I’ve worked in youth ministry for more than a decade now. I’ve come to know countless teenage hearts, but their depth still amazes me. Their burdens are overwhelming. Teen problems are real and painful. But teens are often too afraid to admit many of their struggles to their parents.
More than once, I’ve had teens divulge secrets that they’ve never admitted to another soul, including their own parents. Other youth ministers and teachers have had similar experiences. Here are 5 of the most common teen problems that your kids tell us, but are too afraid to tell you.
“I think I have [insert appropriate mental illness here].”
It could be depression or anxiety, an eating disorder or PTSD from a bad childhood experience. But they’re ashamed to admit their “weakness” to you. If your child has ever given you reason to believe that they might be struggling in this way, approach them about it in a one-on-one setting to encourage them to open up to you. Your mom instincts about teen problems are probably not wrong.
“I feel overwhelmed by the pressure to be perfect.”
Academics, athletics, and extracurriculars- teens feel like they need to do it all, and do it perfectly. Even the smartest students are struggling to keep up with the amount of work they are assigned. They are competing with peers, their own expectations, and your expectations for them. But they don’t tell you that they’re exhausted because failure to succeed would mean letting you down, and they’re terrified to disappoint you. Be sure to constantly affirm that your children just need to do their best, even if their best is not perfect.
“I have dreams, but my parents don’t believe in them.”
Teens don’t always have the maturity to realize that their dreams are unrealistic, but high school is a great time for dreaming. They don’t need to know what they want to be when they’re in high school. They barely need to know what they want to be in college. But teens are often too afraid to admit their dreams because they don’t think you believe in them. Give your sons and daughters the space to try new things, change their minds, and explore different career paths; there’s a lot of room for detours in high school and even college.
“I don’t agree with my parents about ____, but I feel like I can’t be honest.”
They desperately desire your approval, so they’re willing to swallow their own opinions rather than risk offending you. As a result, they’re stuck- either they risk your disapproval or they risk betraying their own integrity. And it’s incredible how often they choose to be more like you, even if it means being less like themselves. Consider asking for your teen’s opinion on different topics and current events to encourage them to voice their own thoughts, and always thank them for their openness.
“I really want to have sex, but there’s no way I can talk to them about it.”
If sexuality’s a taboo topic in your home, most teens will be too uncomfortable to approach you when they go from thinking about sex to actually having it. Parents can work to be proactive in this area- if you’ve provided a firm foundation for lessons on sexuality and intimacy when your children are younger, teens will be more likely to talk to you when they need advice, but parents can also use one-on-one time to encourage their teens to talk.
You can’t force your teen to open up. That tends to be counterproductive. Instead, remember that teens are longing for unconditional love and security from you. They are terrified of rejection and disapproval, but if they can believe that you will never stop loving them and that they are safe with you, your teens will be more likely to be honest with you.
What can you do to be a safe haven for your teen to reveal their feelings and struggles?