A Guide to help Youth with Premature Dating

“You are so lucky.” Fourteen-year-old Dia sat next to her friend Kavya. They were in the corridor at school, waiting for lectures to start.

“Why?” Kavya responded.

“Only because Shlok asked you out.”

“He is cute, isn’t he?”

“Cute? That doesn’t even begin to describe him. Try perfect.” The girls exchanged short airy giggles. “You are so lucky,” Dia repeated. Her smile disappeared. “My parents won’t even let me date.”

“I know,” Kavya answered. “Parents can be so impossible.”

“The say I have to wait until I’m eighteen.”

“That’s a whole four years away!”

“I know.” Dia’s eyes darted around the corridor to see if anyone else was listening. She lowered her voice. “They say that even then I’m only allowed to go on group dates.”

Kavya rolled her eyes. “Please!”

“They act like I’m a little kid.”

The girls’ heads turned simultaneously toward the staircase of junior college section as seventeen-year-old Sholk walked in.

“You’re so lucky,” Dia repeated as she and Kavya pinned adoring gazes on Sholk.

Problem of Premature Dating

Few things occasion as much tension between parents and youth – and within the youth themselves – as the many decisions and dangers surrounding the dating process.

Teenagers invest a massive amount of time, thought, and energy into dating pressures and possibilities. They talk about who’s going out with whom, who wants to go out with whom, and who would never go out with whom.

It is ironic, however, that while many young people devote much time and effort to “the dating game,” few are prepared for the new stresses and choices that dating presents. Kids face intense pressure from others around them to “go out” with someone;

dating can become a badge of acceptance, evidence of a young person’s worth or attractiveness.

Author Ann B. Cannon says:

Many teenagers date because close friends start dating. Some teenagers look for love, security, or support in a date. A few assert their independence by going where they choose and with whom they choose. Many . . . just date because it’s expected.

Causes of Premature Dating

A great many teens set themselves up for danger and disappointment because they begin playing “the dating game” blindly, ignorantly of the many decisions to be made in dating, the many decisions to be made in dating, the many dangers of dating, and the advantages of a purposeful design in dating.

Decisions in Dating

The average teen would never dream of going out on a date without spending some time preparing himself or herself in front of a mirror; yet that same teen most often approaches the dating experience with little or no thought about many decisions to be made – by parents and teens – in dating.

  • When to Start Dating

Few issues cause as much conflict in the home as the question of “How old is old enough to start dating?” Some parents think their children should be a certain age before dating. Some kids think they were born ready to date; others feel they crossed the “date line” when they became teenagers.

However, chronological age is seldom a reliable indicator of a young person’s readiness to date. The crucial factor is whether he or she is emotionally and spiritually mature enough to handle the many decisions and dangers of dating. Some people may be mature at eighteen or nineteen; others should probably wait longer.

Some of the key indicators of a teen’s readiness for dating are:

  • Is he or she often influenced by peer pressure?
  • Is he or she most attracted to people his or her own age?
  • Does he or she intend to date for friendship instead of romance?
  • Has the teen committed himself or herself to sexual purity and determined not to compromise that commitment?
  • Does the ‘young person have his or her parents’ permission to date?
  • Is the teen’s self-image based on whether or not he or she is dating?
  • Is he or she able to resist immediate gratification in other areas? Does he or she display a preference to strive for future satisfaction and fulfillment (over immediate gratification) in other areas?

“NO” answers to the above questions should alert a young person (or caring adult) to areas in which more emotional and spiritual maturity should be allowed to develop before dating.

  • The Age Factor

“My boyfriend is several years older than I am,” one girl wrote author Barry Wood, “and my parents don’t want me to date him. Does age make any difference in dating?”

While a difference of five years in age may make little difference to a twenty-five-year-old dating a thirty-year-old, for example, it can cause severe problems for fourteen-year-old dating a nineteen-year-old. The reason for this is that the teen years are a time of major physical, emotional, and spiritual changes; some changes may happen so fast that a teen is ill-prepared to handle them. Of course, once again the central issue is not chronological age as much as emotional and spiritual maturity. Nonetheless, age differences if more than a year or two should be avoided through late adolescence.

Dangers of Dating

Teens who are preparing to date must not only confront the many decisions to be made in the dating experience, but they must also be aware of the dangers. Some of these are discussed effectively by Les John Christie in his book Dating and Waiting:

There is the danger of isolating yourself from your friends. Relating with one’s own sex is just as important as relating with the opposite sex. But in dating, sometimes your old friends are pushed into the background, and those are friends who may be needed later, especially if the dating relationship should end. Also, there is the danger of forgetting other important relationships in your life like brothers, sisters, and parents.

Thers is also the danger of dating for the wrong reasons, [such as] dating to impress your friends, . . . dating to get back at someone, or dating to cause jealousy. In such a case, you are merely using your date, and you don’t really care about him as a person.

Many dating relationships are based on power, not on love. The person who loves the least has the most power. Some people prefer power over love; so they withhold love. . . . Dating becomes a power game. The other person is kept on a string like a yo-yo. Love is being used to gain power and prestige. . . .

Another danger is that you become so date conscious that within the school group, you only talk with those you feel are potential dates, and you leave the rest alone. This is true for both guys and girls. . . .

There is also the danger of feeling trapped once you start dating a person. . . . There is the danger of getting hurt and hurting someone else. . . . There are also the dangers of mistaking emotional and physical attraction for real love [See article] and the danger of letting sexual desires get out of control. . . .

Far too many teens – especially those who begin dating early – are woefully unprepared for the dangers of dating and, as a result, expose themselves unnecessarily to the worst that the dating experience has to offer.

Design in Dating

Most dating is far from fun because it’s so full of sensual ploys and sexual gamesmanship. Even the language surrounding dating reveals this – “Did you get to first base? [kissing and touching]” “Did you go all the way? [to have sex]” For dating experience to be fun and rewarding, they need to avoid both the pitfalls and the ploys. A teen can do both carefully thinking through three things: his or her purpose, standards, and plan for dating.


Surprisingly few teens give any thought to their purpose in dating. Of course, responding to the basic attraction of a person of the opposite sex is a fundamental reason why many kids date-as is the intense pressure they feel from others. But aside from responding to those influences, most young people never formulate or evaluate their purpose in dating.

One purpose of dating is socialization-having fun with other people, getting to know them, enjoying other people’s company, learning how to share common interests, and developing conversational and relationship skills. Dating is a means of learning more about oneself and a way to become skilled at sensing the needs and feelings of another person and how to turn that insight into responsive action.

Another key purpose for dating is mate selection. Probably, the person you marry will be someone you’ve dated. The typical progression is from casual dates to friendship dates to steady dating to engagement and marriage. Dating serves to cultivate and sharpen one’s tastes and improve the ability to recognize the character and personality that best meshes with one’s own.

A clear understanding on one’s purpose in dating is crucial. It should be obvious, of course, that sexual exploration and experimentation are not healthy purposes for dating; however, socialization – and even mate selection – are sound purposes for dating.


A young person who is mature enough to begin dating will be mature enough to establish his or her standards and boundaries in dating – and even to discuss those standards with a date. Parents and other caring adults should help guide a young person to answer such questions as:

  • Should I confine my dating activity to double dates?
  • Should I frequent only public places?
  • What forms of touching and interactions are acceptable?
  • What types of activities will I avoid or refuse?

Such questions, if answered before temptation come knocking, can save many problems, misunderstandings, and mistakes later.

Dating standards should certainly include a clear determination of where to draw the line in the following chart of the progression of physical expression and involvement:

Necking: Holding hands, Hugging, Casual kissing (peck kissing), Prolonged kissing.

Petting: French Kissing (including last stages of necking – ears, necks etc.), Breasts covered, Breasts bared.

Heavy Petting: Genitals covered, Genitals bared, Oral sex, Genital to Genital Intercourse

The wisest place to draw the line in the above progression is at causal kissing. The vast majority of couples in a dating relationship, whatever their age, cannot progress much beyond that point without asking for trouble. The young man or woman who wishes to set helpful dating standards will do well to start there.


The final step in framing a sound, helpful design for dating is planning. An attractive option is group dating. Ann B. Cannon writes:

Group dating has been a popular trend for several years. In group dating guys and gals get together to do different activities without pairing up. The group decides where to go and what to do, and everyone goes along. Everyone pays (his or her) own way. Many teenagers like group dating because it removes the sexual pressure of dating just one person.

Another consideration is to plan for a climate in which two people can become friends. Going to movie on a first date is counterproductive; it offers entertainment but not interaction. A better choice would be to plan walk around a park, or window shopping. Such activities provide plenty to talk about and allow the participants to discover each other’s likes, dislikes, and previous life experiences.

One more key to planning the dating experience is to map out possible responses to situations that may arise, such as:

  • How much money will I need to spend? Will I have enough?
  • How will I respond if my date wants to get physical?
  • If my takes me somewhere I don’t want to go. what will I do?
  • Under what circumstances will I put a stop to the date? To the relationship?
  • How will I react if others around me being to act inappropriately (drinking alcohol or smoking, for example?
  • How will I evaluate whether the date was a success?

Some parents help teens in this area of planning by agreeing that if the teen calls home at any time and says simply, “I need to be picked up now,” a parent will respond without delay and without asking for details. Others impress on their teens the importance of making sure Mom and Dad know

  1. Who teen is with,
  2. Where he or she is, and
  3. Where he or she is going.

Response to the Problem of Premature Dating

Is the young man or woman ready to date? Is he or she dating wisely? Is he or she being exposed unnecessarily to the pitfalls and ploys of “the dating game”? A sensitive parent or youth leader can help a young person answer such questions by employing the following strategy:


Take the time to talk to the young person about dating and to really listen to what he or she has to say. Try to discern whether he or she possesses the emotional or spiritual maturity to begin dating or to do so in a wise and godly way. Elicit the answers to the questions posed under “When to Start Dating” (beginning of this article)- most likely without asking such questions point-blank – in an effort to evaluate his or her maturity and readiness to date.


Remember your teen years and the importance boy-girl relationships had to you then. Be careful to recognize the urgency and importance that dating issues assume in the hearts and minds of teens. Seek also to understand the emotional and spiritual needs the young person may hope to meet through dating. Whether or not those hopes are realistic, they will be crucial in helping a parent or youth leader to see things through the teen’s eyes.


Too often, young people use dating to try to fulfill needs that are not being met in other relationships, such as those with Mom and Dad. If parents aren’t filling the young person’s “love tank” (his or her innate need for love and acceptance), the youth will be more vulnerable to the pressures, perils, and pleasures of dating; conversely, dating relationships will be much easier to handle if a young person is receiving affirmation, affection, and appreciation from others-particularly from his or her parents.


Parents, teachers, or youth leaders can help a young person who is approaching the dating experience by:

  • Praying for the youth and praying with him or her about the dating experience.
  • Walking him or her through the decisions to be faced in dating.
  • Informing him or her of the dangers of dating and
  • Helping him or her formulate a purposeful design in dating by sensitively and systematically sharing the content of this article.


A concerned parent or other adult may wish to enlist the young person’s participation in planning and evaluating his or her dating habits by entering into a “dating contract” similar to the one proposed by Ann Cannon in her book Sexuality: God’s Gift.


The youth leader, teacher, or other adults will certainly wish to involve a young person’s parents in the process of helping a youth cope with dating pressures. Likewise, parents will be wise to welcome support from youth leaders, teachers, or other concerned adults. In some situations- particularly those in which a young person has already exhibited dangerous habits in dating- it may be helpful for parents to consult a counseling professional who can offer sound guidance.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share with your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person who is working through questions about dating.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery, livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.


A Guide to help Youth find True Love

Rishon and Gayatri began dating when they were both sixteen. She was a pretty with curly hair; he was a tall football player. From the time they started dating, neither had ever gone out with anyone else. They began to talk dreamily of marriage when they were both in college. But Rishon had a secret he never shared with Gayatri.

Rishon and Gayatri often went out with Rishon’s best friend, Jitesh, and his girlfriend, Amruta. The four seemed to have a special bond, a close relationship that forged ties not only between Rishon and Jitesh but between all four of them. Rishon and Gayatri married at twenty-two on the weekend after Rishon’s graduation. Jitesh and Amruta married the summer before.

Though the couples seldom saw each other after high school, a bond existed that neither Gayatri, Amruta, or Jitesh knew about until Rishon announced to Gayatri that he was leaving her less than eight months after their wedding. Rishon explained to his new wife that seven years ago – at about the time he and Gayatri has begun dating – he had fallen in love with Amruta, the girl who was now his best friend’s wife.

“I care for you,” he told Gayatri. “But Amruta is the one I love. . . always have.” Rishon had never dated Amruta. He had never before expressed his love for her. “But I’m going to do that now.” he said. “I don’t expect her to leave Jitesh. I just have to tell her how I feel, in person. And I have to be around her. I can’t live without her.”

Problem of Finding True Love

Everyone wants it. Without it, life would be, at best incomplete – at worst, desperate. The yearning to give and receive love throbs in the heart of everyone, male and female alike.

People try in many different ways to discover true love, real love, a love that is strong and deep, a love that lasts for all time. Yet the pursuit of love has caused more heartache and pain, more brokenness and bitterness, than all the diseases and all the wars in history.

Many young people struggle mightily to understand what love is and how they can find it. Many are willing to give almost anything in order to experience love, particularly from someone of the opposite sex. To many teens, love does make the world go ’round. Yet many – far too many – set themselves up for heartache, disappointment, and tragic miscalculations and mistakes because they lack a clear understanding of what love is – and what it isn’t.

Causes of Not Finding True Love

Teens Don’t Know What Love Is

So many teens are making trying tragic mistakes – some of them over and over again, like Rishon. Very often the reason behind such mistakes is the fact that teens (like many adults) don’t really know what love is; they confuse real love with other experiences and emotions. Consequently, they have no basis on which to evaluate the relationship they pursue and the decisions they make in search of real love.

Many public school “sex ed” courses teach kids the mechanics of sex; some even teach kids how to apply condoms. Movies stars and social media influencer make public service announcements to warn kids to practice what they call “safer sex.” Politician, public school or stars don’t tell young people what they most need and most want to hear – and what will be most effective in saving them from disappointment and disease – and that is realistic understanding of true love – what it is and what it isn’t.

What Love Isn’t?

Real Love Isn’t the Same As Lust.

Rock singer Jon Bon Jovi made an insightful observation when he said, “[Today’s] songs are about lust, not love.” Lust and Love are often confused in our minds, in our music, in our movies, in our magazines – in our whole culture, in fact. But love is much different from lust.

Love gives; lust takes. Love endures, lust subsides.

Real Love Isn’t the Same As Romance.

Some couples experience emotional fireworks when they kiss. Some guys can speak words that make a girl feel good inside. Some girls can make guy feel taller and stronger that anyone else just by looking into his eyes. Candlelight dinners, mood music, slow dances, and starry skies can make a moment special. Romance can be wonderful, but it’s not love.

Romance is a feeling; real love is much more.

Real Love Isn’t the Same As Infatuation.

Infatuation is a fascination with – an intense interest in – someone of the opposite sex, it can leave a young man or woman feeling breathless, lightheaded, starry-eyed, and addled brained! Author Joyce Huggett describes infatuation as:

……usually thoroughly “me centered” rather than “other centered.” You fall for someone; you trick yourself into believing yourself deeply in love with this person round whom your dreams revolve, you believe yourself ready to renounce your absorption with self for the sake of the well-being of this other person. Then, one morning, you wake up to discover that the euphoria has evaporated in the night. What is more, you find yourself held captive by identical feelings for another person.

When people talk about “falling in love” or about “love at first sight,” they are usually talking about infatuation.

Infatuation can be an overwhelming feeling, but it is not real love.

Real Love Isn’t the Same As Sex.

Many teens (and many adults as well) confuse the intensity of sex with intimacy of love.

However, the two are distinct. Love is a process; sex is an act. Love is learned; sex is instinctive. Love requires constant attention; sex takes no effort. Love takes time to develop and mature; sex needs no time to develop. Love requires emotional and spiritual interaction; sex requires only physical interaction. Love deepens a relationship; sex (operating alone) dulls a relationship.

Real love is not the same as lust, romance. infatuation, or sex.

What Love Is

“How do I know if I’m in love?” That question is vital to a teenager. It assumes a critical and urgent importance in the hearts and minds of young people. The question is made harder to answer by the fact that few people – adolescents or adults – know what real love is.

