teenage depression - teen woman sitting thinking isolated on white

The Secret Lives of Teens

They scare me sometimes, I confess. Or they have in the past.

The tough-looking ones who are angry and sad at the world, bristling for a fight. Bored teens milling at store entrances, or jostling each other on the side of the road.Or the teen girls on the cutting edge of fashion, as I am suddenly aware of my thrift store bargains.

My mom is a petite woman with dark swirled hair and blue eyes in a lovely Irish combo. Walking out of her yard to a commotion recently, she saw several inner city teens look up guiltily from where they had been throwing rocks and kicking over garbage cans in the alley. Stepping near, she chose a disarming gentleness, pausing to greet them, look them deep in the eyes, and asking how they were doing. They stopped, flustered.

“I wanted to diffuse the situation, and let them know someone cared,” she told me later.

She knows a secret. Because the truth is: everyone is a bit terrified. Not of teens (well, maybe that too some days) but of what they see in themselves, and the questions about whether they are loved and loveable, or beautiful, or man enough, or valuable.

When we stop and get that answered for ourselves about who we are — who Jesus says we are, and who he says He is– then we can inhale strength, and turn to answer that question in another’s eyes.

Because they are all asking it. The teens in front of the grocery store and on the city bus, and the ones who live next door to you. That sullen macho mask? It just hides the questions they are all asking. The questions we are familiar with too.

This weekend I had the opportunity to spend three days with 65 teens and adults in a camp setting. I saw them interacting in ways that delighted and amazed me. They tied on red and black aprons and ran tray-loads of dirty dishes through industrial-sized dishwashers. I saw them tie on orange-striped aprons and sweep floors, wash down tables, help prepare meals, and scrub pasta-encrusted pots. In between gagaball games and polar bear plunges, I watched teens reach out to special needs children and shyer new people on the fringe and pull them in to join the groups of happy conversations. I heard teens cry as they broke down and shared stories of God talking to them through Bible verses and worship songs, and I observed nearby friends lean in for comforting hugs.

The teens around you? They can change the world. They just need to know who they are. Only Jesus can completely answer their questions, but we get to gently disarm the teens and adults we encounter with our words, lives, and humble care.

And watch them transform this world then!

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  1. Floyd on October 29, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    Funny thing about teens; they're like the rest of humankind, they want to know that they matter individually and when they get treated as such they respond in amazing ways. God calls us to treat them the way Christ would have. I think back to the adults that treated me as an individual with respect that I hadn't earned and that is the way I try to treat teenagers… Worked well for all the years I spent coaching them…

  2. Jayne on October 29, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    I love working with teens! They aren't as scary as everyone thinks. They can be very respectful, polite and helpful. They just want to know that somebody cares! I encourage anyone to work with them. They are just people. And remember, we adults were once teens too, needing the same thing they do…Love.
    Jennifer, I am featuring your blog on mine tomorrow. I just had to share your blog with my readers!

  3. Anonymous on October 30, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    BEAUTIFUL! I love this… LOVE LOVE LOVE this. This motivated me so much.

  4. Mark Luker on October 30, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I feel this same way with anyone with whom I feel I can't relate…and now I realize that each time I shrink away from sharing God with them is glory lost to God. Very good read!

  5. Dontmissyoursunsetlady on November 3, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing such words of hope Jennifer!

  6. Dolly@Soulstops on November 6, 2013 at 12:56 am

    Wow, Jennifer, what an incredible experience to see those teens loving and experiencing God's love for them. And what a lovely example of your mom showing love to teens, that maybe don't feel loved or noticed very often…Blessings to you 🙂

  7. Jennifer Dougan on November 9, 2013 at 1:27 am

    It's true, Floyd, huh? The adults from my teen years who talked to me politely and in care, stand out in my mind still.

    Have a great week,

  8. Jennifer Dougan on November 9, 2013 at 1:29 am


    I agree! Isn't working with teens fun? Thank you. I'm honored to be featured on your blog. Please forgive my dreadful delay in getting back to you. I was out of the state for a week or so.

    Thanks for working with teens too.


  9. Jennifer Dougan on November 9, 2013 at 1:36 am


    Thank you! Nice to talk with you again. 🙂

    Please feel free to forward this onto anyone you feel this may benefit.

    Have a great week,

  10. Jennifer Dougan on November 9, 2013 at 1:39 am


    Nice to meet you. Wow, your thought on when we shirk away from sharing God with someone that it misses a chance to shine God's glory is an intriguing way to look at it. Thanks for this perspective and reminder.

    Have a good week,

  11. Jennifer Dougan on November 9, 2013 at 1:41 am


    My pleasure to have you here.


  12. Jennifer Dougan on November 9, 2013 at 1:42 am


    I learn so much from watching these teens, and from my mom and dad. They are stellar people.

    Thanks for stopping in here.


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