and processing the situation. Follow up. So many people will say “I’m here” and then they are not. Let them know you are right here, and you will be tomorrow and next week – and then follow up and check in with them. Remind them that you are praying for them, and DO IT. Checking in doesn’t mean asking if there is a solution, but simply seeing how they are doing.
Healing with connection. Not with a fix. Serving others with empathy, taking the time to share that space of hurt with them, and allow them to grow strong as they learn to move forward, is modeling absolute love for them. Absolute love shows them they are not alone.
Stacy K. Ash,
Assistant Director of Youth Ministries