Just as many confuse love with lust, romance, infatuation, or sex, many also are unaware that there are really three kinds of “love,” three ways of behaving that people routinely label as “love:

Love If . . .

The first type of love is the only kind many people have ever known. It’s what I call “love if.” It’s the love that is given or received when certain conditions are met. One must do something to earn this kind of love:

“If you are a good child, Pappa will give you his love”

“If you get good grades . . .”

“If you act or dress a certain way . . . “

“If you meet my expectations as a lover . . .”

“If you have sex with me . . . “

The love is offered in exchange for something the lover wants. Its motivation is basically selfish. Its purpose is to gain something in exchange for love.

Many young women know no other type of love than the love than the one which says, “I will love you if you will ‘put out.'” What they don’t realize is that the love they expect to win from someone by meeting his sexual demands is a cheap love that can’t satisfy and is never worth the price.

Love if . . . always has strings attached

As long as the conditions are met, things are fine. When there is reluctance – to meet expectations, to have sex, to get an abortion – the love is withdrawn.

Many marriages break up because they were built on this kind of love. When the expectations cease to be met, “love if” often turns to disappointment and resentment and, tragically, the person involved may never know why.

Love Because of . . .

The second type of love is “love because of . . .” In this type of love, the person is loved because of something he or she is, has, or does. This kind of love reflects attitudes, usually unexpressed, such as:

“I love you because you’re so beautiful.”

“I love you because you’re rich.”

“I love you because you give me security.”

“I love you because you’re so funny.”

This love may sound pretty good. We want to be loved for what we are and what we do, right? It’s certainly preferable to the “if” kind of love. The “if” kind of love has to be earned constantly, and it requires a lot of effort. Having someone love us because of what we are and what we do seems less demanding, less conditional.

But what happens when someone comes along who is prettier? Or funnier? Or wealthier? What happens when we get older or lose a prestigious job? If such things are the reason another person loves us, that love is temporary and very weak.

There’s another problem with “because of” love. It’s found in the fact that most of us are two types of people; we display a “public self,” the person everyone knows, but we often hide our “private self,” the deep-down-inside person that few others, if any, really know. The man or woman who is loved “because of” a certain trait or quality will most likely be afraid to let the other person know what he or she is really like deep down inside . . . for fear that, if the truth were known, he or she would be less accepted, less loved, or may be rejected altogether. Much of the love we know in our lives is of this kind, uncertain and impermanent.

Love, Period!

The third kind of love is as uncommon as it is beautiful. It is love without conditions. This love says, “I love you in spite of what you may be like deep down inside. I love you no matter what might change about you. You can’t do anything to turn off my love. I love you, PERIOD!

“Love, period” isn’t blind love. It can know a great deal about the other person. It can know the person’s shortcomings. It knows the other’s faults, yet it totally accepts that individual without demanding anything in return. There’s no way to earn this type of love. Neither can one lose it. It has no strings attached.

“Love, period” is different from “love if” in that it doesn’t require certain conditions to be met before love is given. “Love, period” is different from “love because of” in that it isn’t produced by some attractive quality in the person who is being loved.

Love periodis a giving relationship. It’s all about giving. The other two kind of love are all about getting.

Response to the Problem of Finding True Love

A concerned youth worker, teacher, or parent can help a young man or woman understand true love by pursuing the following plan:


Encourage the young person to put his or her concept of love into words. Ask questions like:

  • What is true love?
  • Have you ever been “in love”?
  • How do you think a man or woman know if he or she is in love?
  • What do you think being in love feels like or looks like?


Keep in mind the fervor and urgency with which most teenagers approach love issues. Talking about love will probably not be a primarily intellectual or educational exercise for a teen; it will more likely be viewed with the intensity and urgency most adults reserve for life-and-death situations. The empathetic adult will be careful not to dismiss a young person’s feelings on this subject but will take the youth seriously and address him or her carefully.


The tragic mistakes many teens make are a result, not only of not knowing how to give true love, but of not receiving a love that is accepting, affirming, and unconditional (particularly from a parent). Parents and other adults who are concerned for youth must strive to communicate acceptance, affirmation, affection, and appreciation to them at every opportunity.


Take every opportunity to model concept of true love to the young people in your life; let them see you love someone whose happiness, health and growth is as important to you as your own. Pray with youth about their love lives, encourage them to involve God in their search for true love. Seek “teachable moments” (shows, the “soap opera” of relationships at school/college, the behavior of couples in public, etc.) to communicate the concept of true love to the young people in your life so they will know what they are looking for in relationships and be more likely to recognize it when it occurs. Share the content of this article, not just once, but repeatedly.


Enlist the young person’s participation in evaluating relationships, perhaps using the following 10 questions proposed by Barry St. Clair and Bill Jones in order to determine if a relationship reflects mature love:

  1. Can we be honest with each other?
  2. Do we accept each other completely?
  3. Do we have our parent’s approval?
  4. Do we have control over our sex lives?
  5. Do we share common values?
  6. Can we handle disagreements?
  7. Can we handle being apart?
  8. Are we really friends?
  9. Are we “whole people”?
  10. Am I willing to commit myself for life?


Healthy attitude about love cannot be developed in a school class or even a weekend youth groups; they require involvement of and an ongoing commitment from youth’s parents and other significant adults in his or her life. Cooperation among the principal influences in a teen’s life is vital to the development of strong, healthy concepts and conviction about love.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share with your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person who is working through questions about love.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery, livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.


A Guide to help Youth with Suicide Thoughts, Tendencies and Threats

Sixteen-year-old Trisha had been enrolled to junior college just a month before. Her whole family was anticipating that she will do well and enjoy her college days. Her teachers were fond of her and would keep in touch with beyond studies.

Trisha dropped out of the college not long afterwards, however. The teachers and friends visited her several times, but they failed to persuade Trisha to return to college. Her parents, teachers and friends were concerned for her, but no one suspected the real reason of her absence. Trisha was pregnant.

About few months after she got to news about her pregnancy, Trisha tided her room, emptied her cupboard, and wrote a note to her mother:

“You kept asking me if I was OK and I kept telling you I was, but I wasn’t OK. I am sorry, Mom. I’ve got too many problems. I am taking the easy way out.”

Trisha left that day before her mother arrived home from work. She walked to the railway tracks near her house, knelt between the rails, and folded her hands over her little rounded belly as Rajdhani Express ran down upon her.

The train driver, a man who had a sixteen-year-old daughter of his own, later said that when he saw Trisha, it was too late to stop the train, He watched her cross herself before she died.

Problem of Suicide

Suicide is the leading cause of death among teenagers.

 According to Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health and Well-being, suicide was leading cause of death among youngsters aged 10-24 in our country (reported in 2013). 62960 deaths by suicide followed by 41168 by road accident and 32171 by tuberculosis.

The recent National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report stated that 13,000 students took their own lives in India last year. In fact, over the five years from 2016 to 2021, the number of student suicides in India has risen by 27%. The total number of suicide cases rose by 20% over the same period, from 1,31,008 in 2016 to 1,64,033 in 2021.

Another Indian study showed that the suicide rate was highest in the 15-29 years age group (38 per 100,000 population) followed by the 30-44 years group (34 per 100,000 population). The rates of suicide were 18 per 100,000 in those aged 45-59 years and 7 per 100,000 in those aged >60 years.

Reliable sources now say that over a thousand teenagers try unsuccessfully to kill themselves every day! Almost one teen per minute tries to commit suicide.

The statistics do not tell nearly the whole story, however. Many suicides are not even counted in the above statistics due to several factors. Dr. G. Keith Olson points out:

There are more successful suicides each year that are counted as other forms of death because of lack of knowledge of the victim’s intent or motivation. A significant percentage of one car accidents are actually suicide. . . Some people who are medically ill die only because they stop taking their medication. And others “flirt with death” by their involvement in high-risk occupations and sports (e.g. sky diving. . .) and life-endangering habits (e.g. smoking, heavy drinking and drug anise). And finally, Marvin E. Wolfgang has studied a form of suicide that is mainly peculiar to adolescents and young adults. “Victim percipitatal homicide” occurs when one person provokes or sets up another to kill him or her.

More importantly, perhaps, statistics alone do not convey the tragedy of teen suicide, nor its epidemic proportions. The human tragedy of promising lives lost in moment, of parents, siblings, and friends enduring unspeakable grief and sorrow, of families and communities torn apart, cannot be measured.

David Elkind points out that it is often difficult to identify teens who are contemplating suicide partly because “teenagers in particular are often reluctant to reveal the problems they are experiencing or their inner thoughts. Unfortunately, many teens conceal their inner pains and fears so that even their parents and closest friends have no idea that they are suffering and considering suicide.

“Nonetheless,” Elkind says, “while many young people often give no implications of impending suicide attempts, other do.” Some of the signs that may alert a parent, teacher, youth leader or friend to a possible suicide attempt include:

  • Previous suicide attempt
  • Threats of suicide
  • Talking about death
  • Preparation for death (clearing out cupboard, giving away possessions, etc)
  • Depression
  • Sudden change in behavior (acting out, violent behavior, etc)
  • Moodiness
  • Withdrawal
  • Somatic complaints (sleeplessness, sleeping all the time)
  • Fatigue
  • Increased risk-taking
  • Drafting a suicide note

While it is not always possible to recognize the signs of suicidal tendencies or to prevent a teen from contemplating or committing suicide, a familiarity with the causes and precipitating factors of adolescent suicide can make a crucial difference.

Causes of Suicide

Societal Factors

“There is growing consensus,” says Bill Blackburn, author of What You Should Know about Suicide, about the broader causes of teen suicide, “towards identifying the following influences:

  1. the changing moral climate,
  2. the high mobility of our society,
  3. the increasing divorce rate,
  4. the frequent abuse of alcohol and other drugs,
  5. the glorification of violence in the mass media,
  6. the already high suicide rates.”

He goes on, what remains solid and dependable for young person in the potentially difficult years of adolescence? Two sources of support are a society where moral guidelines are firm and a family that you can depend on even though you are breaking away from it. But what happens if the rules of the society keep changing and the morals are objects of debate rather than reliable guideposts? What if the family moves hundreds or thousands of kilometers from any relatives or mother and father separated and you see one of them regularly? The sources of support become shaky foundations.

When the foundation becomes shaky, some young people turn to alcohol and other drugs for solace. These agents, when mixed with a teenager’s romantic notions of death, a society that glorifies violence and easy access to the means of suicide, combine into a powerfully lethal mixture that spells death for more and more adolescents. Finally, suicide begets suicide. Suicide attempted or completed plants the idea of self-generated death in the minds of others [, and] suicide in the family especially pulls other family members closer to that option.

But beyond the societal factors are personal factors. Why do teens try to kill themselves? the following are among the reasons.

Family Disruption

Many researchers have attempted to trace the relationship between family disruption – separation, divorce, moving, etc. – teen depression and suicide. Although the results are sometimes contradictory, insomuch as family disruption increases a young person’s stress, sense of alienation, and perhaps parental rejection, it may be a contributing factor not only to depression but to suicide as well.


A clinically depressed youth may become suicidal,

writes author Marion Duckworth, and experts agree. (See also Depression – Bijoyful).

She cites her own experience:

I remember writing my own dairy when I was a teenager and angry at my mother, “She’d be sorry if I was dead.” But for a seriously depressed youth, the thought of suicide is ongoing and if help is not forthcoming, he may become convinced it’s the only way out.


Blackburn writes,

Most suicidal persons want to escape from what they consider an intolerable situation. The shape of that situation varies with each person, and many other persons in similar situations do not consider suicide an option. Two important ingredients for those who begin to ponder taking their lives are hopelessness and faulty reasoning. These two are linked: there seems to be no hope of resolving the situation, but the reason hope does not appear is that the suicidal person is not thinking carefully or clearly. Sometimes this is because of mental illness.

The suicidal person may be intent on escaping a terminal or painful illness, or punishment, or humiliation, or simply the weight of his or her mental and emotional burdens.


“For some,” writes Olson, “the death of a parent, close friend or loved one seems too painful to bear.” At such times, the grieving young person will often entertain thoughts of suicide – some-times simply in an effort to end the seemingly unbearable sorrow and grief, (see also Grief – Bijoyful) and other times, as Blackburn points out, to rejoin the friend or loved one in death.


Guilt feeling often contribute to suicide tendencies as well. (See also Guilt – Bijoyful). Olson writes,

Suicide is often the individual’s own attempt to take control of punishment for faults or misdeeds of which he or she feels guilty. When no punishment has been received from society, friends or family, the individual chooses to be the victim of his or her own self punishment. Too often suicide becomes the ultimate punishment.


Blackburn writes,

A suicide attempt grabs attention like few other things. People are startled, guilty, concerned, puzzled. Where people previously ignored a person now, they lavish attention on him.

In such an instance, the attempt is often a desperate cry, not only for attention, but for help as well. It may be a teen’s way of saying,

I’m hurting, I’m desperate, I don’t know how to cope, and I need help. Please someone pay attention to me!

Tragically, of course, the cry for help sometimes go too far and becomes fatal.


Blackburn offers insight into this motivation as well:

Although akin to the attempts to gain attention, this reason for attempting suicide is designed to get more than attention. There is a specific object or action that person is seeking. The desire is to elicit a response that seems otherwise unobtainable. A suicide attempt can be the trump card played after all the other cards have been played.

Manipulation by attempting suicide is used by children against parents, husbands against wives, girlfriends against boyfriends, worker against co-workers.


Olson points out:

People, often young people, feel so overwhelmed by being hurt by another, that their wish to hurt back overrides their wish to live. The suicide revenge is usually directed towards a lover, parent or parent figure.


The teen years are often characterized by experimentation and impulsiveness. Adolescents often display a casual disregard for their life and safety, and also sometimes exhibit a fascination with the unknown, including death. The volatile blend of curiosity, impulsiveness, and feelings of invincibility that exist in the adolescent heart and mind can create a dangerous propensity for suicidal acts.

Expression of Love

Both Olson and Blackburn, among many others, attribute some teen suicide to a desire to express love. Says Olson:

Loving emotions in adolescents and young adults are often extremely intense and loyal. The break-up of a romantic relationship, a divorce and the death of a loved one deal the rejected or surviving individuals a shattering blow. Their emotions are numbed, their perceptions distorted and their hopes for the future destroyed. Their total focus is on the object of their lost love. Their last self-expression is a twisted proclamation of their love – the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.

Effects of Suicide

Obviously, the primary, overwhelming effect of a teen suicide is the loss of a young life, with all its promise and potential. But few young people contemplating suicide realize the traumatic effects an act of suicide can have on those around them, principally, grief and the planting of seeds of destruction.


The suicide of a friend or family member invariably causes a depth of grief and questioning that surrounds few – if any – other experiences in life. Parents reprimand themselves endlessly over their inability to prevent the tragedy, friends feel deserted and sometimes betrayed, youth leaders question whether they could have or should have done or said something differently and futilely wish they had recognized the signs- if, indeed, any were present to recognize.

Don Baker writes:

Hundreds of times I’ve watched different degrees of marital disintegration and numerous times I’ve seen the aftermath of a crushing suicide experience. Inevitably the living never blame the dead – they blame the living – they blame themselves.

The emotional fallout of suicide among the survivors is both deep – the emotional and psychological equivalent of Hiroshima

Perhaps – enduring, affecting people’s lives for years, decades, even -in the case of those closest to the victim – lifetimes. (See also Grief – Bijoyful)

Seeds of Destruction

Suicide not only destroys the person who takes his or her life, but it plants seeds of destruction in the lives of those around him or her – parents, siblings, friends, and classmates. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports “an increased rate of suicide attempters.” In other words, those closest to a suicide victim are at a higher risk of attempted suicide than others. Some researchers believe this may be due to genetic factors (and it may), but it may also indicate a greater willingness among those whose loved ones have committed suicide to look at suicide as a viable option.

As Blackburn says,

Suicide has a ripple effect. Sometimes these ripples become tidal waves that drown the family and other close by.

Response to the Problem of Suicide

If a youth has attempted suicide (or is seriously contemplating or threatening an attempt), your responsibility is both urgent and simple: get the young person immediately to a mental health hospital or emergency room; a professional evaluation is absolutely necessary.

