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Counseling Youth

COUNSELING YOUTH
By: Sis Nix

If you have found yourself being used by God to counsel young people you may consider yourself both favored and responsible (James 3:1). Not too many people have been given this trust. Not too many people care. Perhaps that is why they are not used. Sacrifice, much patience, and caring are things good counselors share. But the most important is caring.

Age is unimportant. It is not true that teen-agers do not trust anyone over 30. They trust people who have proved themselves trustworthy. Recently, I was taken to task by a parent who felt I should have told
him I knew his daughter was seeing a boy against the father’s wishes. This girl was fast approaching the unreachable state and I knew that had I told on her, she’d never have darkened my door again–nor anyone
else’s.

You walk a tight wire as a counselor. You hear a lot of things and you wonder if the management should be consulted. You get burdened. Perhaps you should pray more and think less. But you are human and you fail sometimes. But still God continues to use you and you marvel and strive to be worthy.

The needs among young people today are staggering. Recently my eleven- year-old daughter told me the kids in her grammar school are drinking and smoking. We live in an upper-middle-class area. Why this erratic behavior? Sometimes it is traceable to an erratic home environment. A split home, a father who’s never around, drinking by either or both parents, love of materialism, or perhaps the parents just don’t care– these are the things behind many teen hang-ups. When will parents start listening to what their teens are really saying before they begin sermonizing? To start listening to a fourteen-year-old for the first
time can be as painful as rebreaking a leg that has been set wrong.

Most of the kids I counsel are Christian. That is, they know Jesus Christ personally. Much of the time the real problem seems to be that a boyfriend, or hobbies, or “things” have come between them and God and
they are out of fellowship with Him. Invariably, they are miserable. They have gone along sometimes for months kidding themselves and everyone else that they and God are walking down the same side of the
street, but sooner or later, something happens and they’ve got to talk to someone. They may not realize or want to admit they have displeased God. This is what the counselor must detect. He listens for clues to
determine the root problems so that he can interpret to his confidant what his real need is.

And speaking of Christians, it is appalling to learn how some “Christians” parents are raising their teens. From the time they can remember, the children hear their elders preaching that God is love, but
they don’t see this in practice at home. They are told the Bible is God’s Word and should be obeyed, but they do not see their parents obeying.

One day a 17-year-old said to me, “You know, when I became a Christian last year, I found that Christianity is far from what I was taught at home. In our home it’s always, ‘we don’t drink, we don’t dance, we don’t
go to movies, we don’t play cards,’ and people say, ‘Oh, you’re one of those.’ There are lot of people in our church like that. There’s a difference between churchianity and Christianity, I have found.”

There is much legalism being practiced in fundamental churches today and the kids are not buying it. Many attend Sunday school against their wills. Teens today are more adult than were generations before them. They experiment and question at an earlier age; they are more sophisticated, but not necessarily wiser. There serious ones want church services that are meaningful. They are weary of empty formality and
exterior-perfect people. They want pastors and parents who will forget their pride and admit they can be wrong.

Sometimes the brutal honesty of a teen-ager makes me bite my lip. About a year ago I counseled a 14-year-old girl who belonged to a church that did not teach commitment to Jesus Christ. After she unloaded her typical tale of woe–rebellion against hypocritical authority–I pointed out that she could not change her parents but she could change herself not change her parents but she could change herself to accept them, no matter how unreasonable they seem. She readily admitted her own failures and lack of interest in a power that could change her and enable her without grieving to accept the worst thrusts life had to offer. I told her about Jesus and how I had asked Him to change my life and about His promise: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you” (John 14:27).

She responded to this presentation of Christ because it was not negative, or a theory, but a “happening” in someone’s life she could identify with. She has committed her life to Christ. Her hang-ups aren’t all gone but she is a changed person who is being used to reach others.

Before we can counsel wisely, we should understand the nature of counseling. A good working definition is: Counseling. A good working definition is: Counseling is a process in which the counselor and counselee work together in seeking answers to the counselee’s personal problems. As the youth sponsor fulfills this responsibility he will be guiding young people through an exciting time of life.

First notice that counseling is a process and thus requires time, a place and a mode of operation. Every youth worker is aware that time is a precious commodity, but so is a teen. During my college days I served
as a youth sponsor and was also employed in a secular job which took much of my time. Yet the teen-agers knew that our home was always open. One Saturday night at one o’clock two fellows stopped by and after two hours of counseling left without any visible signs of change. However, the next day the mother of one of the boys excitedly told me her son committed his life to Christ early that morning. Was it worth the time?

Time implies availability or just being there when needed, and persistency or patience. Don’t expect every problem to be solved overnight.

The place for counseling is the least of our problems. It can be done anywhere, as long as moral discretion is used. Don’t put yourself in a place that could mar your effectiveness or testimony. For example, men
counselors should avoid being alone in isolated places with teen-age girls. As one pastor put it, “Don’t put yourself in a circumstance where Satan has the advantage.”

Some of the best counseling sessions I’ve had were at a local soda shop. A young lady who just accepted Christ but still had many questions wanted to talk, so for one month we met every Monday after school. I
picked her up and we went to a local restaurant where we could chat over cups of hot chocolate. Today this girl is living a victorious Christian life.

