Grief is the pain of loss – any type of loss. It can be the loss of loved ones, a job, opportunity or any number of things. Right now, teenagers are facing tremendous loss: loss of routine, physical relationships, sports seasons, musicals, dances and many other experiences. This is especially true for our graduating 8th graders and seniors. There’s a potential that graduation is going to look drastically different for them and many of their “lasts” have been taken away from them.
Of course, as adults, we know that perspective is helpful through crisis. As parents we know our teenagers aren’t living their best life now. However, that doesn’t mean our teens aren’t losing a good portion of the experiences that help shape them into adulthood. As our teens are navigating this loss, now is a great time to solidify our voices in their lives and help walk them through it. Here are seven steps to help your teens through this pandemic (or any) crisis.
Teens need their parent’s to engage them in crisis. The most difficult thing for a junior high or high school student isn’t to face crisis, but to face crisis alone. Parents, don’t overthink engagement. Your presence is huge during this time. Be available. Our kids will remember we made the effort to support them more than anything we say, so engage and be present as best you know how!
2. Ask and listen.
One simple way to engage is by asking questions and then listening. Listen to your teen’s heart and what they are processing. Don’t try to fix! Just let them talk and process out loud with you. If they find you are willing to listen, they will open up more. Great questions to ask are, “How do you know I love you? What is the biggest struggle you are currently facing? What’s the number one thing I can do for you today?” Once they do share, the best phrase to use is, “Tell me more…” (And don’t be surprised by anything they share).
3. Share your struggles and your victories.
Be real! I have found the number one way to build credibility with teenagers is to be authentic and real. This means sharing the struggles and failures we’ve experienced in a vulnerable, but wise way. Our teens need to know we’ve struggled. Can you share a story of how you went through a past challenge and how you got through it? Better yet, share how God helped you navigate the whole process and how you are stronger today because of it.
4. Provide structure, but be flexible.
With so much “extra” time added to our schedules during the quarantine, there is a temptation to get lax on schedules. Don’t. Our kids still need structure (and they may not say it, but they want it). Structure is a good thing and it helps keep us as parents and our teens focused and moving forward. That being said, be flexible in a positive way! We certainly don’t want to nitpick on every minute of every day. Pay attention to your teens needs. If they just need to pause from school for an hour to connect with some friends over a Zoom call or FaceTime, consider it! Make flexibility a win within your structure.
5. Point to our Hope.
Parents, with not only the “extra” time, but “forced” family time, let’s maximize our Faith Talks! Utilize your home at breakfast, lunch and dinner, utilize walks, and utilize the mornings as well as bedtime. Never in our lifetimes has Deuteronomy 6:4-9 been more pertinent and applicable to our situation. Many teens have the chance to slow down, pause and consider the deeper questions about life and purpose. Jesus is the answer to all of that and you can speak the Gospel more profoundly right now! Again, don’t overthink it! Share your testimony, ask them to share theirs, read a chapter in a Gospel with them and discuss what it says, use the resources your church is giving, etc. Still don’t know what to discuss? Go back to tip number two: use what they are sharing with you as the curriculum. Speak to their needs and point them to Jesus.
6. Pray out loud with them.
The easiest (and most important) way to help your teen through crisis and bless them right now is to pray for him or her. If you’ve done these tips well, you should already have a great idea of how and what to pray for over your teen. What’s even better is to ask them directly. Again, don’t overthink what to say. Just ask God to bless them and help them with whatever they’ve revealed to you. Make it sincere, intentional and from your heart. If you want to take this to the next level and connect even more with your teen, ask him or her to pray for you as well! You may be surprised at how well they respond!
7. Rinse and repeat!
Like all of parenting, it’s never a “one and done” endeavor. We very seldom have one conversation and all is well. We never have one experience or day and then move on without often having to repeat some of the care we’ve shown. That’s because our hearts leak the blessings of yesterday. We constantly need our hearts to be filled by God’s grace and love from others. Our teens are especially in need of extra care and blessing right now. Do these tips today and do them tomorrow. Do them next week and for as long as God allows you to with your teens. I have no doubt our families and teens will come out stronger after this because of God’s mercy and grace… and YOUR engagement as their parent(s).
By Joe Landi