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4 Tips For Helping A Teenager Navigate A Crisis

Facing tragedy can be daunting, but teens can overcome grief and heartbreak with help. Here's how to navigate tragedy thoughtfully with your teens.

My guess is you didn’t sign up for this. Maybe when you signed up to lead teenagers, you thought about church camp or serving together. Maybe you thought about conversations about dating or friends or…well, anything BUT walking them through a crisis.

Any crisis or tragedy in the world of students can leave anybody feeling a little underprepared. Believe me, I’ve been there. That’s why I want to share a few helpful tips for walking a teenager (and their friends and their families) through life’s most difficult circumstances.

Be present.

In times of crisis, you don’t have to know what to say or how to say it. Often, the best gift you could give a student or their family is to simply be present and available to them. If your church has a gathering, make sure to be there and sit beside your students. If not, offer to drop by with a snack or take them out to coffee. And don’t underestimate the value of showing up digitally in a text message or video message. You can send one every day for a little while and every week later on. Even if they don’t respond, simply hearing from you may mean a lot.

Attend to physical needs.

Often, in extreme periods of stress, teenagers may neglect to take care of themselves. A simple way to show care is to show up with bottles of water, tissues, or healthy snacks. Helping a teenager stay hydrated while crying or stay fed while feeling nauseated is a very tangible way to show care in a tough situation. While you can’t keep them from experiencing hurt, you can help them take care of themselves in the process.

Don’t attempt to explain the unexplainable.

In times of grief or crisis, teenagers may ask big questions about God, their faith, and what happens after this life. As a leader, it is okay not to know all the answers. In fact, admitting that you don’t know can build credibility and give them an example of faith when things don’t make sense. Additionally, when teenagers express hurt or anger toward God, it may be tempting to defend God or give overly simplistic answers for really complex questions—neither of which is really helpful at the moment. Rather than giving answers, it can be helpful to practice lament—giving voice to pain and humbly admitting that we don’t often know why God does or does not allow circumstances to occur.

Don’t try to be an expert.

While it is essential to be educated about the basics of trauma, grief, and caring for teenagers, most of us are not professionally trained to provide expert help in a crisis situation. So, one of the most helpful things we can do for ourselves and the teenagers we serve is to listen to what experts say about these situations.

Follow up.

While the immediate aftermath of a tragedy is awful, often, the not-so-immediate aftermath is the most painful. After the first days of response, teenagers may feel lonely or forgotten as they continue to process what happened. This is an excellent time for you to show ongoing care by continuing to be present (both physically and digitally).

We know that if you are a leader navigating crisis, you have to make a million decisions quickly, including reaching out to volunteers, switching up messaging, changing programming, and showing up for students. That’s why we put together a resource called Hurt to help youth ministry leaders equip volunteers while walking through crisis and have messaging to address what is happening in your community. Visit https://thinkorange.com/hurt/  to learn more today.

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