The following response is designed to help a youth worker, teacher, or parent offer counsel to a young person who has admitted having passing thoughts of suicide (in contrast to someone who has attempted or threatened suicide). If at any time during the counseling process, you infer or suspect that the youth may be contemplating suicide, do not leave the youth alone until he or she is in the care of a mental health professional.

If at any time you have reason to believe that a young person has given even passing thought to suicide (but has not attempted or threatened suicide), you must still proceed to intervene with extreme care and thoughtful prayer. Blackburn advises not to try to shock or shame the person, nor to get into an argument or philosophical discussion or attempt to “mind-read or psychoanalyze” the youth.

Instead, the wise youth worker or parent can help by employing a strategy such as the following:


Always take every indication seriously that an individual is thinking about suicide.

Never dismiss, mock, or challenge a youth’s statements about contemplating or attempting suicide. “The more concrete their plans,” Duckworth continues, “the more dangerous the situation and the more the need for immediate action. Do they have a weapon concealed somewhere? Have they experimented with fashioning a loop with running knot? Even if their plans aren’t concrete, [keep in mind that] youth are notoriously impulsive.” Listen carefully, sensitively, patiently — and take no chances.


Blackburn suggests:

The primary power you have in dealing with a suicidal person is your relationship with him and the way you show interest and concern. . . . Wisely use this power to avert the potential suicide.

Ways to make the most of your relationship may include:

  • Making every effort to be available, especially at crisis moments
  • Calling periodically to “keep in touch” with the youth’s moods and progress
  • Praying for the young person (letting him or her hear your prayers)


It may be tempting to try to contradict a young person’s estimation of how bad things are, how rotten his lot is etc. While the youth’s hopelessness and faulty reasoning should be addressed, it is of primary importance that everything that is said and done by the adult be presented in a way that strongly affirms his or her worth as a person, as a child of God, as a valued and loved family member or friend, and as an individual with capabilities, gifts, and immeasurable potential.


The following imperatives, drawn from the work of Marion Duckworth, Jay Adams, and Bill Blackburn, may present a helpful direction for guiding a teen with suicidal tendencies:

  1. Work on relationship. The best resource any parent or other adult has for helping a suicidal youth is a healthy relationship. Work on building your relationship with the youth and on helping him or her to build strong, open relationships with others.
  2. Build self-worth. Duckworth writes, “Parents and [other] can ease the struggle for self-acceptance by consistently using every method available to teach children. . . . two things: Who they are; How to cultivate a personhood in which they can feel at home.” She suggests accomplishing that by reinforcing the child’s successes, offering loving reminders that he or she is loved and accepted, and keeping an open dialogue about the things the child faces.
  3. Instill hope. “Suicidal persons. . . need hope,” writes Adams. “They are preeminently persons with no hope.” Duckworth suggests instilling hope by exposing youth to the God of hope (and a hopeful way of looking at Creation, natural laws, etc.), cultivating a sense of wonder that they are children of God, responding to the young person as an individual with a unique personality and unique gifts, working out differences between parents, involving the positive influences of extended family in the life of the young person.
  4. Foster communication. A disturbing percentage of youth say that they can’t talk to their parents about the really important things in life. Duckworth quotes Cathy Benitez’s advice to let teens know “they can say whatever they want, and they won’t be condemned for it. Respect their opinions no matter what they are.”
  5. Teach coping skills. It’s hard to believe in yourself — or in the future — when your world is falling apart, Duckworth says. Many teens lack the skills to cope with the myriad of pressures and problems they face at home, at school, and in their circle of friends. Among her suggestions: majoring in relationships, setting clear boundaries, modeling appropriate ways of solving problems, communicating wisdom wisely and tactfully, entering into the teen’s world, and allowing him or her to experience the real world without illusions.
  6. Focus on the available resources. “Most suicidal persons fail to see resources available to help them cope,” say Blackburn. “Not in an argumentative way, but in a vein of gentle exploring, help the person begin to identify clearly the nature of the problems he faces and the alternatives. . . With some persistence. . . you may be able to spark a flame of hope.”
  7. Develop a plan of action. Devise a set of practical, concrete steps that will help the youth and his or her circumstances. Foremost among these steps should be the development of a regular, honest habit of relationship with God, both private and public. A helpful plan of action may also include negotiating changes in home and family routines, avoiding environments or companions, engaging in some new or favorite hobby or form of recreation, joining a youth group, entering a mentoring relationship, etc.


Make every effort to enlist the young person’s own participant in preventing a suicide attempt. Perhaps the most effective way to do so is to encourage him or her to enter into a contract with you. This can be a verbal or written contract that states:

  • The youth agrees to contact you or another person (named in the contract) if her or she begins to think of suicide.
  • The youth agrees not to stop trying, even if he or she has trouble reaching you, until the two of you have talked about his or her thoughts of suicide.
  • The adult agrees to respond to any call or message immediately upon receiving it and to take time to talk without annoyance or impatience.
  • The adult agrees not to leave the young person alone until both parties are confident that the crisis has passed.


Olson states emphatically,

Once it has been assessed that a teenage counselee is a potential suicide risk, definitive counseling intervention is a must.

In other words, consult the young person’s parents and get professional help immediately.

The American Association of Suicidology advises:

The cardinal rule of suicide prevention is this: Do Something. If someone you know has attempted suicide and has not received professional care: Get Help. If someone you know threatens to end his life: Get Help. If someone you know has undergone a drastic change in his life and begins preparing wills or giving away personal possession: Get Help. Don’t wait to see if other signs develop. Don’t decide to consider it for a while. Do it today. Tomorrow may be too late.”

Getting help may involve contacting a family physician or taking the young person to a local hospital, calling a suicide crisis center or hotline (like iCall 9152987821, Samaritans Mumbai 8422984528) involving the local mental health or consulting a professional psychologist or psychiatrist. Whatever it takes: Get Help.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share with your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person with suicidal thoughts, tendencies and threats to care for.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta. He is also a certified QPR Suicide Prevention Gatekeeper.


A Guide to Help Youth with Grief

Sixteen-year-old Gaurav and Seventeen-year-olds Joshua and Tanish squeezed into the back seat of the tiny compact car. Madhav climbed into the front seat, and Mahesh who celebrated his eighteenth birth in beginning of the year, had obtained his driver’s license two weeks earlier, slid behind the steering wheel.

The quintet of teammates headed to a surprise birthday party for a friend. Mahesh steered the car out of the little town where they live and onto the national highway heading west. The road soon turned northwest, and the car topped 120 km/hour. Suddenly, the right tires went off the side of the road onto the uneven divider; Mahesh swung the steering wheel sharply to the left. The car immediately went into a slide that carried it across the road, where it slammed into a utility pole and rolled over on its top, crumpling the roof.

At some point, the boys in front were thrown free of the car and received relatively minor injuries. Tanish, Joshua and Gaurav, who had been pushed tightly against the rear of the car as it spun off the road, were crushed as the roof crumpled beneath the weight of the car, all three died before help arrived.

The school and the community reeled from the news. The three victims were well liked students. Their family were highly involved in school and community events. Their friends, classmates, teachers, coaches sobbed in each other’s arms in school hallways on the Monday morning following the accident. Some walked the halls in a daze. Others became physically sick.

The school administration arranged for counselors to be present all-day Monday and Tuesday, and students were not required to go to classes; they were permitted to linger in the cafeteria, talking to counselors and friends, for as long as they needed. The school’s compassionate response was appreciated by the friends and families of the boys, but the grief felt by so many was nonetheless overwhelming.

“We’re a very tight-knit community,” the high school principal told the local newspaper, “And it’s going to take us all a very long time to completely heal.”

Problem of Grief

Death touches many teens and preteens. Many experience the death of a grandparent, Some lose a parent to cancer or other disease. Some must deal with the loss of a sibling. Others endure the death of a friend, an acquaintance from school, or a teacher.

The grief that attends the death of a friend or loved one is always difficult, but it can present a special challenge in youth. In the midst of a time of life that is characterized by turmoil and crisis – hormonal, psychological, emotional, spiritual, relational – teens are especially vulnerable to the psychological impact of loss.

Psychologist Gary R. Collins discusses grief in this way:

Grief is an important, normal response to the loss of any significant object or person.

It is an experience of deprivation and anxiety which can show itself physically, emotionally, cognitively, socially and spiritually. Any loss can bring about grief: separation, divorce, retirement from job, amputations, death of pet, departure of a child to college, moving from a friendly neighborhood, selling one’s car, losing a home or valued object, loss of contest or athletic game, health failures, and even loss of confidence or enthusiasm. Doubts, the loss of one’s faith, the wanning of one’s spiritual vitality, or the inability to find meaning in life can all produce a sadness and emptiness which indicate grief. Indeed, whenever a part of life is removed there is grief.

Most discussion of grief, however, concern losses which come when a loved one or other meaningful person has died. Death, of course, happens to everyone and the mourners are left to grieve. Such grieving is never easy…. Most religions take comfort in the certainty of after life, but this does not soften the emptiness and pain of being forced to let go of someone we love. When we experience loss by death grievers are faced with an absolute, unalterable, irreversible, situation; there is nothing they can do to, for or about that relationship.

Grief can be devastating, but it is sometimes more so for a young person, due to the reactions of others and to their own age relative immaturity.

Authors Joan Sturkie and Siang-Yang Tan point out the dilemma facing many grieving youth: Often adults forget to consider that a young person is hurting…. Somehow, adults seem to think that young people do not feel the pain much. Of course, this is not true. Unfortunately, to compound the pain, young people often do not have someone who will listen to them talk about how they are felling. If a father dies in the family, the mother is comforted with many adults who want to help, to listen, to be there for her. But oftentimes the son or the daughter is overlooked, especially if he or she has not reached adulthood.

Young people who are confronted with the death of a friend or loved one face the difficult task of coping with a somewhat “adult” problem while they are still struggling toward adulthood. Though the experience if grief is a natural part of life that every person must deal with at one time or another, the adolescent or preadolescent may be experiencing grief for the first time – using emotional and spiritual resources that may yet be immature and coping mechanisms that may be sorely underdeveloped.

In general, counseling professionals agree that, while grief is natural, understandable and necessary, it is not always healthy. Normal grief, which can be quite severe, often involves “intense sorrow, pain, loneliness, anger, depression, physical symptoms and changes in interpersonal relations, all of which comprise a period of deprivation and transition- that may last for as long as three years – or more.”

Normal grief, while sometimes extremely painful – even explosive – runs along fairly predictable lines and leads eventually to restored mental and emotional well-being.

The widely acclaimed work of Elizabeth Kubler-Ross has chronicled the five stages of grief, as Sturkie and Tan explains:

  1. Denial – The person may refuse to believe that [the death has occurred.] This stage may vary in length, with some people staying in it longer than others. It is a temporary stage, but surface again at any time.
  2. Anger – The [youth] may question why the death occurred. When the answer is not apparent, he or she lash out anger at the seeming unfairness of it all.
  3. Bargaining – This is usually an attempt to postpone [an imminent] death [or “cut a deal” that will lessen the pain of grief or the reality of the separation]… The bargaining is done in secrecy, with God.
  4. Depression – When the… person faces the reality of …. [the] death, depression often sets in….
  5. Acceptance – When the… person works through the feelings and conflicts that have arisen, he or she may now be ready to accept the fact [of the] death.

But the pathological grief typically differs from normal grief in its depth, duration, and destination

The pathological grief typically differs from normal grief in its depth (symptoms of grief are much more intense), duration (the grief endures far longer), and destination (it does not lead to mental and emotional health but to further psychological problems). Psychiatrist V.D. Volkan and D. Josephthal points out three key processes that underlie pathological grief:

  • Splitting is a process by which a “teenager gives intellectual assent to the death while responding emotionally and behaviorally as if nothing has happened,” a process which allows the youth to avoid the mourning process.
  • Internalization is the process by which the mourner seeks “to preserve [his or her] relationship with the deceased by taking in the lost person and focusing on his or her internal presence,” a process which denies the reality and finality of the death.
  • Externalization is the process by which the grieving person fixates on an object that is associated with the deceased, such as a photograph or piece of clothing, which serves to postpone the need to admit and cope with the loss.

Collins points out that several things tend to contribute to grieving that is pathological:

  1. Beliefs (the absence of religious beliefs)
  2. Background and personality (“People who are insecure, dependent, unable to control or express feelings and prone to depression often have more difficulty handling their grief.”)
  3. Social environment (Social attitude toward death that encourage the denial or quick dispatch of grief – whether communicated by family, region, ethnic tradition, or society in general – can greatly influence mourners’ ability to cope with grief.
  4. Circumstances accompanying the death (An untimely death, a tragic mode of death, the closeness of the survivor to the deceased, and other circumstances may intensify the grieving process and incite a pathological response.)

Causes and Effects of Grief

As a young person (or any person) works through the stages of grief, he or she is likely to encounter a widely varying array of emotions and other effects of the process. The effects of grief to be discussed here are not confined grief that arise from death; many will be experienced whenever loss of any kind occurs (the loss of a romantic relationship, for example). These effects can be intense, but they are nonetheless normal and usually healthy.

Physical Effects

The physical symptoms of grief described by Erich Lindemann (author of a landmark series of interviews, books, and articles on grief) are related by Dr. G. Keith Olson as follows:

  • Laborious respiration marked by sighing and tightness in the throat
  • Feelings of physical exhaustion and lack of physical strength and endurance
  • Digestive symptoms, including altered sense of taste, loss of appetite, insufficient salivary production and hollow feeling in the stomach.

Other physical symptoms are likely to include sleeplessness (or sleeping too much more than usual), headaches, and uncontrollable and often unexpectable weeping.

Emotional Effects


Fear and anxiety are common reactions during the grieving process.

Add Olson, “Anxieties about the future without the deceased reflect the person’s dependency and insecurity. Fears about one’s own mortality must also be confronted during the bereavement period.” The young person may also fear the changes that may result from his or her changing roles: the male teen who must now be “the man in the family,” the younger sibling who now the oldest in the family, etc.


Olson writes, “Many bereaved individuals experience a deep sense of guilt. Some feel guilty about past experiences or lack of contact with the deceased… Others feel guilty for not being able to prevent the death.” Such guilt reactions, say Olson, “represent an attempt to again feel in control of life after it has dealt such a painful and shaking blow.”


One of the most unacceptable feelings for an adolescent is to feel helpless.

Death is irreversible, mourners often become keenly aware of their powerlessness to prevent or reverse it, and Olson points out that “one of the most unacceptable feelings for an adolescent is to feel helpless. To fight against this threatening feeling, the teenager often tries to take as sense of responsibility for what has happened. In this way, guilt is often selected over helplessness.”


Anger is a normal and frequent reaction to the loss of a friend or loved one. It may be directed at the deceased for dying, for “deserting” the youth. It may be directed at others – particularly adults – who didn’t do enough to prevent the death. It may be directed towards God for allowing such a painful thing to happen.


A deep feeling of having been abandoned leads to an intense sense of loneliness

Adds Olson, “To be alone by choice is one thing. To be forced by external event…. is quite another. The latter is much more conducive to lonely feelings. While some adolescents react to grief with anger, others withdraw into themselves. Karl Menninger asserts that teenagers who withdraw and become more isolated are in worse condition than those who act out their anger aggressively.”


A common reaction to death is to ask, “Why?”

It is natural at such times to seek some explanation, some understanding of the possible reasons for our loss. Usually, however, a satisfying answer is elusive, even impossible. Such lack of answers may prompt doubt; a person may doubt God’s love, God’s wisdom – even His very existence. As real as the questions – and the doubt – may be, most grieving people are helped less by faith and intellectual explanations than by the sensitive comfort and consolation of others.


When death comes after a period of disability or illness, the mourner often reacts with a sense of relief; the agony of waiting is over. Relief may also be experienced when the deceased was abusive, hostile, or controlling; the agony of the relationship is over. Such feelings of relief are quite normal in some circumstance, but they may lead to or heighten guilt feelings as well.

These emotional and physical effects are not, of course, the only effect that accompany and characterize grief, but they are perhaps the most prevalent and profound.

Response to the Problem of Grief

Grief is a painful and difficult experience for the most mature among us; it can be unimaginably more so for an adolescent or preadolescent. The following measures, however, may help a parent, teacher, or other concerned adult to counsel a grieving teen. The concerned adult who is not a parent should, of course, inform and involve the parents in helping a youth through grief.


