Recently CDC statistics illuminated the rise in suicide, depression, and anxiety in teen girls. The results seemed pretty bleak. And we can surmise teen boys are struggling as well.
As a Christian mom, grandma, and psychotherapist, my heart is aching for an entire generation desperately searching and seeking. What are they searching for? As humans, we all need acceptance, security, significance, and purpose. Teens are primarily seeking a place to belong, fit in, and feel known, valued, and loved. And yet, they are often searching for it in all the wrong places.
But who can blame them? With the influence of all the forms of media they have at their fingertips, the inundation of information, and the myriad of different definitions of truth that are espoused, it is enough to overwhelm anyone! How in the world do they navigate through this?
One of the significant trending issues of our day affecting teens is gender identity.
Remember the day when your only choice (and only thought) was being male or female? Now there is a reported 80+ genders to choose from! WHAT? The hyper-sexualization of children seems to be reaching a peak.
The statistics seem bleak, and the problem is too big. BUT GOD…
As Christian moms, dads, mentors, grandparents, and teachers, we have a golden opportunity to come alongside our kids and help them navigate the confusion. Contrary to what people say or what your kids reflect to back you, they DO care what you have to say. They are paying attention and desperately searching for safe voices to listen to.
Here are a few tips for assisting your teens:
1. Stay calm: We counselors have a 'counselor face,' which means a 'poker face' that does not react to the situation (Biblically, we would say, our face reflects the ‘peace that surpasses our understanding’). It isn't easy to do, but thankfully we have a Helper to assist. Ask Holy Spirit to help you with this, and in doing so, you are silently witnessing to your kids. (As a side note, sometimes we need to do our own healing to accomplish this). Our teens are confused and often anxious and fearful due to all the 'truths' they are hearing and the pressures to 'conform.' Having a calm demeanor helps steady them. Our resting in God's peace and provision; provides desperately needed stability for them. Please do not take their immediate reactions as the truth. Hang in there with them. Keep asking questions. “What do you mean by that?” “Where did you learn that?" "I've never heard that pronoun/word before." "Can you tell me more about it?"
2. Create a loving, safe environment for them: Be willing to listen and ask questions before you share your opinion. Value what they are thinking and feeling, even if you disagree. And be a good role model in the way you choose to communicate. Many kids report that they hear adults criticizing and using judgmental language towards people identifying as 'gay/queer/Trans.' When teens hear disparaging language, they believe you are not safe to share with if they or a friend are contemplating or wrestling with these issues. And MOST ARE because it is the 'water they are swimming' in. "Choice and feelings define your truth" is what the culture shouts to them via social media. In our post-modern/Christian culture, this defines truth. Most kids are reacting to the cultural climate and want to fit in. Statistically, the majority(around 80%) of these kids will grow out of their gender confusion if allowed a safe environment where they can ask questions and have help in making sense of their internal struggles.
3. Keep your boundaries: No matter how hard your kids may come at you with 'new' ideas about gender and choice, lovingly, respectfully, and point them to truth in God’s word, scientific biology, and logical thinking. Remember, the human brain is not fully developed until the early to mid-twenties, with the Frontal Lobe being the last to form. This part of the brain is where your teen’s ability to logically think through pros and cons and perceive the consequences of choices is enabled. As such, Christian and secular parents hold the line of the truth of two genders, which solid science and God's truth confirm. Not panicking if their teens 'choose' to consider another gender, but remaining clear about the facts. And certainly not allowing them to take any steps toward medical
transitioning(which are experimental at best and irrevocable at worst). It's ok to be the 'bad guy .' You can be your teen's safe way of saving face with their peers ("Well, my parents just won't let me.")
4. Remind them who and whose they are: We have the GOOD NEWS for teens. They can rest. They can relax. They can know that their heavenly Father fully knows and loves them. They are created for a purpose, and God has a plan for them. Their identity is in whose they are, not what they think/feel, and certainly not what they look like. Remind them of this. Study Psalm 139 with them. (vs. 25-27 remind us/them that an enemy is at work trying to steal their purpose and identity). Help them look at more important things than their sexuality. Educate them on how the media hyper-sex everything. (ie. Sex sells). Remind them of the eternal truths of character development; pursuing hobbies and other interests; serving others; and seeing their value outside of their gender. And help them see a continuum of interests within their 'femaleness' and 'maleness .'(i.e., Some guys like to sew and sing. Some girls love sports and cars.)
I could say much more on this subject, but let's keep it simple today. Practice the steps above and if you need help, reach out and get it for yourself. Parenting is a community effort, but remember your influence, DOES matter over time. Your kids are listening and watching you, their biggest influencer.
Parenting is a long game of simple, consistent things done and said over time. My 'kids' are now 35 and 30, and I hear feedback that what I did or said in their teenage years mattered. (Some good and some bad).
We are all a mixed bag; God is the ONLY perfect parent. Stay in the game with the kids you influence. Let them know you see them. You care. You want to listen. Hold onto your own truth so they have a model of how it is possible. Stay calm and focused on Jesus and His truth. Your walk of faith will be an anchor of hope that your kids can cling to—an anchor of hope that they can reach for.
How do we help this hurting generation? One kid at a time. Let’s join together and partner with God to turn the tide for this generation. “Jesus looked at them and said, "With man, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible." (Matthew 19:26)