When I started out in youth ministry, I feared pastoral issues the most. I mean: what should I say to struggling teens? I was a afraid I wouldn’t have the profound wisdom they’d be looking for, or the spiritual nuggets they’d need to get through it.
As it turns out, struggling teens don’t need us to say all that much. Sure, there are times when they ask for concrete advice: Rachel, should I break up with my boyfriend or not? What do you think I should major in in college? Do you think I should stop being friends with her? And those times, I help them analyze the situation and come to the best advice. (A pro tip: ask them what they’d advise a friend in that situation…)
But for those who truly struggle, I don’t need many words. All they want to hear from me is that it sucks. They just want me to be with them in that situation, to listen to them, and acknowledge their pain. That’s it.
Research shows that teens with low self esteem don’t value pep talks anyway (also known as ‘positive framing’—giving a tough situation a positive spin). They just want to be heard and seen.
So oftentimes with those students, all I do is sit with them, hold their hand, hug them and tell them how sorry I am for what they’re going through. I tell them I’m there for them whenever they want to talk and that I’ll always listen without judging. And that’s all a struggling teen needs at times.
(1) Kelsey Kloss, News from the World of Medicine, Reader’s Digest, December 2014, page 76.