Counseling Youth in Times of Crisis
“Teenagers can be like elephants. If you’ve spent any time around them, this thought has probably crossed your mind, but hopefully wasn’t said out loud.” We sometimes think teenagers aren’t able to go far in life, or be anything but a problem. Living a carefree life not worried about anything or one around them. Some adults have no idea of all the struggles teenagers have to deal with. Just like adults they deal with stress, death, peer pressure, and lots more. It is sometimes hard to see past the shield these youth have put up around them. They will test you until they trust you, but only once they trust you will the real test come. Youth struggle with crisis just like everyone else, and need a counselor or caregiver to help them through it.
“Eight million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder, the most common of which is bulimia nervosa. Eighty six percent of suffers report the onset of the disorder before the age of twenty; only half report being cured. Six percent of serious cases die of the disorder.” This is very serious and should never be taken lightly. It is getting harder and harder to be a youth in our culture. They have to deal with constant scrutiny of their peers and coaches; often comparing themselves to the airbrushed, photo shopped models in todays’ magazines. They try to be perfect while knowing they never can be. Some feel extremely guilty about what they are doing but the stress and guilt only leads to them doing it more.
Here are some characteristics that are hints of Anorexia Nervosa: •Looks not just lean, but abnormally thin
•Extreme attraction/avoidance language and behavior regarding food •Obsessive weighing
•Baggy clothes to hide shape
Now here are some characteristics that are hints of Bulimia Nervosa: •Abnormally frequent trips to the bathroom
•abnormal fixation on exercise, no matter what
•Cuts and calluses on knuckles and backs of hands
•Car or closet smells of vomit
When dealing with this in teenagers the first thing you need to do is make sure they are going to get proper treatment and counseling for their disorder. They need help and telling you was probably very hard, so don’t make them get other help by themselves and also help them inform their parents. Suicide
If you are going to work with youth there is a chance that you will work with someone that has attempted suicide, contemplated suicide or had a friend commit suicide. “Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-old Americans. An average of one person dies by suicide every 16.2 minutes.” A very good friend of mine from high school committed suicide; although no one knows why he did it the last thing posted on his Facebook wall by a friend was the comment “You’re gay”. His friend who posted this goes to the school counselor once a week now; he blames himself for his friend’s death; thinking it was just an innocent joke. Some of the signs that may alert a parent, teacher, youth leader, pastor or friend to a possible suicide attempt include: Previous suicide attempts
Threats of suicide
Talking about death
Preparation of death (cleaning out locker, giving away possessions, etc.) Depression
Sudden change in behavior (acting out, violent behavior etc.) Moodiness
Somatic complaints (sleeplessness, sleeping all the time)
Drafting a suicide note
We need to watch for these signs when dealing with youth and remember it is better to be safe in checking on a youth’s life, than sorry if they take their life. If you ask a teenager about an issue like this, I think, they are more likely to be thankful than to think you upset. And if they are upset about you asking those questions about their feelings and life the chances are they are trying to hide something from you or their parents. When someone comes to us about suicide it is vital that we listen to them and not throw the bible in their face. “Be nonjudgmental. Statements such as “You can’t be thinking of suicide, it is against the teaching of your church” or “I had a similar problem when I was your age and I didn’t consider suicide” are totally inappropriate during a crisis situation.” We as caregivers should never make the care receiver feel unworthy of your time or lower their self-esteem. There are a few different reasons that youth attempt suicide: for attention, depression, loss, manipulation, and lots more. In saying that my sister has attempted suicide three times; she has done it for attention and she has also threatened suicide for the purpose of manipulation. But we should always remember that while the person attempting suicide may be your first concern the family and friends are suffering just as much if not more. One of the times she was threating to commit suicide she grabbed a kitchen knife and tried to run to her room. Her boyfriend saw her grab it and was attempting to take it from her when my then 9 year old brother walked into the house. He could not see the knife and didn’t know what was going on; he only knew that his sister looked like she was being beaten up by her boyfriend. Naturally the first thing he did was try to get her boyfriend off of her. This led to the boyfriend yelling at my brother, “Go away! She is trying to kill herself.” When my brother heard this he ran to his room in tears. It was his snapping point after losing two of his grandparents and his Dad moving away. Now he is taking three medications and sees a counselor once a week. He has been diagnosed with depression, bipolar, and schizophrenic tendencies. He has never tried to attempt suicide but we a constantly watching for signs and praying for his health. I believe that he will never attempt suicide because we saw the signs as soon as they started to appear. But I believe that way too many times the siblings of the suicide attempter are overlooked and not given the help that they may need. Always remember that suicide affects everyone around that person.
