More on the Mental Health Crisis in Teens


Have you noticed the increasing reports on the mental health crisis in teens? It shows up in every resource and podcast I follow. Though Jonathan and I recently put the spotlight on this area in our episode of Concurrently: Mental health crisis and means of grace, I want to expose more of what we have learned in the area of mental health and teens and point you to some trustworthy resources and voices. They have informed our thinking, feeling, and actions in response to the crisis.

Our observations and analysis began when researching in preparation for recording episodes of Concurrently. Our work for Tiktok influencers and the weight of glory, Video gaming and creation rhythms, Girl power and God’s purpose for gender, and School shooters and creating safe spaces revealed more material than we can effectively wrangle in single episodes. I want to return and synthesize some of our findings here in the hope that what I have to share with you today reinforces your own discipleship efforts and provides practical helps for navigating these difficult waters.

In the course of our research, we observed that a complex relationship exists between external factors, behaviors and habits, and both internal causes and responses, creating a perfect recipe for mental and emotional unhealth. External factors include traumatic or “Adverse Childhood Experiences” (ACEs defined here) and range broadly between highly traumatic to somewhat traumatic and multiple factors may be experienced at once, to a compounded effect. “Toxic stress” from prolonged or extended exposure to stress-inducing factors directly affect child development physically, emotionally, and cognitively. Internal factors such as the challenges of rapid brain and body development occurring particularly in the teen years further complicate the picture. As one might expect, the data demonstrate that mental illness has uniquely female and uniquely male manifestations. Consider the “normal” (non-adverse) challenges disparate between male and female children as they adapt to hormones and bodies unique to each. The various expressions of mental illness, why it occurs, and even when (what is happening in the body and the mind at the time) relate to different biological, psychological, neurological, chemical (hormonal/endocrinal) systems through the various developmental stages. Again: These things differ vastly depending upon whether one is a boy growing into manhood or a girl growing into womanhood.

Succinctly, it is vital that we as parents, teachers, mentors of kids and teens “show up” in the lives of the children in front of us to help them make their best bid for mental and emotional health—helping foster resiliency as much as we are able through a faithful response.

“Showing up” might look like:

  • Practicing awareness of screen usage in your home and applying healthy limits. Pediatricians generally recommend the following guidelines:
    • Under 2: Zero screen time, except for video chatting with family or friends
    • 2-5 years old: One hour or less per day, co-viewing with a parent or sibling
    • 5-17 years old: No more than two hours per day, except for homework
  • Making intentional use of in-person time (around the table, in the car, on a walk, before bedtime—whenever and wherever you can) with your children. Pursue:
    • Conversations about their day: Draw out what they are experiencing, learning, feeling by asking questions, celebrating the good, grieving together over the broken.
    • Unhurried time for them to ask you questions about your story/experiences.
  • Trusting your intuition/instincts regarding changes in your child’s life and behaviors:
    • emotional expression—are emotions heightened? Numbed?
    • communication—have they stopped talking? Are they using violent language (towards self or others)?
    • gender dysphoria/hatred/confusion or experimentation?
    • engagement of hobbies and habits—listlessness? Loss of interest or good outlets? Adding harmful/destructive habits?
    • sleep patterns—sleeping more or having interrupted sleep patterns?
    • time in fellowship with friends—have their friends changed?
    • attitude towards learning/the future—hopelessness? Inability to find joy in their work or prospects?
    • use of screens, social media, video gaming (or other coping mechanisms)
  • Seeking a presence in the lives of your children’s peers or your peers’ children.
  • Making intentional connections between parents, teachers, youth pastors, grandparents (a network of adult mentors involved in children’s lives).
  • Nurturing the spiritual dimension:
    • Pour into them with the Good News of the Father’s abundant love on display in the person and work of Jesus. In Him, we find our reason for hope which, though it bears fruit in the temporal, is secure for all eternity.
    • Give yourself and them abundant grace just as we have been shown in Christ!
    • Based on what you observe in your kids, trust that it is appropriate to ask other grace-filled helpers (pastors, counselors, etc). There is no shame in needing help! The church is meant to be a gift for encouragement and support to one another.
    • Remember: We have an ultimate helper in the Holy Spirit who is closer than a brother. Turn to Him early, often, together…He intercedes with groans more eloquent than our words.

I’ve sketched a partial picture of what faithful action can look like. I hope it provides some helpful tools and ideas. Even with all these good practices, we cannot control or guarantee outcomes. These are hoped-for—based in that which we cannot see. When we face the challenges of mental and emotional health, even while seeking faithfulness, we must ask ourselves, “Where have I put my trust? In the temporal fix or in the eternal Father?”

I encourage you to read and reflect on Romans 8:18-39 and cling to the promises of this passage.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38-39

For further study: The following trustworthy voices identify the depth and breadth of the crisis, making important connections between mental health, suicidal ideation, and the transgender “craze” and others:

Even more in-depth, these research-based articles help increase our understanding of the connection between development of the brain and body in kids and teens that we might wisely respond:

Kelsey Reed

Kelsey Reed

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