My phone rang late one evening and on the other end of the line was an upset parent. This parent was struggling because his son had recently been moved into another small group where some of his closer friends were not included. I appreciated the phone call from this Dad and the chance to talk it through with him. I sensed early on in our conversation his desire to “fix” the situation and get his son moved back to his original group. He was gracious in allowing me the chance to explain the numerous nuances when placing hundreds of students in the group and why we can placed his son where he was. He understood our situation and then genuinely asked, “How do I help my son see and understand this is going to still be a great year?”
Hurt Will Come
Parents are often asking for genuine advice on what to do for their teen that is struggling or going through a difficult season. If you’re a parent of a teen, it’s only a matter of time before your son or daughter experiences disappointment, loss, or gets hurt. Whether it’s not making the team they worked so hard for, breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or not getting the exact outcome they had hoped for, as parents, our hearts hurt with them, and we want to make that hurt stop as soon as possible! But please consider these three immediate steps when your teen is hurting.
1. Pause and Widen Your View
This may seem counterintuitive, but the first step to take when your child is going through a difficult situation is to actually step back and pause. The reason this is important is because you’re probably going to have some emotions tied in with your teens’ emotions. Do not let your emotions lead! Alicia Britt Chole says “emotions make terrible leaders.” I’ve talked about the 10-second principle in another resource, so this is really an extension of that idea. You may need to take a 10-minute or 10-hour pause to let your emotions get in check and think through the long-term lesson or goal you want to achieve in helping your son or daughter through this challenge. Parents, we face tremendous disappointment even in our adult years, so what is it that you want to equip your teen with so they are prepared for those moments as an adult? Fixing every situation for your teen will only delay the inevitable and cause them more struggle as they get older.
2. Provide Guidance and Wisdom
I’ve written in another article how sharing your own stories of working through disappointment and pointing to our hope in Jesus is huge when working through crisis. As primary faith trainers, our kids are looking to us and how we respond to their struggles and hurts. [We can certainly empathize with our teens when they are hurting, but we have to be able to lead them through the struggles. This is where true parenting and faith development is demonstrated and shown.] The biggest mistake I see parents of teens make is running in to attempt to “fix” whatever issue their teens are having. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but resist this temptation. This is why the first step, pausing to widen your view is so important.
3. Pray and Trust
One of my mentors who has kids graduated and in college always used to say to his kids when they would come home and complain about a situation they deemed wasn’t fair and say, “Life isn’t fair.” This Dad and his wife have wonderful relationships with their now grown kids and when I talk to their kids, they often say how much they didn’t want to hear those words, but how grateful they are because it prepared them for the future. Of course, this couple prayed regularly for their kids and entrusted them – their whole lives, victories and disappointments – to God. If you want to truly minister to your kids when they have disappointments and struggles, don’t just pause and gain perspective, don’t just offer great insights and wisdom through their situation, but let them hear you pray for them. Pray continually with your teen through whatever challenge they are facing and demonstrate your faith in Jesus to guide them.
We can’t keep our kids from every hurt that life brings but we do have the responsibility and privilege of leading them to a God who sees and knows them every better than we do.