I have never met someone who hasn’t dealt with death in some way; whether that is a friend, a parent, a grandparent, a significant other, a sibling, or they themselves are dying. The five stages of grief are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. These steps may come in order, they may jump around, or experience more than one at a time. There is no correct way to grieve it is a process that is different for everyone involved. Some youth may begin to act out when dealing with grief because; they don’t know what else to do. For some students this may be their first experience with death. When dealing with death we must explain to the youth who is dealing with it that grief is a process. “Listen. When a teenager is grieving, this isn’t the time to view the conversation as a teachable moment. You don’t need to correct his perceptions or theology, nor do you need to give advice. You need to quietly and attentively listen to him.” When a teenager losses a parent or parents, make sure they don’t just jump into their new adult responsibilities before they are ready. Help them to realize the changes that have to be made in their daily life with the death of this person. Let them see what has to be changed and what kind of help they need to do that. Always make sure to be available to youth after a death. Be the one to text or call them they won’t always take the initiative to ask for help. Some common mistakes youth workers make when helping a teenager deal with grief are: Being overbearing, looking for teachable moments, hiding their own grief, etc. We want to help but we need to still be aware that the youth has a whole lot to deal with and needs some space to process everything. One of the worse things you can do is try to teach a grieving youth theology; they have enough to worry about and don’t need to have your opinions shoved at them too. Also you can’t help a youth grieve with death if you’re not grieving. They are going to assume that you don’t care about the person that has died and therefore can’t help them. Remember not everyone grieves in the same way. When my Memaw passed away I didn’t cry and question God but, my little brother did. You may be dealing with more than one grieving youth at a time especially if the deceased person is a fellow youth in your group of students. You need to make sure that you let all of your youth know you are there for them and that they all are aware of what is going on. “The first time a youth group meets following the death of a teenager, the gathering needs to be structured to address the students’ grief.” Whatever you do don’t try to continue on with routine activities or whatever series y’all were studying. This can lead to teenagers doubting that you care about them and what they’re going through. Give them assurance that the youth room is a safe place and nothing said there will be made as public knowledge. Encourage youth to tell funny and joyful stories about the deceased and, make it well known that if they need to talk in private that you are available for them. Make sure that the youth gets closer; whether that is by praying or telling something to the deceased’s grave. They need to be able to tell them whatever it is or it will eat them up inside. They also need to know that the deceased didn’t die not knowing if they loved them. When losing a parent most likely a youth’s last words with them weren’t very pleasant and they probably in some way shape or form they blame themselves no matter how the deceased died. We as humans need closure to make everything right in our mind. While you will never move on, life does continue and we have to jump back in when we’re ready. When they think they are ready make sure you are ready for the possible break downs; and tough counseling sessions after the youth tries to return their life to normal.
