By the time she was 16, Lacey Sturm had weathered a series of crises, including a tempestuous relationship with her mum, a breakup with a boyfriend and bullying at school. She planned to end her constant pain by taking her own life. Sturm had lost hope, but her grandmother, "Granny," hadn’t.
Granny was not aware of Lacey’s plans but knew something was wrong. On the day Lacey had planned to take her life, Granny insisted that the girl attend a Wednesday night prayer service. There Lacey encountered the pure and perfect love of God that changed her suicide plans. She woke up the next morning with a newfound clarity and restored hope.
When teens feel hopeless, they may display signs of depression, anxiety, self-defeating behaviour and an attitude of helplessness. Lacey recalls her own feelings when she hit bottom: "You don’t care what happens to you and couldn’t care less what happens to the people around you. And that all starts by losing hope."
Because of the way teens’ brains are wired, it is actually more difficult for them to view situations beyond the short term. Which means it’s harder for them to find hope for the future. Here’s what parents can do to help their teens:
Pray with tenacity
Our prayers do make a difference, and we can be assured that God cares deeply for our teens. But our kids still have free will, and we must be careful not to think that praying means a child will never hurt herself. Prayer isn’t a fix-all, but we also may not fully understand how important praying for a child is until we hear stories like Lacey’s.
Lacey, who went on to become the lead singer for Flyleaf, credits the "spiritual, supernatural, prayerful intercession" of her grandmother for her renewed hope. This kind of intense prayer can stoke the fires of hope in parents and their teens as they ask God for confidence in the future He has planned for their families.
Connect with a community
Even when you don’t suspect hopelessness, build friendships with other parents of teens so you can learn from each other. Also, encourage your teen to form a close-knit community of godly friends so he can find the support of others when things become difficult.
Cathy Durst, a licensed counsellor, says, "When depressed teens lose interest in hanging out with other people, this can lead to deeper depression and hopelessness."
If you notice this self-isolating behaviour, do things with your teens that they like, and also encourage them to be with friends, even when they don’t want to leave their room." Support from friends and family can provide a healthy way to process these horrible thoughts and feelings," Durst says.
Hope starves when there doesn’t seem to be a plausible way out of a crisis. That is where many teens live. Fear and anxiety can combine to obscure alternatives that are available to them. Though they may not be able to see that they have a future, they can learn that others have been where they are and that those people found a way out of the hurt. Few things are more powerful than seeing possibilities.
Lacey’s life provides a powerful example of just such a story. As you hear or learn about hope-filled stories, share those with your teen. The stories create opportunities for a deeper discussion that may help your child not feel so isolated and may remind her that someday she won’t feel so much pain.
And try to read the Bible together, even if it’s just a verse here or there. The Bible is the "big story" of how God never leaves or forsakes His people (Lamentations 3:22-23; 2 Thessalonians 3:3). Verses such as Philippians 4:8 can focus a teen’s attention on the positives in life instead of the crisis of the moment.
Don’t ignore the symptoms; it’s always better to overreact than underreact when helping a teen who has lost hope. Lacey survived, and so can your teens, even during difficult times.