Another girl felt more secure meeting in my office. So each afternoon for several weeks she walked over from school and we discussed her problem.

An interesting place to counsel is at a high school track while jogging with the counselee. It works.

While a counselor need not be a professional, he should meet certain qualifications.

1. He must be a responsible person. From the standpoint of Christian counseling this implies that he has experienced the New Birth. Being responsible doesn’t employ being aloof, superior, or perfect. It does
stress that he has fulfilled his own needs and is strong enough to withstand intense criticism of himself and his ideas. “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed…” (II Timothy 1:12b).

2. He must be a knowledgeable person. He should know possible solutions and resources as well as his own limitations. He may not have all the answers, but he should know where to go for help.

Knowledge also implies the proper use of resources. He must be a good listener and not a quick answer man. He must make sure he knows the teen’s problem before he suggests the remedy. The problem is not always as stated. Things stated as problems may be only symptoms of the real issue.

Chuck came asking how he could get his friend to stop drinking. After discussion I found out that Chuck, not his friend, had the problem.

3. The counselor must be a concerned person. Nothing can replace a personal involvement between us and our teens. This does not mean a blanket acceptance of all they do, but it stresses that we love and accept them. It implies that we do not consider their romantic problems as trivial, but that we want to help them over any immediate crises.

Deb was really crushed after being dropped by Mike. In fact, she was ready to call it quits on everything. I accepted her problem as my own. We agreed to pray about the whole situation. Two months later she was
back in my office asking about the educational requirements of a missionary. One of the things she said helped her most was “your personal concern for my silly problem.”

Counseling is “working together.” This implies responsibility on the part of both counselor and counselee–goal setting and positive action.

The counselor is not the man of mighty wisdom and the counselee the ignorant lout who can’t help himself. Both must understand the reality of life and become active in living properly in that reality.

Thus goals must be set. If you aim at nothing you will hit it. We should always help our teens think of a course of action. What do I want? Where am I going?

Once the course is set, it must be followed. Just talking about the plan isn’t enough, but to set it down in black and white and then actually put it into operation is the goal of our counseling sessions.

Positive, active counseling, not a coddling pat on the back, is the answer to teens’ needs. They are tired of sitting and listening. They want and need positive solutions to everyday life.

Mike was the most unique teen-ager I had ever worked with He was the typical rebellious, impossible teen. However, over a course of four years, it was my pleasure to see him saved, dedicate his life to the
ministry, and to study in college to fulfill that dedication. Mike recently wrote me and said, “Thanks for your personal interest and concern for me. You were sure rough at times, but I needed it.”

Let us launch out and get involved in the exciting art of counseling.

Kids play games just like adults. Rarely do they call you up and say, “I need help.” Usually, you have to take the first step by asking questions that show you care. They will open up sooner than you my think. If you
really care, they can sense it and maybe months later when the going gets wrought, they’ll come to you. But beware of this–they can spot spiritual bankruptcy and will avoid it.

Recently, I was shaken by a young Christian Fellow who was burdened in conscience because he had started petting the girl he was dating. I admired his courage in confessing but I was also sorry he had taken a route which can so quickly lead to moral and spiritual tragedy. After we prayed together and spiritual tragedy. After we prayed together and he receive peace, I showed him the need for asking forgiveness and making things right with the girl. He saw the need for responsibility in his actions and promised to pray and work on it.

Love! What a force to be reckoned with. Don’t ever forget how you felt long ago as a moon-struck teen. Puppy love only sounds harmless–it can be savage. This is especially true of homes where love is rationed like the weekly allowance. And there must be a lot of these in existence.

I tell teens to keep their hands off one another. It’s tough to say it but I know from experience that necking and petting is a dead-end street. I tell girls to play “hard to get” if they want to keep their guys and I try to show the kids that when they play with sex they are assuming the role of marriage for which they are in no way ready. This kind of logic seems to make a dent when a direct command might not.

It’s beautiful to watch the kids who want to go on with God develop and be used to help others. Sad to say, there aren’t a great number of these around but, have you noticed, God isn’t worried about quantity?

I’m stumped by the up-and-down life of the average Christian young person. I runs hot and cold from and week to week. Some teens after conversion fall flat on their faces at the first temptation. I once used
I john 1:9 exclusively–“If we confess, etc…” But everything, including the Bible, can become old hat if not presented properly. I used to tell a teen to go home and get on his knees and believe that verse. Now I pray WITH him and ask God to give him peace right now and He always does. I’m sure the up-and-down problem stems from emotional instability. I try to show them the difference between faith and feeling
and that Satan uses their feelings to make them doubt everything, including their salvation.

Remember in counseling:

1. Be a listener. You will learn much about your young friend and he may also profit by his own words.

2. Pray while listening.

3. Don’t appear to be shocked by what you hear. Be flexible. Learn teen language. “Making out” today doesn’t mean what it used to. Learn to roll with the punches. But don’t compromise or patronize.

4. Be strong in your convictions but be sure your convictions are based on what God says.

5. Don’t make the common mistake of trying to be the Holy Spirit for young people. Many decisions like dancing, etc., should be theirs, not yours. They must prepare for adulthood now.

6. Pray before parting if possible.

7. Do everything in love. You will reap their love as the harvest and your life will grow richer and will never be quite the same again.

(The original publisher of the above material is unknown.)

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