Generation to Generation: Dealing with Denial

Each week we’ll be writing about different ways that we, as leaders, can effectively be examples to our students, and we’ll discuss different topics to talk over with our students. These topics range from relationships to being active in a small group. All of these topics are nuggets every leader can apply to his or her life. It’s our hope that you’ll check back to see what next week’s topic is, and that you can apply what we’ve learned in your own life as a fellow volunteer youth worker.

“Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will thank you forever and ever, praising your greatness from generation to generation.” Psalm 79:13

“I DON’T HAVE A PROBLEM; I CAN QUIT ANYTIME I WANT”

Helping a student deal with an addiction in their life can be difficult, but with prayer and spiritual guidance, and the right program you can help their recovery.

Matt: When we hear the word “addiction,” most of us think about a problem with alcohol or drugs, and while those are certainly issues that students deal with today, they are not the only addictions that teens deal with. Pornography and self-image addictions are affecting a lot of students today. It’s easy to get caught up in an addiction. You do something once or twice, and then three times, four times, and pretty soon you start adjusting your entire life so that you can indulge in your addiction. The fist step is admitting you have a problem, but as a student leader we should also keep an eye open when we think a student has an addiction they are ignoring. I look at students’ Facebook accounts and see who they hang around with, check their status, and their photos to see what they are doing when they are not at church.  Makes me feel like a creeper, but that’s how much I care about the guys that God has placed in my care (Yes, long before you made the decision to become a student ministry leader, God knew who he was going to place in your group!). I also know several students who have a pornography addiction, and have come forward to ask me for help.

At Saddleback Church, we have a program called “The Landing”  that is designed to help teens with hurts, habits and hang ups. It’s recovery designed for teenagers. If your church does not have a program like this, you should look into putting one into place. When a student takes me into their confidence about an addiction, I do two things. First, I let them know I’m there for them, I care, I love them and this does not change my opinion of them. Second, I keep their confidence. If teens don’t trust you they will not come to you for help, I cannot stress that enough. The next thing I do is try and talk them into attending our program. If they are reluctant at first, I try to get them to immediately find an accountability partner. I recently had two students come to my with pornography addictions. I now have them keeping each other accountable. They check either other’s computer and cell phone history, and also know that when they feel tempted they can call each other for help. And I let them know they can call me, anytime, for help. I also pray with them. Not just once, but several times and I remember them on my prayer list.

I also encourage them to replace the bad behavior with good behavior. Instead of spending an hour indulging in an addiction, what if you used that time at the gym, or in a quiet time, or any other activity they normally don’t have time for. Life is about choices, I want them to make good choices, not destructive ones.

Steven: As someone who works with junior high students, I used to be surprised by some of the hurts, habits, and hangups that even 12 and 13 year olds can be struggling with. I shouldn’t be that surprised, as that was only 7 years ago for me, but it seems like now students are having a harder time either expressing these issues to someone or dealing with them on their own. Therein lies the ultimate problem – students don’t typically bring things up unless they’re prodded, or they’ve gotten to a point where they recognize how bad the problem is and they know they need help. Either way, we need to be open and available to them as leaders.

The biggest thing I’ve encountered when dealing with students with habits, addictions, or other issues, is that they have the mentality of “I’m the only one with this problem.” I try to help them realize that there are probably other kids in our group that have the same issues they struggle with, and if possible, help those students minister to each other. Once a student knows he’s not alone with his problem, there is an instant feeling of relief. Last year I was talking to one of my students, and he asked if he could tell me something he hadn’t told anyone before because he was ashamed. I made sure to tell him that I would never judge him or love him any less because of anything he told me. Ever. He opened up to me in a big way that night, and when I told him that I had struggled with some of the same things he was describing, he told me that he felt so much more at ease and at peace with it.

The biggest part of ministering to students when they open up about a hurt, habit, or hangup is making sure you communicate well. You don’t want to throw them off or force them to clam up because you react in an off-putting way or don’t respond appropriately. About a year ago, Dennis posted a list of questions, comments, and tips for talking to students and helping them open up and share. I keep this bookmarked and open it up every now and then to keep myself refreshed, or I look at it when I know I’m going to have a one-on-one conversation with a student that may be facing an issue. These are all simple things you can do to keep yourself at the top of your game so that you can spread your love and advice from generation to generation.

Would you be able to recognize a student who has an addiction? Would you know where to turn for help?

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Dennis Beckner
Dennis Beckner has served in youth ministry leadership for Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA since 1999. Dennis is a contributor and speaker to youth training events, writing projects and other engagements. Contact him at his blog, VolunteerYouthMinistry.com.