Drugs and Alcohol
“One third of eighth graders use illicit drugs; nearly 50 percent of twelfth graders use them.” We want to believe that our kids don’t experiment with drugs and alcohol but, the sad truth is once in twelfth grade half of them use them. It’s said that using drugs like LSD during late night parties is a common practice. One drug that has become a lot more popular to our youth is marijuana. Now that it is legal in Colorado and Washington State; we have even less of a chance to keep it away from our teens. It won’t be long before it is legal in every state; which makes it so easy to access for our youth. A study involving fifty thousand junior and seniors in high school found an increase in use of marijuana and LSD, and a less critical attitude towards those who use drugs. A more serious condition is alcohol dependence. Dependence is defined as experiencing three of the following symptoms over a period of a year: 1.Using alcohol in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended. 2.Failing to control or diminish the use of alcohol even though one tries or desires to lessen usage. 3.Spending more time on activities that enable the consumption of alcohol (e.g., obtaining money to spend on alcohol) 4.Suffering impairment in carrying out expected obligations (e.g., school work) because of intoxication or withdrawal symptoms. 5.Withdrawing from everyday activities because of alcohol use. 6.Continuing use of alcohol even though one knows it is the cause of or a factor in a recurring physical, psychological, or social problem. 7.Developing tolerance for alcohol with a corresponding need to increase the amount of alcohol consumed in order to get the same effect. 8.Experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
9.Using alcohol to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
If you notice a youth seems to always be intoxicated or withdrawing from alcohol consumption you should help them seek treatment immediately. They may even realize they have a problem and want help just don’t know how to ask for in. There is a wide array of behavior that can indicate that the adolescent is abusing a substance. Among them are the following: 1.Withdrawal from everyday activities
2.Relationships with peers who use drugs
3.Lack of interest in physical appearance
4.Decreased interest in making an impression on others
5.Lack of interest in school and school related activities
6.Constant need for money
7.Lack of energy or continual fatigue
8.Moodiness or impulsive display of angry and hostile feelings 9.Accidents while driving
10.Involvement in deviant behaviors such as stealing or truancy 11.Secretive behaviors or growing communication problems with parents and other adults 12.Overall decline in responsibility
Drugs can have very bad impact on your life leaving you mentally and physically behind your friends if you are ever able to quit using and not relapse. You have to play catch up and figure out who you really are. You can be born with an addiction to drugs or alcohol if your mother uses while pregnant with you. This can be a very hard thing to deal with as a youth; knowing that if they experiment with drugs or alcohol there is a higher possibility that they will become addicted after only the first use.
Not many people want to tackle this topic because it is so controversial but, when youth are dealing with it you can’t just tell them how you feel about it theologically and be done with it. They don’t know what’s going on and are more than likely angry that they aren’t what humanity perceives as normal. We have to be understanding and nonjudgmental towards a youth that comes to us with this problem. There are numerous theories of homosexuality identity development, although, no one model explains them all. One of the hardest parts is to determine when to self-disclose with their peers and parents. You need to be there for them when they tell their parents; because even if you know how to be understanding a parents reaction may not be as controlled as it should be. The parent may lash out and you need to be there to remind them that this is still their child who they love unconditionally. Depending on what kind of school they go to they may be bullied and outcast for being lesbian or gay.
There is an age old debate on whether people are gay based on nature or nurture. “The nature proponents say sexuality---maleness or femaleness---is determined strictly by the amount of testosterone and other hormones in the womb at critical development stages.” “The nurture camp claims boys and girls learn to be boys and girls in their families and community through a process that overrides the effects of biochemistry.” My opinion is that people are born that way because in all of my experience not a single girl I know who has identified as lesbian was treated any different than any straight girl I know. I grew up wearing boy shorts and t-shirts everywhere, doing what some would say isn’t appropriate for little girls such as playing with dumb trucks and mud and playing football. And yet it didn’t make me a lesbian, it has just made me a well-rounded person. I believe that when it comes to this topic just like slavery and abortion there will always be people who don’t agree but, that’s just part of being human.
Some will say that they have the ability to stop be gay or lesbian. In all of my experience not one of the gay or lesbian person I know that haven’t fought it, tried denying it, or tried to pray it away. They may suppose their sense of guilt to homophobic rejection from society, or their religious upbringing. When it comes to homosexuality you have to deal with each case on its own and help the youth through their problems. About one in every ten young people deal with the problem of homosexuality. Some researchers reported that gay and lesbian youth are more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual youth.
I also believe that it is likely for someone to go years and years even get married before coming out of the closet. My Mom is a lesbian; she didn’t come out until I was in the fourth grade. After having three children and trying to keep her true feeling bottled up inside she couldn’t handle it anymore. She is a Christian and so is the rest of my family but, we love and accept her just the same. She just like every LGTBQ person and every straight person deserve the chance to find true happiness and love. No one should have the power to deprive anyone of love or happiness. In our constitution it stats we the people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness not we the straight people. Therefore we need to be careful when counseling a youth on this subject because; saying that it’s not right is saying they aren’t allowed to be happy.