Grieving youths will not be looking for – and will not be helped by – “convenient, glib answers to ease every question from [their] aching hearts.” What they want, and what they need, is someone who is willing to walk through the process of grief with them, always present, seldom talking, always listening. Gary D. Bennett offers wise guidance:

Encourage crying as a legitimate way to show. . . feelings, not as a sign of weakness. Statements such as “Hold your chin up” or “Be brave” should be avoided. It is better to remain quiet and supportive than to say anything that will interfere with the grief process.

Though Joshua’s friends have been widely criticized and may have been more hindrance than help, it is worth remembering that when they heard of the deaths of their son, the family sat down with his parents for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to his parents, because they saw how great their suffering was.


The parent or youth worker who hopes to help a teen through the grieving process should examine his or her past experiences with – and responses to – death. Is the adult conscious of his or her own finiteness? Olson says that

Empathic understanding, one of the most healing dynamics in any counseling relationship, is particularly important when counseling with the bereaved…

and empathic expression of understanding, caring and support have significant healing impact. Sharing sorrow and sensitively offering comfort are among the simplest and most effective help anyone can offer in times of grief.


An essential ingredient in successful grief counseling is an open acceptance of the feelings, thoughts, and emotional releases expressed by the teen

Olson adds, Many are shocked by the intense rage and fathomless anguish that pours forth from the grieving. . . . The counseling environment needs to be warm and supportive. . . . Teenagers do not need to be invaded or suffocated by loving care, but they need to be surrounded by it.

Pray is one key way of providing affirmation and comfort to grieving youth. Pray for him or her; let the youth hear you pray for him or her; let your concern and esteem reach the youth by letting him or her listen as you pour out your heart for that young person in prayer.


Most of the help a parent, teacher, or other adult can offer a grieving young person will be to listen, empathize and affirm. However, some helpful directive measures include:

  • Help the young person to face his or her loss. This can be done by encouraging him or her to talk about the loss, perhaps by asking:

How did it happen?

Where were you when you heard?

Where did it occur?

Who told you about it?

(If the loss was a death) What was the last rite like?

Help the young person identify and express his or her feelings. Typically, feelings associated with a loss include anger, guilt, anxiety, and frustration. Keep in mind that most people will not identify and express their feelings when asked directly. Instead, seek to facilitate expression of feelings by responding to youth: “I can see how that might make you angry,” or “You really feel strongly about that, don’t you?

  • Help the youth turn to God of all comfort. Encourage dependence on Him and His limitless resources. Do not preach to or push the young person, but gently remind him or her that God is a refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”
  • Help the youth learn to live with the loss. Guide the conversation through the difficulties the young person faces now as a result of the loss and walk him or her through various problem-solving approaches (role-playing, playing “what if,” listing pros and cons, etc.). Try to steer his or her attention away from the past (the loss itself) and toward the future (What is to be done now?).
  • Allow the youth time to grieve. Grieving takes time. Be prepared for most difficult times in the process: the first three months after the loss, the first anniversary of the loss (in cases of death) and holidays and special days.
  • Help the youth examine and admit inappropriate responses to the loss such as withdrawal or resorting to alcohol and drug use as a coping mechanism. Guide him or her to consider appropriate coping devices in place of such things.
  • Provide ongoing support to the young person. Help with the many adjustments that follow a loss: changes in relationships, schedules, etc.


As suggested above, one way to help the grieving youth might be to elicit his or her response to the question, “How are you going to deal with this. . .?” The concerned adult may help facilitate healthy grieving by enlisting the young person’s participation in such decisions as, Will he or she attend or participate in the last rites? and can he or she help others who are grieving (a spouse, family member, or friend of the deceased)? Such activities can be extremely freeing in working through grief.


While parents and other caring adults must be involved in helping a young person cope with grief, other resources are often necessary. Olson advises:

Because adolescence is a life stage that is so marked with turmoil and transition, whenever a teenager loses a loved relative or close friend, counseling is advised. Symptoms may or may not be present. Remember, however, that symptom severity is not always a valid indication of the need for counseling intervention. In just a few sessions a counselor can assist bereaved teenagers through grief process. The counselor can plan a crucial role by listening, supporting, and empathically caring as the adolescent mourner readjusts and adapts to a future without the presence of the deceased.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person with grief to care for.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.


A Guide to Help Youth with Guilt

Akash was seven when, one rainy morning, he left house to catch the school bus…without raincoat. His mother called after him, but he ignored her. Finally, his father began calling, but Akash could see the school bus coming up the road and didn’t want to miss it.

He turned to watched from the school bus stop as his father raced towards him with Akash’s raincoat in his hands. Moments later, Akash’s dad crossed a slippery patch on the sidewalk; his feet flew out from underneath him, and he hit the ground hard, his head making a loud cracking noise as it hit the concrete sidewalk.

His dad’s injuries from the fall were severe, and he was rushed to the hospital where, due to complications arising from his fall, he died eleven days later.

After his father’s accident, Akash, a formerly bright and cheerful kid, became dull and morose. At ten, he was nearly killed when he stepped into the path of a car on the street in front of his house. At thirteen, he began suffering from extended bouts of severe depression. At fifteen, he tried to take his life.

Akash’s mother had grieved for years over her husband’s death and even longer over the change she had witnessed in her son. She knew her teenage son was suffering deeply, but she couldn’t understand why. It came as total shock to her when she discovered, after attending counseling with her son, that he had been consumed with guilt for most of his life because he blamed himself for his father’s death.

Problem of Guilt

Guilt is an inescapable fact of human existence.

Dr. Keith G. Olson, in his book Counseling Teenagers writes that guilt is an inescapable fact of adolescence. Psychologist Jane Marks says, “Children….tend to believe that they are responsible for the events around them.” That tendency sometimes continues into adolescence. If friend gets hurt in their presence, they’re apt to feel degree of guilt about it. If parents argue or fight, they’re likely to feel guilt. If they pass a homeless man on the street, they may feel guilt over his condition. Add to this acute – often unreasonable – sense of culpability the reasonable guilt that results from wrong act they do commit, and the result is a potent emotional and spiritual mixture.

Olson describes guilt as: …..a very painful, disruptive fact that plays a significant part in many of our psychological, emotional and physical disorder. Psychiatrist Quentin Hyder describes the complex emotion of guilt in this way: “It is partly the unpleasant knowledge that something wrong has been done. It is partly fear of punishment. It is shame, regret or remorse. It is resentment and hostility toward the authority figure against whom the wrong has been done. It is feeling of low self-worth and inferiority. It leads to alienation, not only from others, but also from oneself, because of the discrepancy between what one really is and what one would like to be. This leads to loneliness and isolation. Guilt, therefore, is partly depression and partly anxiety.”

Olson goes on to point out that the religious often have greater difficulty coping with guilt than the non-religious do, particularly those religious who are legalistic in their belief and practice. And Bruce Narramore states: It is amazing how consistently we are taught that guilt feelings experienced by God’s children come from God. I believe the reason they have equated guilt feelings with voice of conscience is due to its failure to distinguish between three different types of guilt. A brief look at these distinctions will help clarify the problem.

The first, civil or legal guilt, signifies the violation of a human law. It is a condition or a state rather than a feeling or emotion. We can be guilty of breaking the road rules, for example, even though we may not feel guilty.

Religious guilt, on the other hand, refers to the violation of divine standards or divine law. The religious text like Bible indicates that each of us is religiously guilty; we have “all sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). But Religious guilt is not a feeling or emotion. It is a condition or state of being in which we are less perfect than God intends us to be, but it is not necessarily accompanied by the emotional aspects of guilt. In biblical sense, we are continual state of religious guilt…..but this doesn’t mean that we feel guilty.

Psychological guilt is the punitive, painful, emotional experience that we commonly call guilt. In contrast to the legal and religious types of guilt, psychological guilt is an emotional feeling.

Obviously, psychological guilt is the type of guilt that afflicts many teens and preteens, sometimes to an intense degree.

Psychological guilt, while it may accompany legal or religious guilt, is highly subjective. Dr Gary Collins points out that this subjective guilt may be strong or weak, appropriate or inappropriate. It may be beneficial, prompting us “to change our behavior or seek forgiveness from God and others. But guilt feelings can also be destructive, inhibitory influences which make life miserable.”

Causes of Guilt

Collins, in his book deals at length with the causes of guilt (that is, psychological guilt), citing past learning and unrealistic expectations, inferiority and social pressure, faulty and conscience development.

  • Past Learning and Unrealistic Personal Expectations

Individual standards of what is right and wrong, or good or bad, usually develop in childhood.

Collins adds, for some parents the standards are so rigid and so high that the child almost never succeeds. There is little if any praise and encouragement because the parents are never satisfied. Instead, the child is condemned, criticized and punished so frequently that he or she is made to feel like a constant failure. As a result, there is self-blame, self-criticism, inferiority and persisting guilt feelings, all because the child has learned a set of standards, sometimes impossible to reach. While parents most often express these standards, sometimes they come from religious beliefs in the attainment of perfection.

As they grow older, children take over parental and religious standards. They expect perfection in themselves, set up standards which never can be reached, and slide into feelings of guilt and self-blame.

  • Inferiority and Social Pressures

Social suggestions are the source of innumerable feelings of guilt.

“It is difficult to determine whether a feeling of inferiority creates guilt feelings, or whether guilt feeling produces inferiority,…” writes Collins. However, “social suggestions is….source of innumerable feelings of guilt.”

  • Faulty Conscience Development

Collins continues, “At [an] early stage in life, the child…..learns about guilt. When the parents are good models of what they want to teach; when the home is warm, predictable and secure, and when there is more emphasis on approval and giving encouragement than on punishment and criticism – then the child knows what it means to experience forgiveness.

But when there are poor parental models, and/or moral training which is punitive, critical, fear-ridden or highly demanding, then the child becomes angry, rigid, critical and burdened by a continuing sense of guilt.

Dr. Dwight Carlson points out that guilt can be based on valid or true beliefs (such as guilt that comes from the prompting of the God), but it can also come from false beliefs (such as “the belief that I’m dumb, no good, or ugly, or that I have to be perfect,” which can spring from the other causes mentioned above by Collins). In either case, however – whether the psychological guilt is based on true beliefs or false beliefs – it can be equally harmful.

Effects of Guilt

There is a difference, of course, between the effects of objective guilt (legal and religious) and the effects of subjective guilt (psychological). Legal guilt may result in prosecution and punishment; religious guilt will, without forgiveness through mercy of God bring judgment and spiritual death. Subjective guilt, however, may bring several different consequences. Bruce Narramore details the five primary reactions to guilt: condemnation, rebellion, denial and rationalization, confession, genuine repentance.

  • Condemnation

Bruce Narramore writes: Let’s say people…rebuke you, threaten to reject you, and in general let you know they think you’re a mess. In other words, they make you feel immensely guilty. Your natural reaction to this guilt might be to give up and agree with their negative evaluation. You may think to yourself, They’re right. I really am a mess. By agreeing with their evaluation, you participate in their condemnation of yourself.

A young person who reacts to guilt in this way will typically seem sullen, sad and serious. He may often hang his head when speaking to others and exhibit to look others in the eye. She may unconsciously (or, in extreme cases, consciously) inflict punishment on herself by stumbling into frequent “accident” or gaining weight.

Such self-condemnation may also involve an inability to relax, a refusal to accept compliments, an unwillingness to say ‘no’ to the demands of others, or avoidance of leisure activities.

It may also lead to severe depression and even suicide attempts.

  • Rebellion

Narramore continues: Some people…. as soon as they’re made to feel guilty…. rebel. Someone might tell them, “You’re a failure.” Their response would be to think, You haven’t seen anything yet! And they would start to make things worse. There’re like a principal’s son who told me how frequently he rebelled against his father and the school. During one counseling session, he gleefully told me how, during a drinking spree with some of his buddies, he lifted his bottle of beer to his lips and yelled, “Here’s one for the principal’s board.”…. Others don’t rebel so openly. They are much like a married person who is passively resistant. Responding to their partner’s threats, nagging, or attempts to raise guilt, the husband or wife fights back with passivity. He or she fails to get ready on time, lets household tasks go undone, or gets involved in activities that neglect the family. Unfortunately, such passive rebellion stirs up more anger and guilt and compounds the problem.

The teen or preteen who reacts to psychological guilt in this way may exhibit rebellion against parents, teachers, or adults in general. Sometimes the rebellion is sharpest against the authority figure who prompts the greatest feelings of guilt – whether by words, attitude, or example.

  • Denial and Rationalization

Narramore writes: [Another] way we react to guilt feelings is to deny them by rationalizing away our failures and weaknesses. We say things like: “Compared to other people, I’m not so bad.” “That’s just the way I am” or “That’s just human nature”…. Sometimes we hide our guilt by projecting our weakness onto others. We find in them the faults and vulnerabilities we are hiding in ourselves. By focusing on others, we avoid becoming aware of our failures.”

The youth who attempts to deal with guilt by denying and rationalizing it may be extremely critical, especially of parents and siblings. He or She may adamantly maintain innocence when his or her responsibility for some action or attitude is evident to all.

  • Confession

The teen or preteen who respond to guilt in this way may be prone to apologize profusely for an action that he or she repeats shortly thereafter. He may often be heard to say, “I said I was sorry.” She may be prone to feel sorry – not that she did wrong, but that she was caught.

  • Genuine Repentance

When a young person’s guilt is the product of true guilt (guilt that results from true beliefs instead of false beliefs), he or she may respond with true repentance and finds forgiveness.

The effects of guilt feelings are not all negative. Some people have learned to accept mistakes, to grow from them, and to confess to God and others.

Response to the Problem of Guilt

The young man or woman who is struggling with guilt feelings will probably not profit from platitudes or reprimand to “stop feeling guilty.” It may be possible, however, for the youth to confront and deal with his or her guilt with the help of a youth leader, parent, or concerned adviser. The caring adult who is not a parent should seek to inform and involve the young person’s parent (or, ideally, assist the youth in doing so) at the first opportunity. Both parents and other adults can help a young person struggling with guilt feelings by carefully and sensitively leading him or her through a course of action such as the following:


Be careful to listen, not only to young person’s words (though that is vital), but to his or her actions as well. Encourage the youth to talk about what is troubling him or her, perhaps using the following questions suggested by Collins as starting points:

  • What were [his or her parents’] expectations of right and wrong?
  • Were standards so high that the child could never succeed?
  • What happened when there was failure?
  • What is the [young persons’] experience with forgiveness?
  • Were blame, criticism and punishment frequent?
  • What did the religion teach about right and wrong?
  • Was the [youth] made to feel guilty?
  • What makes the [young person] feel guilty today? Be specific.
  • Does [he or she] show any of the ….. reactions…described above?


The parent, youth leader, or adviser hoping to help a teen or preteen come to terms with feelings of guilt will do well to first examine his or her own experience with the goal of using that experience as an opportunity, not to preach, but to understand the young person’s feelings and thoughts. This empathic concern can best be shown by:

  • Careful, patient, and thorough listening (not being anxious to speak, reach conclusions, or give advice).
  • Observation of emotions, mannerisms, body language – and what they may be revealing.
  • Avoiding expressions of judgement or blame.
  • Speaking (at first) only to be sure you’re hearing and understanding correctly.


Teenagers who are suffering from subjective guilt are usually very sensitive to the possibility of being condemned or judged by others. In fact, they often expect it.

Olson adds, it takes great courage for them to disclose their feelings of guilt. Nothing encourages this delicate process more than for the counselor to be genuinely understanding, accepting, and non-judgmental. This attitude reassures, “I am not interested in evaluating your behavior or judging your morality. I am interested in helping you to establish and accomplish your own goals.”


Though it may take a considerable amount of time, the wise youth leader or parent or teacher may do well to offer direction to a young person suffering from guilt feelings, perhaps along the lines suggested by Collins.

Once the youth has developed an understanding of what God truly expects, the caring adult can then lead him or her to investigate whether youth’s guilt feelings are constructive or destructive. If guilt is true, religious guilt, the young person should be gently encouraged to identify and confess his or her faults through repentance and trust God to forgive the faults and failures and relieve the young person of the accompanying guilt.

Finally, the youth can be helped to consider ways to counter any false feelings of guilt that may linger or crop up in future. The parent, teacher, or youth worker may help by guiding the young person through the following three-step process.

  1. Identify guilt quickly. If it is avoided or denied, it will be much more difficult to handle. Treat it like flu virus; try to identify it early and treat it immediately.
  2. Deal with feelings immediately.
  • Pray; turn to God for His help in dealing with your feelings.
  • Call a trusted friend or mentor; talk out your feelings.
  • Talk back to your feelings; speak to your temptations as you would speak to an unruly dog.

