The Anguish of Adolescence: How May We Help?

The Anguish of Adolescence

Adolescent angst and anguish are not pithy statements being used to grab the interest or attention of readers. These terms are representative of the majority of young people with whom I share life every week. Therefore, my emphasis in each blog will be to share what I am learning and perhaps enable others to actively walk alongside people during their frequent seasons of distress, anxiety, depression, and life challenges. The following story is a true encounter with a high school junior I interviewed. Names have been changed to protect anonymity.

I was sitting across from Ally who chose not to make eye contact during our face-to-face interview. This was unlike our usual banter during weekend interactions where she provided her full attention and a smiling apt reply. These regular encounters usually ended with a laugh as she rejoined her friend group at a nearby table. At our interview, she was honest yet hesitant as she weighed each question carefully. Nearly every reply seemed painful. Her guard was up more than usual and though always frank remained distant—a trait that did not normally describe Ally.

Having struggled years-long with anxiety and depression, she was at a low point. Her prescribed medication did not quell the tormenting suicidal thoughts. Ally was one of eleven teens who shared with me the effect that anxiety and depression wielded over them. Because I am unable to relate to their daily despair, I lean on Robert Schreiter’s four-step approach to contextualize my theological method. That is, there are a few steps that have proven helpful as I apply theology to real human interactions. Listening to teens like Ally is merely the starting place as I open culture to learn the stories of the young people who frequent the teen center.

The course I take to better understand and relate to young people is shaped by Schreiter’s work in Constructing Local Theologies.[1] You too may find this resource beneficial as you seek to learn more about your community and the people in it. He acknowledges that “local theology is the dynamic interaction among gospel, church, and culture.”[2] Schreiter prescribes four steps toward an opening of theological development to contextualize the gospel. Critical here is how the gospel of God’s kingdom shapes my mission to local teenagers whose scars are ever-present, whether emotional, psychological, or physical. To truly know them is to be attentive to their stories. This blog is the result of research conducted during the writing of my doctoral thesis. I will describe what I learned and how I continually work through the process of being present with and listening to adolescents while also offering guidance.

[1] Robert Schreiter, Constructing Local Theologies (Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books, 1999).

[2] Ibid., 22.

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