Responding to Crisis in a Teenager’s Life (2/2)

Do you know teenagers who are going through a crisis? Maybe it’s a sickness that is long-term and requires altered living or self-care that is exhausting. Or maybe it is an accident that has caused a scar or the loss of movement or paralysis. Sometimes it is the loss of a loved one or the death of a friend. There are many things that cause pain and suffering.

Last week we talked about depression, suicide, bullying, and self-harm.  We talked about the breakup of the family, the problems in society, and the anger in government. All of these things contribute to the stress and anxiety and mental health of teens today. The problems are not going away.

So, how do we as YTH leaders speak to the situations like this in our student’s lives? Here are 7 coping methods to help YTH leaders respond to teens in crisis:

1.       We really don’t know what to do and that’s OK

We can try all kinds of things to help people in a crisis. We may try to say the right things, send someone a gift or flowers or card, prepare meals for them, and a number of other things. But, I’ve learned that a teenager’s response to crisis is personal. Teens respond differently to hardship.

What we need to remember is that sometimes just being there is better than our words or actions. Teens will respond favorably to proximity. They will respond to you just being there. It’s OK to not know exactly what to do if you are simply there.

 2.       Allow the grieving to take place –

An important coping method is allowing teenagers to go through the process and stages of grief. It is not healthy to tell a teenager to move on too quickly. They need to process their feelings with their peers and an adult. Suppressing the feelings of someone in hardship can actually stop the healing process. As YTH leaders, we should not be filtering the feelings that teens have. It is better for them to say how they feel so that those feelings do not bottle up within them.

 It is important to let the steam off and to talk about difficult things. We want teenagers to talk honestly and to be genuine and real. Do not filter the conversation. Let teenagers know they can say anything to you. That way it will be easier for you to know exactly how they feel and to help them. The stages of grief are a good thing to experience when going through a crisis. The range of emotions and feelings put someone on the path of healing.

 3.       Encourage talk –

Talking is a healer. It helps us understand the words in our head when we speak of them to somebody else who can help us process what we mean. The more a person talks after crisis the quicker they heal.

I’ve worked through this personally with the loss of my wife. It was easy for me to sit in silence and rehears the thoughts in my own head and not say anything. But every time I spoke with someone about her death, it brought more healing to me. I understood myself better. I understood the situation better.  There is a popular song by the 21 pilots about this concept. In one of the lines of the song Car Radio it says, “Somebody stole my car radio and now I just sit in silence.”

I understand that we need to formulate our own words and not always play a podcast, or watch a television show, or listen to the car radio. Words are a great healer if we speak them in the presence of a wise person. Don’t let somebody steal your car radio.

4.       Process the stages of grief

Stages of grief are critical part of our healing. The stages of grief include shock, denial, sadness or depression, anger, guilt or pain, blame or regret, and ultimately acceptance. Depending on which psychologist you read, the stages can vary and may include other feelings and responses.  What is clear, is that there are stages that are normal to go through. They do not flag us to think that somebody is abnormal from being stuck in a stage for however long.

As a coping method, the stages require time. Take for instance the guilt or pain stage. Some people can linger in this area because they feel they didn’t do enough or some type of fault is there’s. Teenagers will often do this because they internalize problems. So it will be important to help teenagers move past guilt or pain by assuring them that they are not responsible for this hardship. They are responsible for their response to hardship.

The last thing I want to say about the stages of grief is when we get to the acceptance or change moment. Sometimes teenagers will feel that if they accept this hardship – let’s say the death of a loved one – they are weak or they don’t care anymore. Let’s deal with that more indepth.

5.       Acceptance and change is not disrespect or failure –

I do not believe that accepting death is a failure. In fact, it is faithfulness that we trust God in a situation where we do not know what to say or do. Teenagers often struggle with this because they want to be in control. And if they move on from a crisis too quickly it can bring the guilt of not being able to help. We just need to remember that acceptance and change is not disrespect or failure. Let me explain.

When I began to heal after Jane’s death, I started to feel guilty. Thoughts would come to my mind that I didn’t do enough. That I should have tried something else. But I had to quickly realize that death is not in my hands. And that means accepting her death was not a failure or admission of guilt. Or that I did not love her anymore. And now I’m in the place where all of my memories bring faithfulness to God because I had 34 years with the greatest person I’ve ever known.

6.       Get others involved -

We just finished our mental health podcast the last couple of weeks. Remember, one of the things we talked about was that referral is not a failure. There comes a point when we may not be able to help someone any longer. That is the perfect time to bring somebody else into the conversation. Maybe it is just a fresh set of eyes or ears or words – this can often bring the healing needed.

Other things can happen when we bring another person into the life of someone who is going through a hardship. If we bring in another person who has been through the same thing, it can ease the process. Because now the person who is going through this difficulty realizes they are not the only one. And that kind of experience or relatability can be a coping method that brings healing much quicker. Some of the best healing in a crisis comes when we speak with people who have common experiences as we do.

7.       Death attitudes

Our death attitude is how we view death. Have you thought about that before? What is your view of the loss of life? That perspective is critical to how we handle the loss of a loved one. It can be easy to see the loss of life as a negative thing. That I don’t deserve this. Especially in the West where we have a more natural view of death and how unfair it is. But in the East, the view of death is much more spiritual and a part of life. 

To be honest, this is not an area that I am sympathetic. Empathy is not a strong point for me. I have always had a more spiritual view of death. What I mean by that is that I see death, for the Christian, as a gain and not a loss. Of course, the circumstances around death make it unbearable at times. But, if we could change our death attitudes it would be easier to respond more positively when it happens in our life.


For various reasons, dealing with crisis in teenager’s lives can be difficult. Because they have not yet developed socially and because adolescents have yet to develop in the frontal lobe of their thinking, these can be tough conversations. Take the time to look at the seven coping methods and put them into practice.

Of course, it is not simply these seven methods that will minister to people in crisis. It will take compassion and empathy to truly connect with teenagers. I encourage you to use these practical methods and to always check your attitude as a YTH leader. Our reactions and words at the time of crisis will have a lot to do with how well teenagers recover.

Jeff Grenell