3. Prevent and prepare for the next attack.

  • Identify things or people that triggered your guilt feelings.
  • Plan preventive techniques to stay away from that person or avoid that activity or to do something differently the next time you’re in a similar situation.
  • Note your patterns and progress. Recognize – learn from – your vulnerabilities and your victories; seek to decrease the former and multiply the latter.


Direction such as that suggested above is of no value, of course, if it is not acted upon by the young person. The parent or other adult can suggest, cajole, urge, and advise but unless the young person makes the decision – and, to some degree, at least formulates the “plan” for himself or herself, it will meet with limited (or no) success.

The youth leader can help the young person establish reasonable goals, adopt right beliefs and new attitudes and behaviors, and develop habits that encourage hope and success instead of despair and failure, but unless the young person makes the important decisions himself or herself, freedom from guilt will not result.


If at any point the young man or woman becomes violent or suicidal (or appears to be approaching that point), or if the young person appears to exhibit symptoms of a serious personality disorder, the youth worker or teacher should notify the youth’s parents. The caring adult may also wish to consider consulting or (with parents’ permission) involve a profession counselor.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person with guilt to care for.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.

Unhealthy Self-Esteem

A Guide to Help Youth with Low Self-Esteem

Biju was raised in a small town of Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh by good parents who loved him. But Biju’s father could communicate love only by giving to his family materially. He never put his arm around Biju. He never told him that he loved him or was proud of him. Biju’s mother was dominating, controlling and possessive. The oldest of the three children, Biju worked hard to gain his parent’s acceptance, love, approval. He became a “mommy’s boy”; by the time he reached high school Biju was feeble and cowardly. To make matters worse, Biju has a secret fear that someone might find out he was a chronic bedwetter. Until the age of fifteen he could never spend the nights at a relative or friend’s house, which compounded his loneliness and sense of inferiority. He felt unloved, incompetent, and totally worthless.

Biju’s college experience was characterized by sever loneliness and times of great depression. At times he sank into almost suicidal depression. He had no close friends. He was afraid to let anyone know that small, frightened boy he was inside. He was certain no one could like him, because he certainly didn’t like himself.

At times his struggle with low self-esteem has been almost overwhelming, but a significant turning point in Biju’s life occurred at a youth camp in Mumbai. He met a counselor there who gave him hope that he could be different. After one brief afternoon session, Biju’s life began to change dramatically.

In the years since that summer, God has worked to heal him of his pain, loneliness, anger, and feelings of inferiority. He has spent many hours trying to understand himself. He has prayer and sought counseling from many people. He has come a long way – and still has a long way to go. But today Biju is different Biju and is learning to like Biju.

Problem of Unhealthy Self-Esteem

As a young person approaches and enters adolescence, he or she faces a brand-new challenge, one that has profound implications for his or her future. That challenge is to answer the questions, “Who am I?” “Where am I going?” and “Where do I belong”

Three Functional Areas

The major task of adolescence is the reevaluation of self.

Dorothy Corkille Briggs adds. this reevaluation uses the teen’s past experiences and influences, as well as the messages he or she receives from parents, teachers, friends, and society in general. These all combine to affect three functional areas in the young person’s estimation of himself or herself.

The Area of Appearance.

Many parents have observed that a frequent side effect of adolescence is an inability to pass a mirror without stopping. Young people are often, intensely concerned about their appearance; they worry about their hair, their complexion, their clothes, and their weight. Any imperfection, no matter how small, assumes huge importance to a teen, and any criticism of the youth’s appearance is likely to be filed forever in his or her self-concept.

The Area of Performance.

A teen’s estimate of himself or herself is also formed by how the teen – and – others – view his or her developing abilities, skills, and intelligence. “I’m no good at math; I must be dumb.” “I stink at sports; I’m such a looser.” “I flunked my annual exams; I can’t do anything right.” Such experiences and sentiments can contribute to a poor self-image.

The Area of Status.

The social structure in which a teen lives and functions (or malfunctions) can be complex and unforgiving. Young people are measures according to who they like, who likes them, whether they’re popular, what kind of car they have, what their parents do, where they live, etc. While such things trivial to parents or teacher or youth worker, they can be immensely influential in a teen’s estimate of his or her own importance and value.

Three Keys to Self-Concept

The areas of influence described above work together to help create the self-concept a teen holds in his or her mind and heart. Maurice E. Wagner points out that the concept consists of three essential elements:


Wagner writes, belongingness is an awareness of being wanted and accepted, of being cared for and enjoyed….. Our sense of belongingness is fundamentally established in infancy. Children develop feelings of belongingness when loving parents anticipate their discomforts and affectionately provide for their needs.


Wagner writes, worthiness is a feeling of “I am good” or “I count” or “I am right.” We feel worthy when we do as we should. We verify that sense of worthiness when we sense other’s positive attitudes toward us and their heart endorsement of our actions. When others do not approve, but criticize us, we feel a loss of worthiness.


Wagner writes, this is a feeling of adequacy, of courage, or hopefulness, of strength enough to carry out the tasks of daily life-situations….. True competence acknowledges one’s abilities as well as one’s weaknesses…. Competence begins to develop in preadolescent years, but it grows on to a more fixed attitude as a person finishes his teens. Competence is affected positively by successes, negatively by failures.

Everyone – children, teens, as well as adults – wants to feel accepted, worthwhile, and competent. Unfortunately, the onset of adolescence often wreaks havoc with those feelings.

Youngsters often experience a decline in self-esteem as they enter their adolescent years.

writes Bruce Bower. “Social scientists have documented this trend – often more pronounced among girls – over the past 20 years.”

Causes of Unhealthy Self-Esteem

It is dangerous to oversimplify the many varies factors that contribute to a person’s self-image. In fact, many social scientists still argue over the validity of several claims as to its cause. However, while not all contributing factors can be presented here, several are so clearly influential they must be mentioned.


A direct correlation between child abuse and low self-esteem has been documented by a number of studies. In fact, K. Brent Marrow and Gwendolyn Sorell say that “severity of abuse was the single most powerful predictor of self-esteem” in their studies. The link between abuse and self-esteem is not limited to sexual abuse, nor even to physical abuse. Psychologist Irwin Hyman estimates that “50 percent to 60 percent of kids show some kind of stress as a result of emotional mistreatment at school,” such as sarcastic remarks from teachers or disciplinary actions meant to embarrass children in front of their peers. Mary Beth Marklein reported that

Many mental health experts say tactics such as name calling, ridicule or sarcasm can rob children of their self-esteem.

Parental Rejection

Researchers Joan Robertson and Ronald Simons reported that, according to a study they conducted,

Perceived parental rejections was significantly associated with both depression and low self-esteem. with low self-esteem showing a strong relationship with depression.

Young people who were raised in a family environment of excessive parental criticism, belittling, shaming – or of neglect and inattention – are likely to struggle with the adolescent task or reevaluating themselves and their places in the world.

Faulty Thinking

Authors Bruce Narramore and Robert S. McGee are among many who point out that youth with low self-esteem often display wrong assumptions and faulty thinking. Some of those damaging assumptions and concepts are:

I must meet certain standards in order to feel good about myself.

Such standards may be the standards of parents, teachers, or friends, or they may be reactions to the standards of those people (like the girl who determined she would never buy secondhand clothes because her parents always did). McGee points out that people who accept this belief respond in one of the two ways. Either they become “slaves to perfectionism, driving themselves incessantly toward attaining goals [and basing] their self-worth in their ability to accomplish a goal,” or they despair of ever achieving anything good or ever feeling good about themselves. “Because of their past failures, they are quick to interpret present failures as an accurate reflection of their worthlessness. Fearing additional failures, they become despondent and quit trying.”

I must have approval of certain others to feel good about myself.

Acceptance of this false belief will lead young people to bow to peer pressure in an effort to gain approval. They may join certain clubs, “hang around” with certain groups of people, or experiment with drugs and alcohol in an effort to gain the approval of influential others in their lives. Some will almost do anything for a smile from a particular girl, for a laugh from the right crowd, for a nod of approval from the teacher or youth leader because they base their self-worth on what they think other people think about them.

Those who fail are unworthy of love and deserve to be punished.

Narramore writes, “We take in our parents’ corrective attitudes and actions just as we take in their goals, ideals, and expectations. To the degree our parents resorted to pressure, fear, shame or guilt to motivate us, we [develop a false assumption that say] “When i fall short of my goals or expectations, I need to be pressured, shamed, frightened, or punished.” Because the teen years involve so much trial and error – or failure – this assumption can be devastating to a young person’s sense of self-esteem.

I am what I am, I cannot change, I am hopeless.

McGee writes, “When past failures, dissatisfaction with personal appearance, or bad habits loom so large in our minds that they become basis of our self-worth, the fourth false belief becomes established in our lives…. If we excuse our failures too often and for too long, we soon find our personality glued to them.”

Finally, it must be mentioned that, to some extent at least, the reevaluation of self that characterizes the teen years is often resolved successfully with the passage of time and the development of one’s abilities, skills, and intelligence. However, self-esteem is such a crucial element to physical, mental, and spiritual health that the wise parent, youth leader, or teacher, will not neglect any opportunity to help a teen mature in this area as in others.

Effects of Unhealthy Self-Esteem

Flawed Attitudes

One of the most profound effects of a poor self-image can be seen in the attitude a person develops towards his or her world. Persons with an unhealthy self-image have a fearful, pessimistic view of the world and of their ability to cope with its challenges. They see unexpected or new situations as threats to their personal happiness and security, seemingly planned as attacks on them personally. They see the world closing on them, pushing and crushing them. Such people tend to receive what the world sends their way without challenging or attempting to change it. They see themselves as victims, helplessly entrapped in a hostile environment, as shown by this graphic depiction:

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On the other hand, person with healthy self-esteem see the world as a challenge to be faced, an opportunity to exercise personal strength and trust in God. Such people assume they can have an impact on their world through God and that by the grace of God they can effectively change their environment. This attitude is illustrated by the image shown below:

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Person with a weak or unhealthy self-image operate in life from any number of these perceived factors and motivations:

  1. Pessimistic outlook on life
  2. Lack of confidence in social skills
  3. Extremely sensitivity to opinions of other people
  4. Self-consciousness about appearance, performance or status
  5. A view of other people as competition to beat, not friends to enjoy
  6. A sense of masculinity or femininity felt only through sexual conquests
  7. A striving to become something or somebody instead of relaxing and enjoying who they are
  8. A view of the present as something to be pushed aside instead of focusing on past achievements or future dreams
  9. Fear of God or belief that He is uninterested or angry with them
  10. A habit of mentally rehashing past conversations or situations, wondering what the other person meant
  11. A critical and judgmental view of others
  12. Defensiveness in behavior and conversations
  13. An attitude of carrying a chip on their shoulders
  14. Use of anger as defense to keep from getting hurt
  15. A tendency to develop clinging relationships
  16. Inability to accept praise
  17. Self-defeating habits and behaviors
  18. A habit of letting others “walk” on them
  19. Fear of being alone
  20. Fear of intimacy because it might lead to rejection or smothering relationship
  21. Difficulty believing or accepting God’s love or the love of another person
  22. Dependence on material possessions for security
  23. Inability to express emotions
  24. A habit of using negative labels in referring to themselves.
  25. Anticipation or worry that the worst will happen
  26. A tendency to follow the crowd and avoid independent behavior
  27. Perfectionistic behavior regarding details
  28. Perpetually rigid, legalistic, and ritualistic preferences in worship
  29. Interpretation of their world as hostile and overpowering
  30. A shifting of responsibility to others for unwanted or negative situations or feelings
  31. Need for lots of structure and external control in life
  32. Overly sensitive conscience

It must be emphasized that a poor self-image is not the sole cause of all the above factors. There may be many other causes. Further, someone who has extremely poor self-esteem will not necessarily exhibit all – or even most – of the above factors.

Quality of Relationships

Low self-esteem also affects the quality of a person’s relationships. Psychology Today suggests,

Of all the problems with self-esteem, this may be the worst: people who have it create relationships that tend to perpetuate it…

According to William B. Swann, Jr., Ph.D., people with negative self-image prefer people – even seek them out – who also evaluate them negatively.”

Problems in Marital Intimacy

Not surprisingly, then, a poor self-image is also one of the prime causes of problems in marital intimacy. If you do not have a healthy self-acceptance, how can you expect your mate accept you for who you are? You can’t, and so you start to build a facade, and the man or woman who marries you marries the facade, not the real you. When that happens, the facade gets larger and larger, and usually, any intimacy that was in the initial relationship disappears.

Limited Achievement, Satisfaction, and Fulfillment

Low self-esteem bears many results, hampering achievement, satisfaction, fulfillment, and pleasure in school, work, leisure, and marriage and other relationships.

Response to the Problem of Unhealthy Self-Esteem

A poor self-image is not formed overnight. Neither will it be tempered or corrected overnight. A youth leader, teacher, or parent can be vital help to a young person laboring under weak or unhealthy self-image by pursuing a course like the following:


Some kids don’t know what it’s like to have an adult listen – really – listen – to them. Their parents don’t listen, their teachers don’t listen… or at least the kids don’t think they do. It’s important to develop a habit to listening closely to the young person who have low self-esteem. Listen to his self-critical statements; listen to the negative labels she used to describe herself; listen to what he says about his family, his parents, his childhood, his friends, his school, how other people treat him. Just having someone honestly listening can have a salutary effect on a young person.

Use such questions as the following to gently probe the young person’s ideas, attitudes, and self-concept:

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • Do you think you’re a valuable person?
  • Do you ever call yourself names?
  • Do you think other people like you?
  • Do you like yourself?
  • How do you think your parents feel about you? Your teachers? Friends? Others?
  • What things make you feel good about yourself?
  • What things make you feel not so good about yourself?

Endeavor, as the young person speaks, to listen not only to his or her words but to the feelings being expressed. And “listen” as well to his or her body language. Try also to impress on the young man or woman that God is always listening, and the most important and effective ingredient of a healthy self-concept is to know God, His love, His fellowship.


Be careful to empathize with the young person. Examine your own self-concept. What have been your greatest struggles? Do you still struggle with self-esteem? What has helped you accept yourself? Also strive to communicate warmth and empathy by:

  • Leaning forward in your chair to communicate your interest.
  • Making eye contact with the young person as he or she speaks without staring or letting eye wander.
  • Avoiding any expression of shock, disapproval, disagreement, or judgement about what is said.
  • Waiting patiently through periods of silence or tears.
  • Leading the conversation by asking “What happened next? or “Tell me what you mean by….”
  • Reflecting the young person’s statements by saying, “You must feel…..,” or “It sounds like you’re saying….”


David Seamands writes, “Some parents are afraid to give their children affirmation and encouragement. They think if they praise the children too much, the children will become conceited or proud…. [But we] parents are much more in danger of perpetuating our children’s fear of failure than making them unjustly proud.”

Whether you’re a parent, youth worker, or teacher, affirmation is critical to the development of self-esteem. Affirm both his or her personhood and his or her performance; try to “catch” the young person doing something right or doing something well, and make sure you comment sincerely on it.


The adult who seeks to influence a young person struggling with low self-esteem should, at an opportune time, sensitively share truth about faith that boost youth’s significance in God. Some young people, hearing for the first time about their inestimable value in God’s eyes, have taken life-changing assurance and confidence from this truth.

In addition, the caring adult should seek to counter the sources of the young person’s self-esteem. Author Tony Campolo suggests two primary emphases in directing a child in ways that will foster healthy self-esteem:

[Help the youth] develop an area where she is special, unusual. and better than others. Some parents have done this by giving kids music lessons, some by putting children into drama classes, some by focusing on developing children’s athletic abilities. You must be very sensitive to special talents and gifts of the child and then capitalize on them so the child develops them to the utmost. Thus the child feels special, and that feeling enables her to have a sense of worth.

Youth leaders, teacher can also do this by carefully observing a young person they’re concerned about to determine what opportunities and/or training can be offered to the youth. Can she be eased into leading the youth group in community? Can he be tutored with a view to someday teaching junior students at her school or NGO? Is there an area of responsibility – even a small area – that can allow her to demonstrate that she can handle responsibility and / or perform with competence?

