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Parenting troubled teens

Parenting | Reassuring Mom and Dad that they are not alone in their struggles

Teenagers are heading back to school across the country. For some this can be a joyous time, but for those whose kids are in crisis because of self-destructive behavior, it can add yet another layer to an already overwhelming situation for their parents.

If you are a parent of a troubled teen, Jen Hatmaker wants you to know you’re not alone. The Christian author, blogger, pastor’s wife, and star of HGTV’s My Big Family Renovation encourages parents by sharing the story of her friend Amy and her son Landon and how she and her husband face what seems to be an impossible situation by trusting in God and seeking help and support through others who can come alongside them in this struggle.

Hatmaker graciously allowed WORLD to reprint this helpful article, which originally appeared at her website. —Mickey McLean

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I wrote earlier this week about enjoying my teens, and before I keep writing, let me say this TO BE SURE: My kids are ordinary and act total fools sometimes. Don’t imagine that we are skipping through the teen years with nary a rebellion, academic catastrophe, or snotty moody fresh mouth. I will not name names to protect the guilty, but we have run-of-the-mill teens that delight and frustrate in equal measure. That is just normal. Parenting teens is hard. So is parenting toddlers and parenting second-graders and parenting middle-schoolers (sometimes I resort to singing hymns to manage my middles: “HAVE THINE OWN WAY, LORD, HAVE THINE OWN WAY. THOU ART THE POTTER, THESE KIDS ARE SO CRAY.”)

Parenting is hard, zero kids/parents are perfect, not every moment is a pleasure ever—in any stage, for any parent, for any kid, in any context in the history of life. Every person who disagrees with the previous sentence is a liar.

However, even though I am naturally an Older Kid Mom (I recall the Baby Years and get the shakes), I also recognize that my kids thus far—and I do mean thus far—have operated somewhat in the middle of the pack. While they aren’t skipping grades and ending world hunger, neither are they struggling with extreme behaviors, so my experience is fairly ordinary. We are in the middle of the bell curve.

But parents, do you know how many teens are in crisis? In the throes of addiction or self-harm or mental illness or depression? MILLIONS. So do the math: that means millions of parents are suffering alongside teens that are self-destructing.

I want to talk today to the parents in the deepest trenches, absolutely battling for their children’s loyalty or health or even their lives. First, you are not alone. Hear that. Parenting troubled teens often involves silent suffering, which can trick you into thinking you are isolated. An easy target for judgment or shame, so many families in crisis struggle alone, afraid or embarrassed or just too exhausted to reach out. Society expects 3-year-olds to act like lunatics, but we don’t know what to do with a teen that cuts or abuses or destroys or hates herself.

Because we are a people who like to blame, so often parents get the side eye: What did you do wrong? What didn’t you do right? What could you have done differently? The truth is, teenagers are whole human beings and they get to choose their steps. So many troubled teens are beloved, they come from good families, they were rocked and read to and cheered for. There is no parenting formula that ensures any child’s path. Families in crisis don’t need a jury of their peers; they need a community of support. A parent can virtually do everything right and their child can still disappear. What’s more, a parent can virtually engage every good intervention, and their child may stay gone.

Then there is the very real reality of mental illness, addiction, emotional disorders, and trauma that many teens are battling. If our child had liver failure, we would go to the ends of the earth for medical care, the best doctors, the strongest intervention, the greatest support network, and all the earth would rally to our side to fight for her wholeness. So many of our teens are physically broken in their minds and hearts, and the magnitude of their hurt completely overwhelms their capacity to overcome on their own, but instead of a chorus of support, their families receive silence or judgment or disappointment which compounds grief and lays a heavy yoke on those who are already suffering.

I want to introduce you to my friend Amy and her son Landon (name changed). This is my dear friend who has struggled mightily for more than 10 years with her teen. And I mean mightily. The grace and courage she exhibits, well, I just don’t even know how to talk about it. I am so proud to be her friend. She agreed to tell a bit of her story. May it be an encouragement to weary and heartbroken parents.

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