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Teaching Teens to Struggle Well

Teaching Teens to Struggle WellThink back for a moment.  When in your life, have you gained the most experience and wisdom?  Was it when things were easy?  Or was it when times were tough?  If you’re anything like me, you grow and mature the most during periods of struggle.  The circumstances are usually anything but fun, but the lessons I gain from the storms of life are invaluable.  It’s what author Napoleon Hill meant when he wrote, “Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”

Now, if this is true, and growth comes through struggle, the question on the table becomes this: are we teaching our teenagers how to struggle well?  Can your son or daughter look to you as an example of someone who handles trials with endurance, patience, and grace?  Because your teen will face his or her own share of difficult situations.  There will be times where their faith, hope, and strength are tested.  Can they look to mom and dad to give them the tools to handle the tough times and come out better people?  Let me share with you some specific “do’s” and “don’ts” for teaching your teenagers how to struggle well.

DON’T Hold Back

I’ll be honest; some trials that come our way make me wonder, “Why would God allow this to happen?”  Whether it’s the death of a child, a tragic accident, or a devastating disaster, some circumstances simply do not make sense.  In such moments, it’s okay to express your frustration to God.  Let Him know the extent of your grief.  Let Him know what you’re feeling.  Open your heart to Him.  He can handle it all.  Don’t hold back or suppress your emotions.  But don’t let those emotions lead you down the wrong road.  You know your anger has taken you down a dark path when you turn your back on the Lord, stop turning to Him for comfort, or accuse Him of trying to hurt or harm you.

Romans 8:38 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  When circumstances are frustrating, and you’re fed up with the way things are going, ask God for patience.  If you’re at the end of your rope and you don’t know what to do, ask God for wisdom, and seek godly counsel from mentors, elders and wise peers.  And if you’re in the midst of one of life’s storms, ask God for peace, and the Bible says that, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).  We can trust God to take care of us, and we can also trust God with our emotions, anger, and sadness.  Show your kids that even when the going gets tough, and life doesn’t make sense, they can trust the Lord and have faith in His goodness.

DO Surround Yourself With People

Maybe I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but you need people in your life that can support you during the dark days.  When you’re dealing with difficult circumstances, don’t hide away and bury the problems where no one can see them.  Uncover the issues and look for help.  You don’t have to wrestle with life all by yourself.  Letting others help you will make your stronger.  “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” says Proverbs 27:17.

What I saw from my parents was the exact opposite.  I never saw my mom or dad struggle with money issues, with their marriage, or with other people because they hid it behind a façade of silence and smiles.  Perhaps they thought it would help me avoid the problems they encountered, but instead I learned to hide my problems so people couldn’t help me.  Because I never saw how my parents made it through the storms, I had to learn how to navigate my way through life on my own.  For many years it was much more difficult than it would have been if my parents had been able to share their own struggles with me.

But my wife and I don’t want our kids to experience what I did.  My goal is to let my children know that everyone struggles; moms and dads included.  And when those tough times come, they can lean on God and turn to others for help.

DON’T Run Away

We don’t like to experience pain.  That’s why God gave us aspirin right?  Whenever we feel a headache coming on, we can run to the medicine cabinet for relief.  However, most hurts in life aren’t so easily remedied.  So when problems head in our direction, we’re tempted to avoid the pain entirely by running the opposite way.  Don’t do that!  Pain hurts, no doubt.  But the right kind of pain is actually good for us.  It can help identify a problem in our life.  Or it can push us to discover a wealth of strength and faith that we never knew we had.  That’s why James tells us, “consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors.” (James 1:2)

When the fire is on, our faith in God can truly ignite.  So don’t run from the pain.  Face it and deal with it head on.  Accept the difficulty, knowing that it’s refining your character and maturing your faith.  When you face pain with confidence, you model for your teenager how to struggle honestly and with faith.

DO Look Past the Hardship

In the moment, a painful circumstance can feel like it lasts for an eternity.  But in the scope of life, trials and troubles are momentary.  So look beyond the circumstance to see what God is trying to teach you through it.  Sometimes it’s all you can do to simply grab and hold on for dear life.  But focus your gaze, and look not only to survive the storm, but learn the lessons that you can from it.  Set an example for your kids by showing them how to see past the temporary hurts to gain the wisdom that lies on the other side.

DON’T Rush to a Coping Mechanism

We all have our own coping mechanisms, ways of dealing with stress, pressure, and emotions.  And often, when life is the hardest, we run to these crutches to help us deal with our problems.  A dad might throw himself into playing more golf, or spending all his free time in the garage.  Mom may look for relief in working more hours, or spending more time with friends.  These coping mechanisms are not necessarily bad things.  But if they become hindrances that prevent us from ever dealing with the struggles at hand, then it’s time to back away from them.  You’ll never struggle well, or teach your teenager how to weather trials, if all your time is spent avoiding the issues.  Deal with the problems head on, and your kids will learn to do so as well.

DO Take Regular Breaks

Before you say, “Wait Mark, didn’t you just say don’t look to escape the problem?”  Let me explain the difference.  When you try to ignore, avoid, or distract yourself from the troubles you’re facing, that’s running away from the issues.  But taking a break every once-in-a-while is a healthy and necessary tool for struggling well.  When you’re dealing with an out-of-control teenager, sometimes it’s appropriate to put yourself in timeout to cool off for a minute before re-engaging.  When you’re working through grief or disappointment, it’s helpful to get away for the weekend and gain a fresh perspective.  If you’re struggling with financial issues, and money is tight, I’d encourage you to clear away the piles of bills and budgets in front of you, and enjoy a relaxing picnic with the family.

Taking a break from the struggles to recharge your batteries gives you fresh energy for the fight.  Show your teens that in the midst of the storm, we can create moments of peace.

We’ll all face hard times in life.  This includes your son or daughter.  So give them the tools they’ll need to stand tall and struggle well by modeling it for them.  When it comes to getting through trials, actions always speak louder than words.



Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, located in Hallsville, Texas.  For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our website.  It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent.  Go to  Or read other helpful articles by Mark, at  You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.  Hear the Parenting Today’s Teens broadcast on a radio station near you, or download the podcast at

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.