We’re exploring some of the strong emotions teens can experience, either positive or negative. So far, we’ve discussed humiliation and acceptance.

Shame is another example of a very strong negative emotion that teens will remember for a long time. It’s closely linked to humiliation, but often far less visible.

Let’s look at some possible causes for teens to experience shame.

Their bodies

I was at a conference last weekend where Marko shared some insights on adolescence and one of the things he stressed was that almost all teens feel at some point that what they’re going through physically isn’t normal. Almost all teens feel at some point that their body is abnormal.

That is something that should give us pause. We often talk about teen’s self confidence and self-image in regards to the message media send about how our bodies should look. But this goes deeper than that.

Question: what can you do to normalize the physical changes teens go through in puberty? How can you affirm them that their physical changes are normal?


Their sins

Sins proper in the dark and so does the accompanying shame. I just read an article on how the lives of some very young teens were destroyed by (extreme) Internet porn. They weren’t Christians, but even for them the shame to share with anyone what they were watching and doing was too big to reach out for help.

Question: how can you cultivate a safe environment where teens can bring their secret sins into the light? How can you communicate that no sin is too big for God to forgive?

Their secrets

Another major cause for shame amongst teens is what’s happening to them or around them. It’s secrets like these that they fear more than anything getting exposed. I’m talking about abuse, dysfunctional family situations, addictions, violence, rape, etc.

Most teens who experience situations and events like this, shame is a big factor is trying to keep it a secret. So very often they feel it is their fault, at least partly. Or they fear the consequences of these secrets coming out, like parents getting a divorce, people going to prison, being shunned by others.

Question: what can you do to build the level of trust with hurt teens to get to the point where they are willing to open up to you?

In my experience, there are two effective ways to combat shame: love and light. If we communicate in every way possible how much we love our students no matter what they do, it will help them to trust us enough to share what’s causing them shame. Once they do, the light of the cross will help bring forgiveness, acceptance and healing.

‘Normalizing’ can also help. That doesn’t mean pretending it’s normal or even acceptable to do certain things (like abuse or violence), but it will help to share stories of people who have experienced things they were ashamed about. Testimonies and personal stories from both leaders and other teens can make a world of difference here. The courage of others to come forward and share may just be what a teen needs to overcome their shame.