Campolo continues: Second, the youth group at its best can give the child a sense of belonging and acceptance. Very often the child who is not accepted in the larger context of the public school can find affirmation and worth in this small body of youth. Parents need to be willing to change localities as the child comes into those junior college years, if necessary, to find a community with youth group [or begin such a group] that will serve to child’s need for affirmation.


Enlist the youth himself or herself in brainstorming ways he or she can work on self-image. Parents can shape it into a project. Youth leaders can us the task of rebuilding self-image as the basis of weekly group meeting with the youth. Tim Hansel suggests the following steps to a healthy self-esteem:

  1. Accept yourself.
  2. Know yourself.
  3. Be yourself.
  4. Love yourself.
  5. Forget yourself.

Enlist the youth in brainstorming ways to accomplish each of the above, such as the following:

  1. Do not label yourself negatively (I’m such a looser,” etc.) You tend to become the label you give yourself.
  2. Behave assertively (but not aggressively) even in threatening situations, particularly when you don’t feel like doing so.
  3. When you fail, admit and confess it to God, and then refuse to condemn yourself.
  4. Be as kind to yourself as you would to any other person.
  5. Do not compare yourself with others. You are a unique person. God enjoys you in your uniqueness; have a similar attitude towards yourself.
  6. Concentrate and meditate on God’s grace, love, and acceptance – not on criticisms from other people.
  7. Associate with friends who are positive, who delight in you, and who enjoy life.
  8. Start helping others to see themselves as God sees them by accepting them, loving them, and encouraging them. Give them the respect they deserve as one of God’s unique human creations.
  9. Learn to laugh; look for the humor in life and experience it.
  10. Have expectations of others that are realistic, taking into account each person’s specific talents, gifts, abilities, and potential.
  11. Relax and take it easy. Perhaps life isn’t in as much of a hurry with you as you suppose it is.
  12. Be positive. See how long you can go without saying something negative about another person or situation.
  13. Lead others with influence and wise guidance rather than with autocratic power.


In extreme cases – when a person’s self-image is so damaged that it results in serious depression or a total unresponsiveness to counsel and offers of help, for example – it may be necessary to involve a professional counselor. If you are not the child’s parent, the parents’ early involvement is crucial and their consent to refer is required.

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that it reaches all who has a young person with unhealthy self-esteem to care for.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.


A Guide to Help Youth with Anger

Kartik was the star of his football team but had not yet entered the game although it was already the second half and his team, the Super Kings, were losing, 2-0. He looked down the line of spectators at his mom and elder brother both of whom had attended every game. He scanned the crowd and finally found his father’s face watching the action at the far end of the field. Kartik strode over to his coach.

“Come on, coach, put me in. I promise, I won’t miss another practice.” The coach groaned as his team squandered an opportunity to score. “Coach, come on. My dad’s here. He’s never seen me play all year.” Coach Ravindran shook his head. “Sorry Kartik. You know the rules. You’ll get your chance.”

Kartik started to turn away, but he quickly whipped back around and push his face nose-to-nose with the coach, like a police officer. “To hell with your rules”. He shouted and spat a stream of violent curses and began swinging his fists at the surprised man. His first blow landed before Coach Ravindran could react and connected with the man’s nose. Blood began streaming down the coach’s face as he and Kartik locked in a struggle and tumbled to the ground, Coach Ravindran trying to pin the boy down and Kartik punching and kicking wildly.

It was Kartik’s elder brother who finally pulled him to his feet, still kicking and struggling. The game had stopped as everyone turned to watch the drama on the sidelines. Kartik was still cursing and trying to break free of his brother’s grasp when his father strode up to the boy and slapped him in the face.

“What’s the matter with you?” he yelled. His face was red, and although his arm hung at his sides, his hands were balled into fists. “Get into the car now,” he shouted, adding a few more obscenities for emphasis.

Karthik’s father glared at his wife and turned to the coach, who wiping his face with a now-bloody handkerchief. “I am sorry,” he said, struggling to control his words. “This should never has happened.” He shot a glance at his wife again. “That boy should have been taught better.”

Problem of Anger

Anger is a very commonly experienced and displayed emotion during adolescence.

Dr. G, Keith Olson writes, “Sometimes its occurrence is understandable and predictable; at times it comes as a surprise and shock to everyone, including the angry individual themselves.” While extreme mood swings and emotional instability are natural part of the teen years, temper outbursts and aggressive behavior can be signs that young person’s anger has reached unhealthy proportions and is not being handled appropriately.

Psychologist Gary R. Collins writes, [Anger] occurs in varying degrees of intensity – from mild annoyance to violent rage…. It may be hidden and held inward or expressed openly. It can be of short duration, coming and going quickly, or it may persist for decades in the form of bitterness, resentment or hatred. Anger may be destructive, especially when it persists in the form of aggression, unforgiveness or revenge…. Anger, openly expressed, deliberately hidden from others, or unconsciously expressed, is at the basis of a host of psychological, physical, spiritual problems.

Dr. Les Carter outlines three general ways in which people tend to handle anger – repression, expression, and release:

  • Repression is a form of denial. If a person denies that he is angry, then he feels no obligation to deal with his anger. The problem is solved (temporarily). Naturally this is a dangerous method of handling anger. Repression may have its short-term rewards, but in the long run repressed anger is usually especially powerful and bitter. By repressing it, a person is pushing anger from conscious to the subconscious. There it can fester and worsen without that person’s knowledge.
  • Expression is another way people handle anger. Anger is not expressed verbally. It can be expressed through behavior. Well over half of all communication is done through non-verbal means. Nonverbal expressions of anger can include a stern look, a slam of a door, ignoring someone crying, or giving a cold glare.
  • Released anger refers to anger that is dismissed or let go. It is not to be confused with repressed anger. Repressed anger is simply pushed into subconscious mind. But when anger is released, the person has made a conscious decision that anger is no longer needed and it is therefore dropped. People can gain the ability to release anger only after they first gain some mastery of the art of expressing anger.

The problem many teens and preteens face are that they tend to repress their anger (particularly if their parents or religion have taught them that anger is always bad) or they have never learned how to express anger appropriately, so they express it inappropriate ways. And, of course, very few young people (or adults) have learned how to release anger when it is warranted. As a result, bitterness, rage, and anger build up until they explode in brawling, slander, or other forms of malice.

In order to help youth, understand and deal with anger, the wise youth leader or parent will first seek to understand its root causes and effects.

Causes of Anger

There are many reasons anger invades people’s lives. Anger is triggered by a vast array of emotions and events. Some of the more prominent and significant are frustration, alienation, hurt or threat of hurt, injustice, fear, or anger as a learned response.


There are probably few times in life when a person’s frustration level can equal the frustration experienced during adolescence.

Teens and preteens are in a very active, energized, expansive and expressive stage in human development. Consequently, they are extremely likely to experience frustration.

Frustration results when a person’s progress toward the attainment of a goal is blocked or interrupted. Collins suggests that “how much [a person feels] frustrated depends on the importance of the goal, the size of the obstacles, and the duration of the frustration.” The many goals and passions of teen years (getting a friend, earning a driving license, even being allowed to stay up late) and the intensity with which teens desire such things make many young people candidates for severe frustration and, therefore, anger.


Olson points out, during early adolescence, peer group acceptance and involvement is vitally important for healthy adjustment to occur….Teenagers are extremely sensitive to any indication of rejection or isolation from their group or from special friends. Such isolation brings not only feelings of loneliness, but deeply felt and grave questions about one’s own identity, basic okayness and ultimate value of human being…..

And when alienation is deeply felt by a teenager, anger reactions are normally expected.

They can be outwardly expressed, or they can be internally directed in self-destructive, risk-taking, substance abuse and even suicide.

Hurt or Threat of Hurt

Anger also arises as a reaction to physical or emotional hurt. When a teammate throws a cricket ball in the nose – whether it was intentional or not – the player is likely to respond with anger. When parents call a young person a cruel name, anger will result, though it may be repressed. When Dad cancels a much-anticipated movie trip with his daughter, she is apt to be hurt, which will breed anger.

When a young man or woman is insulted, made fun of, humiliated, ignored or threatened, the offended party will respond with anger, expressed or not.


Teens or preteens are likely to react to injustice with anger whether the injustice was done to them, to peer, or even to a total stranger. Olson writes,

adolescents tend to be strongly idealistic and firmly hold to their value system, imposing that system onto others.

They are [also] sensitive to perceived injustices that are perpetrated by parents, teachers, political leaders or other authority figures. Collins points out that injustice “is one of the most valid reasons for anger, yet it probably is one of the least common causes of anger.” However, because of their heightened sensitivity, it may be more common among adolescents.


Fear may also prompt anger among youth, Fear of not making the team, fear of flunking annual exams, fear of what other kids are saying about him or her, fear of being embarrassed in gym class, fear of not being selected to the college day function – such a plethora of worries and fears may create high levels of frustration and anger.


Anger may be a learned response in many cases. A young person may have learned inappropriate ways of handling and expressing anger from parents or others in the family or society. He or she may have learned to harbor hostility, to let bitterness build up into rage, to resent or hate those who are different or express disagreement with him or her.

Olson suggests that the effects of violence in the mass media presents role models that, “especially when presented in an attractive, powerful or prestigious fashion embody as a strong modeling power” As Collins suggests,

By watching or listening to others, people learn to become more easily angered and more outwardly aggressive.

Effects of Anger

One writer state emphatically that anger, or hostility, is “a significant factor in the formation of many serious diseases” and is “the leading cause of misery, depression, inefficiency, sickness, accidents, loss of work time and financial loss in industry.” In fact, he says, “No matter what the problem – marital conflict, alcoholism, …. child’s defiance, nervous, physical disease – elimination of hostility is a key factor in its solution”.

The effects of anger are widespread – broken relationships. physical impairment, financial hardship, etc. Collins summarizes the effects of anger by describing four effects of anger might have on a person, way that may overlap or alternate from one situation to another: withdrawal, turning inward, attacking a substitute, and facing the sources of anger.


Perhaps this is the easiest but least effective way to deal with anger.

Collins adds that withdrawal can take several forms:

  • leaving the room, taking vacation, or otherwise removing oneself physically from the situation that arouses anger;
  • avoiding the problem by plunging into work or other activities, by thinking about other things, or by escaping into a world of social media, netflix or novels;
  • hiding the problem by drinking or taking drugs – behavior which also could be used to “get back” at the person who makes us angry; and
  • denying, consciously or unconsciously, that anger even exists.

Turning Inward

There may be calmness and smiling on the outside but boiling rage within

Sometimes anger is held in and not expressed. Internal anger, however, can be a powerful force that may express itself in these ways:

  • physical symptoms ranging from a mild headache to ulcers, high blood pressure or heart attacks;
  • psychological reactions such as anxiety, fear, or feelings of tension and depression….:
  • unconscious attempts to harm [oneself] (seen in accident proneness, in a tendency to make mistakes, or even in suicide);
  • thinking characterized by self-pity, thoughts of revenge, or ruminations on the injustices that one is experiencing; and
  • spiritual struggles…..

Attacking a Substitute

“Introductory textbooks in psychology often describe the common human tendency to blame innocent people when things are not going well,” writes Collins. He notes that angry person may “verbally, physically, or cognitively attack some largely innocent but accusable person. Sometimes there may even be an illegal or criminal ‘acting out’ against innocent victims.”

Facing the Sources of Anger

The sources of anger can be confronted, says Collins, in either a destructive or a constructive way. Destructive reactions….may include verbal and physical aggression, ridicule, cynicism, refusal to cooperate, or involvement in things which will hurt or embarrass someone else. Drinking [and] failing in school… for example, sometimes are really subtle ways to get even with parents….

Much more helpful is an approach which admits that there is anger, which tries to see its causes, and then does what is possible to change the anger-producing situations or perhaps to see it in a different way. This is a constructive, anger-reducing approach, which some people only learn with the help of a counselor.

Response to the Problem of Anger

Helping an adolescent or preadolescent who is struggling with anger may be a difficult and lengthy task. However, it is possible to do so, particularly if the following guidelines are kept in mind:


Help the [youth] admit how he or she really feels.

Be careful not to cause new frustration (and anger) by failing to listen. Pay attention to what the young person says (verbally and nonverbally) about how he or she is feeling. “Gradually breaking down denial and other defenses that prevent [him or her] from self-admission of the anger is often the first goal.”

Collins adds, “Such an admission can be threatening, especially for people who are angry at a loved one or who believe that all anger is wrong. It may help to point out that anger is common, God-given emotion which, for most people, gets out of control periodically….. If the counselee persists in denying the anger, even after hearing the evidence, perhaps he or she will admit the possibility that anger is present.”


The wise youth leader, parent, or teacher will do well to ask himself or herself. “Have I ever repressed anger or expressed it inappropriately?” “When was I last angry?” “What things do I need to work on?

Such questions may be a check on harsh or judgmental attitudes, helping the caring adult to empathize with the young person and his or her struggles. Keep in mind, too, that empathy can be communicated in some simplest ways. As you listen, try to remember to:

  • Lean slightly forward in your chair.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Nod to indicate understanding.
  • Reflect key statements (“You feel….” “You’re saying….”)
  • Wait patiently through periods of silence or tears.


Keep in mind at all times that it can be very humbling for person, regardless of his or her age, to admit that he or she has been angry, has handled it inappropriately, and /or has lost self-control. Consequently, efforts to help a young person confront and deal with anger should be saturated with affirmation and appreciation.

Affirmation is acknowledging the worth of a person, Appreciation is acknowledging the worth of his or her attributes, actions, and attitudes.


An important step in helping the angry individual is to direct him or her to consider the sources of anger (discussion the root of bitterness that cause resentment, anger etc.) Who is he mad at? What is making her angry? Which of the causes discussed above is most pertinent?

Another step, once the source of the anger is identified, is to urge the young person to face the hurt that is causing the anger, invite God into the pain he or she is feeling and ask God to work through the pain.

Moreover, Ross Campbell offers some helpful advice directed primarily to parents but advice that could also be employed profitably by youth leaders and others:

You want to train [the] teen in the way he should go. First, praise him for appropriate ways he is expressing anger. Then you can talk to him about one of the inappropriate ways he is using (like name-calling), asking him to correct it. You want to choose the best possible moment…

In some cases, it is impossible to resolve anger, as for example, when the person provoking the anger is inaccessible. At these times, the teenager must learn other appropriate ways to ventilate the anger, like exercise, talking it over with a mature person, using diversion such as an enjoyable activity, or spending time alone in a relaxed manner.

Another way to train a teenager in handling his own anger is to teach the art of preventing certain type of anger cognitively. This means using active intellectual reasoning to reduce the anger. [Collins call this “the art of evaluation” and suggests that it involves learning to ask such questions as. “What is making me feel angry? “Am I jumping to conclusions?” “Is my anger really justified?” and “Are there things I could do to change the situation in order to reduce my anger?”]

Patient and sensitive training along the line of Campbell suggests may help a teen learn to express or release his or her anger appropriately.


One of the most effective ways of enlisting a young person’s participation in resolving a problem with anger is suggested by Richard P. Walters, who prescribes “personal action plans”. If possible, the young person should develop his or her own plan for dealing with anger, perhaps along the lines of the following outline adapted from Walter’s book, Anger: Yours and Mine and What to Do About it.

  1. Am I angry? Identify any active or passive behavior that might indicate anger.
  2. What am I angry about? Evaluate what is causing anger, bitterness, or resentment.
  3. Do I resolve it or not? Reflect on whether you need to express your anger (appropriately) and seek resolution and reconciliation.
  4. Can I employ “first aid”? Might any of the following help express or release the anger? Asking for God’s help 1. Recognizing the God is in control. 2. Pray with thanksgiving. 3. Pray for peace in your heart. 4. Pray for the person provoking the anger. Human willful control 5. Measure the issue. 6. Control yourself. 7. Remind yourself that an angry feeling is okay. 8. Divert your attention. 9. Separate yourself from the conflict. 10. Use music. 11. Challen your energy elsewhere. 12. Do something you enjoy. 13. Talk with a friend. 14. Talk with yourself. 15. Laugh. 16. Cry. 17. Write down. 18. Relax.


Some adolescent anger possesses such deep and complex roots it requires the expertise of a professional counselor. Be alter to signs of such an instance and be willing and ready to involve a professional if there is the slightest indication that the young person’s history or condition warrants it. (If you are not the young person’s parent, keep in mind that parents should be involved as early as possible, and referral should be accomplished with their consent.)

