Seen: Healing Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teens Through the Power of Connection

If you love a child or teen who is being suffocated by despair, depression, and/or anxiety, you as a parent or caring adult have incredible power to help turn the tide. But not with old tools of encouraging cliche band aids or logical reasoning. You can make a big difference when you:

  • Show up
  • See them
  • Just listen
  • Speak life
  • Build grit

Why is this Critical?

Our young people are facing a pandemic of anxiety and despair that threatens their very lives.

  • Since 2007 Suicide rates have increased by 76% for ages 15-19
  • The highest increase in suicide rates is in kids 10-14 years old (Seen, pages xi and 4).

Why Can’t I Use Logic?

Reasoning with someone who is wrestling with strong emotion simply will not work. Why? They are functioning in the right side of their brain.

  • Right Side of the Brain: Responsible for emotional processing. The amygdala processes creativity, attachment, and things like “fight, flight, or freeze.”
  • Left Side of the Brain: Responsible for logical processing, planning, organizing, and choosing.

When the amygdala is activated and the person is in “fight, flight, or freeze,” the left side of the brain is turned off. This means you must:

Meet right brain with right brain and left brain with left brain.”

Seen: Healing Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teens Through the Power of Connection page 40

In other words, when a young person is dealing with strong emotions, don’t lecture (which breeds shame) but connect with them about those emotions.

You Have Incredible Influence

The brain of the young person you love is blessed by God with incredible neuroplasticity. This means that even thought it is stuck in a dark place right now, it can change. As Will Hutcherson and Chinwe Williams say,

Brains are wired to respond to love and empathy, even when we are in despair”

Seen: Healing Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teens Through the Power of Connection page 18

But How Can You Make a Difference In Their Despair through Connection?

Show Up

Be present for them. Completely present. Put your phone down- put it away if you have to. That way, you can show up undistracted. Show up before they ask. Show up for the things that matter to them. Show up often. And show up when they are hurting.

See Them

See beyond their behavior to what they feel. Stop taking personally what they say, and listen with empathy to what is underneath. Don’t shame them, tell them why they failed, or dismiss how important what they are saying is. Jumping to logic will dismiss their feelings and push them away. If you feel the feeling with them, you give them space to emotionally exhale.

  • Ask them how they feel. (If they aren’t sure, ask: Do you feel…lonely? hurt? angry? embarrassed? ashamed? alone? afraid?)
  • Pull out a Feelings Wheel to help them name their emotions.
  • Consider asking, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”

Just Listen

Active listening to someone hurting is one of the most powerful, effective gifts you can give. Look them in the eye with empathy and choose to listen. Ask questions that help them keep going, like, “Tell me more.” Using a caring tone of voice and appropriate physical touch can help as well. Lecturing breeds shame, so try listening more.

Speak Life

Repeated affirmation and sincere, specific encouragement breed hope. Help them learn how to challenge automatic negative thoughts. Hutcherson and Williams give specific ways to do this in Chapter 6 of Seen.

Build Grit

As Michael Anderson and Timothy Johanson explain in Gist: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids, every child needs to learn the lesson that life is hard and involves things like failure, hurt, pain, and disappointment. As Jesus said, “In this world, we will have trouble.” (John 16:33). Kids need to be nurtured and coached in how to prepare for trouble and reframe their thoughts for resilience and grit.

Much of the above is gleaned from the wisdom of Will Hutcherson and Chinwe Williams in Seen: Healing Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teens Through the Power of Connection.

Learn more by reading their book and checking out the other resources they reference.

Help Them Heal

As the Great Physician, God Himself longs to help our young people heal. He is the best one to help get to the root of the issues causing despair- and heal them. You are Worthy Ministries has exceptional classes to train in how to heal. They also offer a Season of Healing, which your child might truly benefit from.

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Photo Credit: Designed by Angela Edmonds with background photo by Photo by Alessio Soggetti on Unsplash and content from the book Seen: Healing Despair and Anxiety in Kids and Teens Through the Power of Connection.

Copyright ©  2023 Angela Edmonds. All rights reserved.


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