In a recent study, it was found that 1 in 3 Singapore adolescents experienced mental health symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and loneliness. This was more serious among those aged 14 to 16 years. Having real-life support systems and people to talk to (spouses, family, friends, professional help) is important to anyone. This is especially so for teenagers as they may not know how else to cope with stress. According to a youth survey done by TODAY in 2022, those with no sources of support (friends, family etc.) struggled the most with their mental health, while those who had more than two sources of support reported having better mental health.
As a church, we can and should be one of these sources of support for the youths in our midst (1 Thess 5:11). As more emotionally and spiritually mature adults, we are in a position to guide our youths and speak into their lives. Most of the questions that youths struggle with can be distilled into 3 questions: “Who am I?”, “Where do I fit in?” and “What difference can I make?” When a youth opens up to us, instead of being directive and giving them all the answers, let us gift them with our presence. By listening, as in James 1:19, and asking questions, we are able to lead them to discover better answers regarding their identity, belonging and purpose.
Our presence should be accompanied by empathy (Romans 12:15). Not to judge when they tell us things, but instead to journey with them through the issue. I recently learnt 2 ways to practice empathy from a podcast by Fuller Youth Institute.
Lesson 1: Remember that We Struggled Similarly Before Too. At the recent youth camp, the topic of relationships came up one night. A youth commented that it was easy to feel like one is missing out because everyone around that youth was in relationships. I must admit, I rolled my eyes (internally) multiple times during the conversation, and tried to assure the group that they were still young and they should be concentrating on their studies. In hindsight, I realised I was too dismissive of their feelings. Not only that, I remembered that I too had these thoughts as a youth. I struggled with my identity – wondering if something was wrong with me or if I was unworthy to be loved by someone else. What I should have done was to acknowledge this youth’s worries, and assure them that they are worthy and that their identity is not tied to their relationship status. Incidentally, since the youth camp message was on Identity, I could have used it as a spring board to help the youth process to seek a better answer biblically and practically.
Lesson 2: Learn to be Curious. When we hear a new slang or see a new social media trend or when we witness actions or social media posts we don’t approve of, we can ask questions instead of reacting. Asking “Tell me more about that”, “help me understand”, or “What did you mean when you said this” can help us build the bridge between the youths and ourselves. Learning to ask these questions also helps clear pre-conceived notions and helps us to better discern whether it is a question of identity, belonging or purpose that the youths are seeking to answer.
The bottom line is this – let us not allow our own insecurities or judgment stop us from getting to know our youth and speaking into their lives. All it takes is a listening ear and giving them a safe space, knowing that they are not judged and that we are genuinely curious about their lives. This is how we can be a safe space for them and let them thrive in their mental health.
By Benita Lin (one of our Youth Overseers)