Was this article helpful to you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that it reaches all who has an anxious young person to care for.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.


Shilpa left home at eighteen for her college years in a renowned college in the city three hundred kilometers away from home. She made several friends her first week of classes and seemed to be coping well with the many adjustments of college life. Less than four days before her first set of final exams was to begin, however, Shilpa dropped out of college.

“I can’t take it anymore,” she explained to her roommate. “The professors just keep piling the work on like you have no other class but theirs. I just can’t keep up. I think I’m flunking every class. I haven’t even been to math class in something like three weeks; I know the professor hates me.” She sniffed loudly and rubbed her rose with the back of her hand. “I can hardly leave my room anymore because I’m afraid I’ll meet one of my profs.”

“What are you going to do? her roommate asked. “I don’t know. I can’t go home; if my daddy finds out, he’ll kill me.” Her eyes rimmed with tears. “He’s like this poor, farmer, and he’d go crazy if he knew his only daughter flunked her whole first year.” She pulled a box of the cupboard and began stuffing her pictures and poster into it.

“Where are you going to go? Shilpa lifted her head at her friend. Tears clouded her eyes, and she pressed her figures into the corner of each eye and wiped the tears away only to have eyes fill up again. She shrugged. “I don’t know. I have a couple days to clear out of here. Maybe I can find a job and get an apartment. Then I won’t have to tell Daddy.”

“You have to tell him sometime, Shilpa.” Shilpa shook her head violently from side to side. “No.” she answered. “I can’t. Never.” She struggled to remove a poster from the wall with wildly trembling fingers, but it ripped. She angrily wadded it into a ball and shoved it into the wastebasket.

Problem of Anxiety

Anxiety, the official emotion of our age.

Doctors Frank Minirth and Paul Meier call it “the underlying cause of most psychiatric problems.” Anxiety is sadly prevalent among today’s youth as well. Psychologist Mary Pipher characterizes adolescents as regularly “overwhelmed by anxiety.” Pipher writes, ” The kinds of challenges [they] face…are just too hard for them to deal with. All of the ways that early teenagers have to prove their adulthood are self-destructive things like drinking, using drug, sexual activity, smoking. Children who are just putting away comic books and dolls are confronted with issues that developmentally they’re not ready to handle.”

Stress and anxiety become a way of life for many young people.

Dr. G. Keith Olson writes: Along with anger and guilt, anxiety and fear are major players in the lives of many teenagers…..Anxiety can be defined as the experience of unrest. apprehension dread or agitation worry. It has been described as a fear in the absence of real danger, or a fear of something that is not clearly understood…… Anxiety, fear and worry form a complex system of emotions that make clear differentiation between them quite difficult. They tend to overestimate the negative or threatening aspects of a situation while drawing attention away from the positive or reassuring aspects. The person is left feeling uneasy, concerned, restless, irritable and fidgety.

Causes of Anxiety

“The cause of anxiety many,” write Minirth and Meier. “It can be the result of unconscious intrapsychic conflicts. It can be learned by example – such as identifying with parents who are anxious. It can come from childhood conflicts. It can come from present-day situational problems. It can come from being anxious about being anxious. It can come from fears of inferiority, poverty, or poor health.” Collins outlines five broad causes of anxiety: threat, conflict, fear, unmet needs, and individual differences.


Collins describes anxiety-producing threats as “those which come from perceived danger, a threat to one’s feelings of self-worth, separation and unconscious influences….” For example, anxiety may be caused by rejection or harassment from a peer, the possibility of parent’s separation, the prospect of flunking a course in school, or any number of real or perceived threats.


There are three kinds of conflicts that produces anxiety, according to Collins:

  1. ….a conflict over the tendency to pursue desirable but incompatible goals [such as a choice between a great summer job or going on a long-awaited family vacation]. either of which would be pleasant. Often making such a decision is difficult and sometimes it is anxiety arousing.
  2. …..a desire both to do something and not to do it. For example, a person may grapple with [ending a romantic relationship that seems to be going nowhere. Breaking up might bring more freedom and opportunity, but it might also be a traumatic, hurtful experience for both parties.] Making such decisions can involve considerable anxiety.
  3. ….Here there are two alternatives, both of which may be unpleasant like having pain versus having operation which might in time relieve the pain.


“Fear can come in response to a variety of situations.” writes Collins. “Different people are afraid of failure, the future, achieving success, rejection, intimacy, conflict, meaninglessness in life (sometimes called existential anxiety), sickness, death, loneliness, and a host of other real or imagined possibilities. Sometimes these fears can build up in one’s mind and create extreme anxiety -often in the absence of any real danger.”

Unmet Needs

“For many years psychologists and other writers have tried to identify the basic needs of human beings,” writes Collins. He cites Cecil Osborne’s conclusion that six needs are fundamental:

  • survival (the need to have continues existence)
  • security (economic and emotional)
  • significance (to amount to something; to be worthwhile)
  • self-fulfillment (to achieve fulfilling goals
  • Selfhood (a sense of identity)

If we fail to meet these needs. Osborne believes, we are anxious, “up in the air,” afraid and often frustrated…..”

Individual differences

It is well known, of course, that people react differently in anxiety-producing situations

Collins writes, “Some people are almost never anxious, some seem highly anxious most of the time; many are in between. Some people are made anxious by a variety of situations; others find that only one or two issues trigger anxiety. [Such differences may be due to] the person’s psychology, personality, sociology, physiology or faith.”


“Most behavior is learned as a result of personal experience or teaching by parents and other significant persons. When we have failed and must try again, when we have been hurt in the past, when others have demanded more than we could give, when we have seen anxiety in other people (e.g., the child who learns to be anxious in thunderstorms because his mother was always anxious)….all of these are psychological reactions which arouse anxiety.”


“It may be that some people are more fearful or ‘high-strung’ than others. Some are more sensitive, self-centered, hostile, or insecure that others.”


A past president of India once suggested that “the cause of anxiety rest in our society; political instability, mobility which disturbs our sense of rootedness, shifting values, changing moral standards and religious beliefs, and so on.”


“The presence of disease can stimulate anxiety, but so can dietary imbalance, neurological malfunctioning and chemical factors within the body.”


Faith has a great bearing on one’s anxiety level.

If God is seen as all-powerful, loving, good, and in ultimate control of the universe, then there can be trust and security even the midst of turmoil….It should not be assumed, however, that non-believers necessarily are more anxious that believers. (Some believers, for example, are so worried about pleasing God that their faith increases anxiety). Nor should it be concluded that anxiety always reflects lack of faith. The causes of anxiety are too complex for such a simplistic explanation. Nevertheless, what we believe or do not believe does contribute to individual differences in the extent to which we experience anxiety.”

False Beliefs

Not only may a person’s belief contribute to the experience of anxiety; Dr. G. Keith Olson identifies specific false beliefs as a major cause of anxiety among youth: many adolescents… believe one or more of the following false beliefs:

  1. It is essential that I am loved or approved by virtually everyone in my community.
  2. I must be perfectly competent, adequate and achieving in order to consider myself worthwhile.
  3. It is terrible catastrophe when things are not as I want them to be.
  4. Unhappiness is caused by outside circumstances, and I have no control over it.
  5. Dangerous or fearsome things are causes for great concern, and I must continually dwell upon their possibilities.
  6. It is easier to avoid certain difficulties and self-responsibilities than to face them.
  7. I should be dependent on others, and I must have someone stronger on whom I can rely.
  8. My past experiences and events are the determiners of my present behavior; I cannot eradicate or alter the influence of my past.
  9. I should be quiet upset over other people’s problems and disturbances.
  10. There is always a right or perfect solution to every problem, and I must always find it, or the results will be catastrophic.

Parents and youth leaders may recognize such false beliefs as often characteristic of adolescents. Such beliefs can, of course, give rise to considerable anxiety.

Effects of Anxiety

Anxiety sometimes produces beneficial effects; it can motivate a person, for example. Too much anxiety, however, can produce severe, even crippling, effects.

Physical Effects

It is widely known that great stress and anxiety can produce ulcers, even in young persons. The other physical effects of anxiety are headaches, rashes, backaches, upset stomach, shortness of breath, sleeping problems, fatigue, and loss of appetite. In addition, the changes in blood pressure, muscle tension, and digestive and chemical changes caused by anxiety can, if they persist over time, cause severe harm.

Behavioral Effects

When anxiety builds up, most people unconsciously rely on behaviors and thinking which dull the pain of anxiety and enable us to cope.

Collins writes, such reactions may include seeking relief in sleep, drugs, or alcohol, or trying to deny the reality or depth of the anxiety. Some young people may become uncharacteristically disagreeable, blaming others for their problems or throwing childish temper tantrums at the tiniest provocation.

Spiritual Effects

Collins writes, anxiety can motivate us to seek divine help where it might be ignored otherwise. But anxiety can also drive us away from God at a time when he is most needed. Fraught with worry and distracted by pressure, even religious people find that there is a lack of time for prayer, decrease ability to concentrate, reduced interest for worship rituals, impatience and sometimes bitterness with God’s seeming silent.

Psychological Effects

It is with reason that anxiety is considered the “most pervasive psychological phenomenon of our time.” Anxiety can give rise to a dizzying plethora of disorders, such as:

Separation Anxiety Disorder. This psychological effect is demonstrated in excessive worry or fear of being separated from a parent or other important influence,

Avoidant Disorder of Adolescence.Olsan describes this behavior as “when the teenager desires warm, close and affectionate relationships with family members but strongly avoid making contact with strangers” – even peers.

Phobic Reactions. These reactions include fear of crowds and situations in which escape would be difficult (agoraphobia), fear of close spaces (claustrophobia), fear of heights (acrophobia), and various social phobias.

Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia. These eating disorders are characterized by anxiety about one’s weight and appearance.

Movement Disorders. Involuntary muscle “tics” can be anxiety related.

Response to the Problem of Anxiety

Trying to help a person suffering from acute anxiety is a difficult task, but one that can be aided by a course such as the followings:


Invite the young person to talk about his or her fears and anxieties at length, as much as he or she is capable of expressing such things. Take care, as much as possible, not to interrupt or dismiss the youth’s anxieties; a person suffering from acute anxiety will not be convinced by statements like, “Oh, that’s nothing to worry about!”

You may consider helping the youth to express himself or herself by asking such questions as the following:

  • What things do you worry most about? What things are you most afraid of?
  • Which of your worries seem to be unnecessary worries?
  • Which seems to be realistic concerns?
  • Are you more anxious or nervous at particular times? In particular places? When you’re with certain people?
  • Are there times when your feelings go away?
  • Have you tried to cope with or counter your feelings? How?


One of the greatest challenges in trying to guide a person suffering from acute anxiety is the tendency to become anxious oneself. Anxious people tend to make other people anxious. However, being aware of your own anxiety (even if it caused by the young person you’re trying to help) may help you gain insight into what the teen or preteen is feeling. As a concerned adult, you may express empathy by:

  • Nodding your head.
  • Making eye contact.
  • Leaning forward in your chair to indicate interest and concern.
  • Speaking in soothing tones.
  • Listening carefully to verbal and nonverbal communication.


Dr, Jay Adams, writes “The enemy of fear is love…Fear and love vary inversely. The more fear, the less love; the more love, the less fear.” The youth leader, parent, or teachers who wishes to help young person deal with anxiety may sometimes be able to make significant progress simply by carefully, consistently, and sincerely affirming the young person as one who is valued and loved. Collins writes, “To show love…. to introduce [the young people] to the love of God, and to help them experience the joy of loving others, can all help to cast out fear and anxiety.”


The youth leader or parent’s goals should not be to eliminate all anxiety from a young person’s life; that will not be possible. The goal should be to help the teen or preteen equip himself or herself to cope with anxiety. This may be done by:

  1. Helping the youth admit his or her anxiety, understand its cause, and determine (with the support of others) to learn to cope with it.
  2. Challenging the young person to commit his or her fears to God and to find security and peace in the knowledge that God cares for him or her.
  3. Urging the youth to divert his or her attention from self to others. As Minirth and Meier says,

As an individual gets his mind off his own problems by helping others, his anxiety often decreases.

4. Turing the youth to God in prayer. Barry Applewhite writes, “Prayer provides real relief from anxiety and should be our natural response the moment anxiety begins to build.


Enlist the young man or woman’s participation, as much as possible, in devising a plan of action to handle stress and anxiety, such as the ten techniques suggested by Minirth and Meire in their book Happiness Is a Choice.

  1. Listen to music
  2. Get adequate exercise – ideally three times a week.
  3. Get adequate sleep. Most young people need eight hours of sleep per night.
  4. Do what you can to deal with the fear or problem causing the anxiety. Examine different alternatives or possible solutions and try one.
  5. Talk with a close friend at least once a week about your frustrations.
  6. Get adequate recreations –ideally two to three times per week.
  7. Live one day at a time. Probably 98 percent of the things we are anxious about or worry about never happen. Learning to live one day at a time is an art that can be cultivated.
  8. Imagine the worst thing that could possibly happen. Then consider why that wouldn’t be so bad after all.
  9. Don’t put things off. Putting things off causes more anxiety.
  10. Set a time limit on your worries.


If you are not the young person’s parent, take the earliest opportunity to inform and involve parents; such involvement, as explained earlier in these articles, is critical. If the youth is hesitant to involve Mom or Dad, try to find out why. Consider asking such questions as:

  • Would you rather prefer I talk to your parents?
  • Would you prefer to do it yourself?
  • Would you like me to accompany you?

If the young person become more anxious in spite of the youth leader or parent’s sincere and knowledgeable efforts, it may be necessary for the youth and his or her parents to consider involving a professional counsellor – particularly if the anxiety is so advance as to give rise to disorders and panic attacks.

Was this article helpful for you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that it reaches someone who has an anxious young person to care for.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by coaches, counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.


Seventeen-year-old Meghna had been dating Bhasker for eighteen months when he broke up with her -over the phone. The following Monday Meghna sat where she and Bhasker had eaten lunch together since last September. Her friends sat with her. “I say you’re better off without him”, Ameesha said. “Yeah,” agreed Kavya. “You guys fought all the time anyways”. “I hear Sachin and Prachi just broke up”, offer Julie with an excited smile. ” You’ve always has crush on him, haven’t you?”

Meghna didn’t answer. She lifted her tray and left her friends without a word. They don’t understand, she thought. They’ve all had a lot of boyfriends. But Bhasker was her first real boyfriend, and she had entertained fantasies about marrying him ever since they started dating. When they first started going out, Meghna had made up her mind to be everything Bhasker wanted. She’d lost a little weight and begun dressing with him in mind. She tried so hard to please him; If he showed slighted pleasure in something she did or said, she would work to do more of the same. When their relationship became more physically intimate, she determined to give Bhasker anything and everything; they began having sex after six months as friends.

When Bhasker broke up with her, Meghna couldn’t believe it. She cried and begged him to leave her. She told him she’d change; she’d do anything he wanted. But her refused. Her first reaction was anger. After all I’ve done to make him happy, and still wasn’t enough. She thought. Then her anger turned inwards. I did everything I know how to do, and still wasn’t enough. I must be totally worthless. I’ll never have a man love me. I don’t deserve to have a man love me.

Over the next few weeks, Meghna started spending more time in her room. She seldom went out with her friends, preferring instead to stay home, listen to music and stare at the bedroom walls. She found it difficult to eat, and after few weeks of having trouble getting to sleep, she began to sleep most of the day, both in class and at home. She began to miss college frequently, and her grades dropped drastically. When her parents confronted her about her conduct, she shrugged, “I don’t care” was her only response. ” I don’t understand,” her mother told the youth leader. “She seems like she’s totally different girl than she was”

Problem of Depression

Once thought to be a singularly adult problem, depression is a regular state of many teens – and young adults. While it is difficult to measure how many teens suffer depression, “the findings suggest that a substantial proportion of young people are suffering from strong feelings of unhappiness and despair”. One source state, “nearly 5 percent of all teens are identified as clinically depressed every year.”

It is a complex and dangerous condition that often seems to defy description and definition. This is partly because people use the term depression to refer to different things: a general sadness, “the blues,” humiliation from failure, or a period of stress and emotional volatility. Even mental health professionals have struggled for years to devise a clear definition.

