A Note from Lifeway Girls: In August, we hosted our first webinar on teen girl mental health and anxiety. Those who registered were able to submit questions for biblical counselor, Megan Burns, to answer. We had SO many good questions. In case you missed it, we are recapping the top 5 questions asked below. Please know everything discussed below is meant to be general information about anxiety and mental health; it is not intended to be professional counsel for any individual. We are not liable for how this information is used.
1. How do you distinguish between normal stress or sadness and a more pervasive struggle?
Our struggle with emotions happens on a broad spectrum, ranging from normative to debilitating. To try and distinguish how difficult and pervasive your girl’s struggle is, you’ll want to consider three things: frequency, duration, and impact on lifestyle. How often is she struggling with big emotions? Is it once or twice a month, once a week, or an everyday occurrence? How long do these episodes last—a few hours, a few days, or more than a week? And how much is it impacting her lifestyle? Is she able to push through and maintain relationships and responsibilities, or is a good bit of her daily functioning inhibited by these difficulties? Another question to ask is if her emotional struggles are purely oriented around particular situations, or if they come up at other times when not prompted by difficult circumstances. Each person and situation is different, but asking these questions can often help you discern whether your girl’s stress or sadness is more normative, or more of a pervasive issue that’s ever-present and destructive.
2. What are some common root issues?
The core message of anxiety says that something we love or value is being threatened (or might be in the future). So in order to figure out the root issue, we can ask what it is that we love and value and want to protect. For teens, some common examples include performance and perfection, the opinion of people, health and independence. Another common root for teens is a struggle with identity—they define themselves based on the standards of the world and things that are not lasting. For many of us, a root issue of anxiety is our pride—pursuing self-dependence and self-governing rather than depending on God and being submitted to Him.
3. How to balance giving her space to process emotions but also point to truth?
Your teen girl needs you to be a safe place to land when she feels overwhelmed and in turmoil. For you, this means a willingness to acknowledge the reality of her struggles and listening in order to understand what’s going on in her heart and mind. But, like a camera lens that’s zoomed in all the way, her struggles are overwhelming and clouding her vision. So she needs your help to zoom out, get perspective, and see truth clearly. Remind her that her emotions don’t tell the whole story, and that God’s voice is what she needs to listen to above all. She needs to look at her emotions in order to understand and process through them with God, but she shouldn’t let them dictate or define truth. Teaching your teen how to lament would be a great tool to enable her to take her struggles to God in a humble and honest way. Remember that pointing your girl to truth should be about offering her hope and life, not shaming or condemning.
4. What if parents are opposed to counseling?
There could be a number of reasons why a girl’s parents are opposed to her getting counseling. Your first step is to ask good questions and figure out why exactly they’re against it. They may be downplaying their daughter’s struggle or just not understand the benefits of counseling, and a conversation with you could change their mind. Or maybe they’re concerned about a counselor they don’t know having a negative influence on their child, but would feel more comfortable if you or another trusted mentor went to counseling with her. If her parents remain resistant to counseling, you could see if they would be open to their daughter meeting with someone from the church who could just spend some focused time helping her process through her struggles.
5. How should I navigate parenting through the messy entanglement of behaviors rooted in anxiety and fear, but that manifest themselves in daily life looking like stubbornness, defiance, manipulation, disobedience, etc.?
Figuring out how to respond to problematic behaviors when you know they stem from pain or struggle is a hard road to navigate. One of the key things to remember is that your daughter is walking through suffering and needs to be met with understanding and compassion. Instead of rushing to discipline every behavior, take time to ask questions and use discernment. Some punishments may even exacerbate her struggles rather than serving as constructive discipline that helps her grow. After spending time trying to understand the underlying issues that your daughter is struggling with, view this as an opportunity to teach and demonstrate how she can address her anxiety in healthy ways, rather than letting it lead her to mistreat other people. She needs your help to learn the skill of processing her emotions and responding to them well.
Megan Burns is a biblical counselor in Virginia with experience counseling students and parents in the local church. She is married to Brian and enjoys writing about counseling, discipleship and missions on her blog, Remade Whole. Connect with Megan: Blog // Instagram