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Three tips for mentoring teens

One of the hardest parts about growing up in a Christian home is dealing with doubt.

My doubts about faith came early in my teens, and I can recall feeling like there must be something wrong with me. Having taken classes, watched my parents and grandparents harness their faith in trying times, and having seen some miraculous things, I still had a ton of questions. I still wondered if what I was seeing was actually God or if it was just coincidence. And I just knew that if I dared ask my parents or admit to my family that I was curious about other faiths and explanations, they’d go nuts. Surely they’d ground me, or worse--they’d tell me that they were disappointed.

Of course, I know now that my fears about talking to my family were unfounded. I could have reached out to them, and if I had, I’d have found out that they had the same questions at one point. I can’t help but think that the trials and the confusion I experienced would have been lessened if only my fear hadn’t got in the way. I’ve had wonderful, deep conversations with family members since then. I’ve learned a lot about faith, and I’ve also taken notes and learned a few things about creating a positive place where questioning can happen.

Thinking about what I really needed, and what others shared with me about their own times of questioning, I came up with a sort of framework--three things that I can offer to help my own kids, as well as the teens I mentor, when questions arise.

Three things parents and mentors can offer teens

1)    A safe place to question without fear of judgement: In psychology, there’s this thing called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s a pyramid and points to the things a person needs in order to learn and grow. At the base of the pyramid is safety, both emotional and physical. A feeling of being safe is the first thing required for people to grow.

When I’ve mentored teens, I’ve always made sure that they know they're not alone. I share my past with them, and I let them know that no matter what they say or ask, I’m not going to hold it against them. This creates a sense of safety that allows them to open up.

2)    Study materials: I like to keep a few books on my shelf that can give more information about faith, apologetics, and even about rival faiths. It helps me to be prepared to look for answers, and it gives me something to hand off to someone with questions. Often I like to lend these books to a young adult and then make a plan to meet over coffee or ice cream to talk about what they read. Basing the conversation on what professionals have found rather than just my opinion helps a lot.

3)    More experiences: In the book, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, Lucy (one of the main characters) gets the chance to see Narnia before anyone else. She loves it and tries to tell her family, but they don’t believe her. As the days press on, and her siblings continue to tell her that it didn’t happen, Lucy, herself begins to wonder if she had just dreamed her adventure. This can happen with faith as well. We can experience God, we can see the miraculous, but we tend to doubt ourselves when those around us discredit us.

The best way to avoid being Lucy is to continuously offer ourselves up to the service of God and stay connected to him through study, communion, and shared experiences.

Are there any other tips you would add for mentoring teens?

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