August 30, 2008

Mutations, Confusions, and Transitions Part Four

Written By Cary Schmidt

Helping Your Teen through Some of Life’s Toughest Years

In the past few articles we have been considering the radical physical changes that all teenagers experience between the ages of twelve and twenty. In this article, I want to turn your attention to the emotional changes.

First let’s discuss the symptoms. Have you seen your teenager recently experience any radical or sudden mood changes? You know—one moment everything’s fine, the next the world is falling apart. Have you seen an increase in frustration or even some sudden outbursts that almost look like anger? Have you noticed that one day your teen can be on top of the world and the next day seem depressed and withdrawn?

If so, read on. Teenagers do experience a wide variety of emotional changes and challenges. Their world has suddenly become a lot more random and unpredictable than it has ever been, and this can make young people seem rather impulsive, compulsive, and even insane at times. But then again, I know some adults who would fit nicely into those categories, so let’s cut them some slack in the form of understanding and guidance.

Consider the factors that contribute to the emotional world of a teenager. We’ve already talked about a body that is growing and easily exhausted. We have talked about the brain rebuilding itself. More pressure at school, more responsibilities in life, a busier schedule, less sleep and less family time all contribute to these unpredictable emotions. (Not to mention teens who have endured abuse, broken homes, and painful loss.) But consider these other factors:

1. Changing Relationships—every relationship in a teenager’s world changes during the teen years. Adults expect more from them at home and at school. Parents are often going through life changes including financial pressures and other mid-life challenges.

2. Desperate for Acceptance and Identity—more than ever teens find themselves insecure and needing acceptance. They grope for an identity in a culture that can’t give them solid hope or guidance. Often they seek emotional stability in relationships and friendships outside the home, which can lead to bad decisions.

3. Romantic Attractions Increase—part physical and part emotional, this life-change is made worse by the assault of a culture and information-age obsessed with sex and perversion. Many teens find themselves obsessed with emotional dependence upon a boyfriend or girlfriend. Sometimes I call these relationships “mutual insecurity dependencies”!

4. Fears of the Future—many young people are scared of what lies ahead. They long for stability, and their new “young adult world” seems a lot less stable than their elementary years. More and more, they are choosing “not to grow up” even into their twenties and thirties. They see adults messing up their lives. Many have witnessed first hand the misery of failed marriages and broken homes. They fear growing up and doing the same, and they don’t know how to chart the right course.

These are BIG factors! And at any moment, when one of these comes crashing down on the heart, the result will usually be unpredictable emotions seemingly from nowhere! Even writing this makes my emotions unpredictable!

So what do we do? How do we help our teens navigate this emotional blasting zone? Let me close by sharing a few ideas.

1. Time with God—ultimately all spiritual stability comes from building your house on the Rock! The only way your teen will ever have the emotional stability he needs is if he discovers and develops a personal relationship with his unchanging, loving Heavenly Father. As they learn to “cast all their care upon Him,” He truly will establish their hearts with grace. (Hebrews 13)

2. Time with Family—to put it bluntly, we as parents need to postpone our midlife crises indefinitely. The God who gave you a family intends for you to provide for that family, and He expects you to provide your teenager with adequate time together—the right kind of time. This is time that nurtures and settles the heart. Time that talks together, prays together, and grows together. Please give your teenager this kind of time! It’s the most valuable thing you can give, and nothing else you can do will provide stronger emotional stability. And you don’t have all that much time left with your teen in the first place!

3. Comic Relief—God says that a merry heart doeth good like medicine! Have you ever noticed how much teens like to laugh? It’s generally what they do all the time when they are together with friends. I have seen teens laugh at the most unusual times, and it is then that I have learned that laughter is God’s gift to a young person learning to cope with the burdens of growing up!

Laughter at the right things at the right time does something wonderful and spiritual to align the emotions with God’s stabilizing grace. Now, honestly, the world is producing the kind of comedy that is undeniably and extremely displeasing to God. This is NOT the kind of laughter I am talking about.

When is the last time you just “goofed around” and had a good laugh together with your teenager? He needs to laugh, and he needs to laugh at the right things. And perhaps above all, he needs to learn to laugh at himself—and it starts with you laughing at yourself, and letting him laugh at you too!

Your home and time together with your teen should be filled with laughter—good, God-honoring, having-a-good-time-together laughter! I would share that famous cliché “the family that laughs together stays together,” but it doesn’t rhyme.

4. Identity, Stability, and Affirmation—how’s that for cramming the last three into one point?! Seek to help your teenager find his identity in family and God. Seek to give him stability at home and in life—by being faithful to your marriage and consistent as a mentor. Seek to fill his heart with kind words. Tell him what he is doing right and how important he truly is! God gave you to him to help bring reason and stability to his world of unsettled emotions and questions.

God intends for His Word and the family to be the spiritual anchor that teenagers need. Ultimately we must teach them to live life based upon truth over emotions. As you understand the emotional world of young adults and then lead them to anchor those emotions to Jesus Christ, you will truly be sparing lives from many years of emotional and spiritual drift. May God grant you wisdom as you seek to help young people anchor their emotions to Him!