In a recent issue of a Seventeen magazine, there was an article about one of the young actresses from the TV show, Pretty Little Liars. In the article she comes clean about her years of self-harm.

Our culture is slowly embracing the idea of vulnerability. The idea of admitting our lives are messy and broken. And I have seen a similar trend in our churches. We are getting more comfortable admitting that life isn’t all happy and perfect…that sometimes it hard and painful.

I believe this trend is way healthier than the alternative which is ignoring the pain or pretending it doesn’t exist.

But I have seen some negative side effects with this trend that I think warrant us considering a few thoughts on the idea of vulnerability with teens.

Years ago, I had a student who suffered from an extreme eating disorder. When we talked about how she learned about anorexia…she admitted it was from an episode of Oprah, which featured a young girl battling this the same disorder. Obviously, we don’t blame Oprah or her guest…in fact, that day they may have helped many people gain a better understanding of this disease. But this story shows us a little bit of what might be the issue with our vulnerability.

When we bring attention to any destructive behavior like self-harm, pornography, eating disorders, etc…we need to take a few precautions so that we don’t perpetuate these behaviors:

1. Use words wisely. Be mindful of giving a recipe or a playbook for these behaviors. I once heard a student share their battle with an eating disorder where they described what exactly they ate each day. Another time as a student talked about her battle with cutting, she explained how she cut herself and hid it from her parents. Or the leader who when identifying with his small group guys and their struggle with porn, mentioned some of the sights that were his biggest downfall (Oh, I wish this one wasn’t true but it has happened…) Honest conversations that happen to be given students a play by play for these types of behaviors. All this to say, I think we MUST keep talking about these issues but we must guard are words. Talk about the issues, be honest but don’t provide a playbook for these behaviors.
2. Don’t forget to mention the process. One thing that can happen is when these destructive behaviors can be glamorized in our stories or those of our students. It can happen when we or those sharing their stories forget to explain the process of recovery. When we ask students to share their stories, we ask them to share what their life was like before Christ and what their life is like now with Christ. Sometimes it is not that simple. There is pain in the process. There is struggle. Let’s be honest about the lifelong journey that many of these behaviors lead to, they are not fixed in a moment. Let’s include the conversation around therapy and support groups. Our students need to hear that these “issues” don’t have to define them and that there is hope in the midst of pain BUT they must know that many times the process of healing can be long and hard.

Let’s not run from or discourage the honest conversations but as the shepherds of our flocks- let us be wise in how we engage.

How are you balancing these conversations?