In age 17-18 of youth that attend church 95% have held hands with someone of the opposite sex; 86% have embraced with some kissing; 74% have French kissed; 55% have fondled breasts; 44% have fondled genitals; and 27% have had sexual intercourse. A lot of teens experiment with sex because of lack of knowledge about the subject. Teens now have dirty little secrets about still being a virgin; they lie to their peers about having sex so they aren’t outcast from their friends. Remind teenagers that no matter what their friend say; not everybody their age is having sexual intercourse. It’s possible that the ones pressuring them the most haven’t had sexual intercourse either. More than one million teenagers become pregnant each year. Because teens don’t talk about sex with their parents it is more than likely that they don’t have access to any type of birth control methods. Some may ask the guy to wear a condom, but will still have sex if they don’t have one. In the heat of the moment the girl may fall for the “You’ll like it better without one.”, or “I’ll pull out.” If they do become pregnant it is likely for the mother to drop out of school or get an abortion. When dealing with this they are more than likely to get an abortion from a not so safe place, because of their age, legal barriers, and financial barriers. This can lead to even more problems such as STDs or AIDS.
“Every hour of every day someone under the age of 20 is inflicted with HIV. AIDS is now the fifth leading cause of death among Americans ages 15 to 24 years.” “It is estimated 25 percent of adolescents will develop an STD by the time they graduate from high school.” It is not likely that these students even know that they have a STD. They can go years looking and feeling healthy without any sign of the disease, but continuing to infect other people. Not all youth are comfortable telling their parents or even their doctors that they are sexually active. They may even be ashamed that they had sexual intercourse and afraid of what might happen. We need to make sure to inform the parents with the student’s knowledge of your plans to talk to their parents.
When counseling a youth the first thing you should do is make sure they will receive a proper medical examination to check for STDs, HIV, AIDS, and pregnancy. Realize that this is a big step for them to talk to you about it so don’t get angry with them or they might not receive the treatment they need for fear of upsetting their parents. Always remember to be supportive and not force them to listen to your theological views. Don’t just tell them it’s bad and they should practice celibacy; help them talk to their parents about it and discuss all the real risks associated with having sexual intercourse. Divorce
Divorce affects all ages and tends to leave children getting used as bargaining chips. Children have to internalize four kinds of messages from a family breakup: Humiliation, guilt, distrust, and lowered expectations. …these kids must contend with the adjustment issues that result from family disruptions: •Custody --- who will live with whom and when and where?
•Emotional upheaval in the custodial parent
•Hostility between parents
•Financial stress as a result of maintaining two households •Increased responsibility for day-to-day household operations •Anger toward parents, dates, and stepparents
•New household rules and roles
We have to be there for the youth to help them through all of the transitions and changes. Make sure they know you are available to talk. Plan to go over to their house to bring a meal or something needed during this time. Also be there to just listen or take the adolescent to do something normal in this chaotic time.
Don’t allow the teenager to blame themselves for the divorce and if you see that they are reach out to the parents for help in reassuring the youth that the divorce is not their fault. Be there to comfort them and spend a little more time with them. Remember they are going to have a hard time trusting anyone after a divorce; the one thing that’s supposed to be forever in their life has been shattered. If you make plans with them make sure to follow through the last thing they need is for you to bail on them too.
Divorce shakes you off the ground
Divorce whirls you all around.
Divorce makes you all confused
Divorce forces you to choose.
Divorce makes you feel all sad
Divorce pushes you to be mad.
Divorce makes you wonder who cares
Divorce leaves you thoroughly scared.
Divorce makes a silent home
Divorce leaves you all alone.
Divorce is supposed to be an answer
Divorce, in fact, is emotional cancer.
--- Ten year-old Chicago girl
This just goes to show every age group deals with divorce. Divorce can leave you broken and hurting. We need to be there as that loving, compassionate, stability when a youth is dealing with a divorce. We tend to sometimes get too involved and blur the lines between youth and youth worker. Remember to keep boundaries in place when dealing with a teenager looking for affection.
We must be prepared for almost anything when dealing with youth. They can be just as if not more complicated than adults. Teenagers can be very needy and we have to make sure they get the attention they need, when they need it. “Each of these situations could be helped in some way by an adult simply being there and walking through it with the students.” In my experience teenagers mostly just need someone to actually listen to them and not judge them or make fun of them. Make sure to give them their space though one thing they don’t want or need is another parent in a time of crisis they just want a friend. “If we pray and seek God about how we can intentionally serve the adolescents in our churches, we can begin to see some systemic change inside the church and in our communities. I believe we can see a generation of adolescents that are doing great things and committed to their faith.” Make them aware that people are there for them and still love them no matter what they do.
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