Webster’s Tenth Collegiate Dictionary defines depression as “a state of feeling sad” but adds a second definition: “a psychoneurotic or psychotic disorder marked especially by sadness, inactivity, difficulty in thinking and concentration, a significant increase or decrease in appetite and time spent sleeping, feelings of dejection and helplessness, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.”

Teenage depression is difficult to identify because its symptoms are different from the classical symptoms of adult depression.

Dr Ross Campbell writes: a teenager with mild depression acts and talks normally. There are no outward signs of depression. Mild teenage depression is manifested in fantasies, in daydreams, or in dreams during sleep. Mild depression is detectable only by somehow knowing the young person’s thought pattern and though content. Few professionals even can pick up depression in this state.

In moderate depression, also, the teenager acts and talks normally. However, in moderate depression, the content of the teenager’s speech is affected, dwelling primarily on depressing subjects such as death, morbid problems, and crises. Since many adults today seems to dwell on pessimistic trains of thoughts, the teenager’s depression may go unnoticed…..In the vast majority of cases, only in severe depression does the teenager actually appear depressed….There is an expectation to this, however. Teenager depression is difficult to identify because

teens are good at ‘masking’ it; that is, they can cover it by appearing OK even when they are absolutely miserable. This is often called smiling depression.

This is a front which teenagers employ unconsciously…. primarily when other people are around. When depressed teenagers are alone, they let down or relax the mask somewhat. This is helpful to parents. If we are able to see our teenagers at times when they believe no one is looking at them, we may be able to identify depression.

Adolescent depression can also be hard to recognize because it can be often mistaken for or accompanied by other things, such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in girls.

Causes of Depression

“Since teenagers are in transition between childhood and adulthood,” writes Dr. G. Keith Olson, “it is not surprising that…many adolescents’ depression relates to development struggles….Some depression in adolescent is quite normal, probably more normal during this developmental stage than any other (except perhaps old age).” Still, depression can be extremely complex, and the causes may be numerous and varied.

Biological Factors

Collins writes, depression often has a physical basis. At the simplest level, we know that lack of sleep, insufficient exercise, the side effects of drugs, physical illnesses, or improper diet can all create depression. Thousands of women experience depression as part of a monthly premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and some are victimized by postpartum depression following childbirth. Other physical influences, like neurochemical malfunctioning brain rumors, or glandular disorders, are more complicated creators of depression.

There is evidence that depression runs in families and may have a genetic basis. This is difficult to demonstrate conclusively, research reports are sometimes contradictory. Other research has linked depression to brain chemistry that often can be altered by antidepressive drugs.


Tim LaHaye writes, some psychiatrists like Dr Ostow, considers ambivalence the most common precipitative cause of depression. He defines ambivalence as

the sense of being trapped, that is, being unable to remedy an intolerable situation.

Collins refers to this as “learned helplessness,” and says, “When we learn that are actions are futile no matter how hard we try, that there is nothing we can do to relieve suffering, reach a goal or bring change, then depression is a common response. It comes when we feel helpless and give up trying.”

Parental Rejection

Researchers Joan Robertson and Ronald Simons reported that, according to a study they conducted, “Perceived parental rejection was significantly associated with both depression and low self-esteem showing a strong relationship with depression.” Their findings agree with earlier studies (Brown and Harris, Brown et al) that found that

young people who experience or sense rejection from their parents are more likely to experience depression.


K Brent Morrow and Gwendolyn T Sorell are among those researchers who have traced a connection between depression and abuse – particularly physical and sexual abuse. They have concluded that

severity of abuse was the single most powerful predictor of self-esteem, depression and negative behavior in incest victim.

Negative Thinking

A young person’s mental habits and ways of thinking also can make him or her susceptible to depressive illness. Collins cites psychiatrist Aaron Beck who says that depressed people show negative thought patterns in three areas:

First, they view the world and life experience negatively. Life is seen as a succession of burdens, obstacles, and defeats in a world which is “going down the drain. Second, many depressed people have negative view of themselves. They feel deficient, inadequate, unworthy and incapable of performing adequately. This in turn can lead to self-blame and self-pity. Third, these people view the future in a negative way. Looking ahead they see continuing hardship, frustration and hopelessness.

Life Stress

Numerous researchers and authors cite stress as a pivotal factor in depression. Olson write:

When a person encounters stressful events in life that feel overpowering or threating, one possible reaction is depression.

Such events in the life of a teen may include “the rupture of an intense relationship with peer, family discord; parental separation, divorce, or death of a parent; unwanted pregnancy or abortion; and any event which lowers the teenager’s self-esteem such as expulsion from school, failure to make a team, academic failure or not being invited to a popular social event.”


A young person who has not learned or devised ways of effectively handling and expressing anger is more likely to struggle with depressive illness. Doctors Minirth and Meier write:

Over and over in the literature on the subject, depression is described as anger turned inward.

In vast majority of cases, anger is very apparent in the facial expressions, in the voice, and in the gestures of depressed individuals. They are often intensely angry, but they do not recognize their anger. A young person may be angry at a friend or loved one who has died, or at his or her own helplessness. If he or she has been taught (by his parents, teacher, religion etc.) that anger is always bad, the youth may repress anger rather than resolving it.


Collins writes, it is not difficult to understand why guilt can lead to depression. When a person feels that he or she has failed or has done something wrong, guilt arises and along with it comes self-condemnation, hopelessness and other symptoms of depression.

Guilt and depression so often occur together that it is difficult to determine which comes first.

Perhaps in most cases guilt comes before depression but at times depression will cause people to feel guilty (because they seem unable to “snap out” of the despair). In either case a vicious cycle is set in motion.

Effects of Depression

The effects of depression can read like a catalog of physical and psychological afflictions. Among the effects are physical and emotional effects, shortened attention span and / or daydreaming, masked reactions, withdrawal, suicidal behavior, and depressive tendencies in adulthood.

Physical Effects

Minirth and Meier catalog some of the physical ramifications of depression: Clinical depression includes the physical symptoms…. These biochemical changes have various physical results: The body movements of the depressed individual usually decrease. Quality of his sleep is affected….Initially, rather that sleeping too little, he may sleep too much. His appetite is also often affected. He either eats too much or too little (usually too little). Thus, he may have either significant weight loss or weight gain. He may suffer from diarrhea, but more frequently from constipation. In women, the menstrual cycle may stop entirely for months, or it may be irregular. There is often a loss of sexual interest. The depressed individual may suffer from tension headaches or complain of tightness in his head. Along with slow body movements, he may have a stooped posture and seem to be in a stupor. He may have gastrointestinal disturbances. He may have a slow metabolic rate. He may suffer from a dry mouth. A rapid heartbeat and heart palpitations are fairly common. These physiological changes scare most individuals into hypochondriasis (an overconcern with physical illnesses).

Emotional Effects

While teens may not exhibit the classic signs of adult depressions, as mentioned above, they may evidence some emotional effects of depression, such as those described by Minirth and Meier: One major symptom of depression is sad affect (or moodiness). An individual suffering from depression has a sad facial expression, He looks depressed. he either cry often or feels like it. His eyes are cast down and sad. The corners of his mouth droop. His forehead is wrinkled. He looks tired, discouraged and dejected. His features are strained. As the depression progresses, he gradually loses interest in his personal appearances.

Shortened Attention Span/Daydreaming

Campbell suggests, in mild teenage depression, the first symptom generally seen is a shortening of attention span. …[The teen’s] mind drifts from what he wants to focus on, and he becomes increasingly distractable. He finds himself daydreaming more and more. This shortening of attention span usually becomes obvious when the teen attempts to do his homework. He finds it harder to keep his mind on it. And it seems that the harder he tries, the less he accomplishes. Of course, this leads to frustration, as the teenager then blames himself for being “stupid” or “dumb.”

Masked Reactions  

Researchers Marion Ehrenberg, David Cox, and Ramond Koopman points out that adolescents do not typically express their depression directly but rather through the use of “mask,” or “depressive equivalents.” Collins lists the following “masked reactions”:

  • aggressive actions and angry temper outbursts
  •  impulsive behavior including gambling, drinking, violence, destructiveness or impulsive sex
  • accident proneness
  • compulsive work
  • sexual problems

Other masked reactions might include delinquency, school phobias, and poor grades.


Campbell writes: In this miserable state the teenager may withdraw from peers. And to make matter worse,

he doesn’t simply avoid his peers, but may disengage himself from them with such hostility, belligerence, and unpleasantness that he alienates them.

As a result, the teenager becomes very lonely. And since he has so thoroughly antagonized his good friends, he finds himself associating with rather unwholesome peers who use drugs and/or are frequently in trouble.

Suicidal Behavior

Many studies have linked adolescent depression to suicidal behavior (including Carlson and Cantwell; Crumley; Pfeffer, Zuckerman, Putchik, and Mizruchi; Simons and Murphy). Collins writes: Not all depressed people attempt suicide, but many do, often in a sincere attempt to kill themselves and escape from life. For others, suicide attempts are an unconscious cry for help, an opportunity for revenge, or a manipulative gesture designed to influence some person who is close emotionally. While some people carefully plan their self-destructive act, others drive recklessly, drink excessively, or find other ways to flirt with death.

Depressive Tendencies in Adulthood

One of the more long-term effects of teenage depression is the well-documented tendency of depressive adolescents to experience major depressive episodes in adulthood. Young people who do not successfully resolve their struggles with depression during their teen years are likely to face further battles with depression as adults.

Response to the Problem of Depression

“Most people don’t ‘snap out’ of depression,” Collins points out. “The road to recovery is long, difficult, and marked by mood fluctuations which come with special intensity when there are disappointment, failures or separations.” Still, a patient youth leader, teacher, or parent can help a young person through a depressive episode by employing a strategy such as the following:


“Fairly early in the treatment of adolescent depression,” writes Olson, “the [young person] needs to be able to ventilate or in some way release his or her feelings of anger, guilt and self-doubt. These repressed feelings will block all other efforts at movement out of depression until they are given up…. The counsellor’s task is to encourage such expression, accept it and work toward helping the [young person] channel this released energy into constructive directions.” This may be accomplished by:

  • Prayer both in preparation to talk to the youth, and in guiding the young person (when he or she is ready) to talk honestly and fervently to God about his or her depression, and to seek His help in conquering it.
  • Patient encouragement of the young person to talk (without cajoling).
  • Interested questions (such as, “When do you feel most depressed?” “Do you spend a lot of time alone” and ” What do you usually do when you start feeling depressed?”)
  • Frequent reassurances and words of comfort.
  • Alertness for evidence of anger, hurt, poor self-esteem, etc.


A parent, youth leader, or teacher will want to empathize with the young person suffering from depression – to try to “walk” with him or her, as authors Don Baker and Emery Nester put it. However, in the case of a depressed person, a warning is also in order. Because of the counselee’s feeling of helplessness, he or she will probably place on unrealistic expectations to catalyze a magical cure…. The display of inadequacy, dependency and need are partially motivated by conscious or unconscious wishes for the counsellor to take care of them….The counselee [may feel] strong dependency on the counselor. The adult need to take special care, therefore, to empathize without letting an unhealthy dependence develop.


Olson writes, the presence of emotional support and reassurance from the counselor is vital when working with depressed adolescents. Complete acceptance of the [young man or woman] is one of the best ways to communicate support. The counsellor’s realistic optimism that there is “light at the end of the dark tunnel of depression” is often very encouraging to a counselee who feels absolutely hopeless. And when the depressed teenager shows some gains or makes some movement, compliments and statements of encouragement are in order.


David A. Seamands, in his book Healing Damaged Emotions, suggests several directions in which a concerned adult can point a depressed youth:

  1. Avoid being alone. Force yourself to be with people. This is one of the major areas where you have a definite choice in your depressions.
  2. Seek help from others. Tell someone how you’re feeling. Ask someone for help in combatting your mood. Seek out people and situations which generate joy.
  3. Sing. Use uplifting music to manipulate your moods.
  4. Rest confidently in the presence of God. For God’s presence is cause for hope and means of healing.


As with many other situations in which an adult wishes to influence a young person, it is crucial to enlist the youth’s determination and participation in his or her recovery, rather than simply advising to the youth. Don Baker and Emery Nester offer specific ways to enlist the young person’s cooperation.

Encourage the depressed [person] to be involved in sone new activity. Help him choose things he has always wanted to do but for which he has never had time….Aim for an activity that is available, geographically and financially. It best serves if it is time-consuming. It should be within the capabilities of the individual. Gardening, painting, photography, or an aerobic sport such as running, or swimming are often activities that fir above criteria.


If there is any possibility that the depressed young person represents a danger to himself or herself, take immediate steps to obtain intervention by a professional counselor. Be alert for indications such as:

  • talk of suicide
  • evidence of a “thought-out” plan of action for killing oneself
  • feelings of hopelessness and / or meaninglessness
  • indications of guilt and worthlessness
  • recent environmental stresses (such as death in family, parental divorce etc.)
  • an inability to cope with stress
  • excessive concern about physical illness
  • preoccupation with insomnia
  • evidence of disorientation or defiance
  • a tendency to be dependent and dissatisfied at the same time
  • a sudden and unexplainable shift to a happy, cheerful mood (which often means that the decision to attempt suicide has been made)
  • knowledge regarding the most effective methods of suicide
  • history of prior suicide attempts (those who have tried before often repeat their attempt.)

Don’t hesitate to ask the young person directly if he or she has contemplated suicide and take the answer seriously.

Finally, referral to a psychiatrist or physician may be warranted in some cases (with parental permission).

Was this article helpful for you…? if yes, do subscribe and share in your connections, so that this article will reach someone who has a depressed young person to care for.

Bijo Joseph is the founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg. 357152/sec. 8 co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and support offered by coaches, counsellors, social workers and volunteers. He has the youth leadership experience of 17 years and with educational foundation from TISS, Mumbai & IIM Calcutta.


Raksha is typical of many teen girls. She was an only child who grew with much stress in her home. Her dad was emotionally unstable. Raksha tried to be understanding; she reasoned that her dad had enough to worry about just taking care of his own problems, but she often longed for someone who would treat her as a special person. She reached her teen years wondering if a man would ever pay attention to her, let alone love her. When she entered junior college, her parent’s divorce, and she and her mom had to move to a new city, so her mom could get a decent job.

“It was hard making friends at my new college,” Raksha explained later. “Actually, I never did make any girlfriends”. And home wasn’t much better. Mom was gone most of the time. I thought I would die from the loneliness.

“That’s why was so surprised – overjoyed, really – when Raj asked me out.” Raksha and Raj began dating. Raj was older and more experienced, and before long he started pressuring Raksha to have sex with him. Raksha knew other girls at junior college who were sexually involved, and this added to her turmoil.

“There was no way I wanted to go back to the way things were before Raj”, she says. “If I had lost Raj, I would have been lonelier than before”. Raj had filled a lonely void in Raksha’s life, so rather than lose him, she consented to have sex with him. Raksha needed acceptance, and she thought her physical relationship with Raj would make her feel wanted. She and Raj still date, and they still have sex together, But Raksha knows Raj also dated other girls. And she’s still lonely.

Problem of Loneliness

Loneliness is an uncommonly common problem. It exists everywhere, among all kinds of people.

Loneliness is the painful awareness that we lack meaningful contact with others. It involves a feeling of inner emptiness which can be accompanied by sadness, discouragement, a sense of isolation, restlessness, anxiety and an intense desire to be wanted and needed by someone.

A study by psychoanalyst Michael Whitenburgh revealed that the greatest fear – beyond claustrophobia, beyond the fear of insects, beyond fear of flying – is the fear of loneliness. As prevalent (and destructive) as loneliness is among the adult population, it is even more pronounced among youth and can be overwhelming, consuming and devasting.

The teen years are the time in life when the need for social acceptance is at its peak. Adolescents regard themselves as no longer children, and most are making efforts to become more independent from their family. Ties with peer groups are extremely important. And the resulting pressure can be tremendous.

Even if a teenager has a pleasant family atmosphere, loneliness can be great problem, if there are inadequate ties with other teens.

Psychologist Craig Ellison has suggested that there are three kinds of loneliness:

  1. Emotional Loneliness involves the lack or loss of a psychologically intimate relationship with another person or persons. The emotionally lonely person feels utterly alone and can only recover by establishing new in-depth relationships with others.
  2. Social Loneliness the feeling of aimlessness, anxiety and emptiness. The person feels that she/he is ‘out of it’ and on the margin of life, instead of an in-depth relationship with specific companion, the socially lonely person needs a supportive group of accepting friends and skill in relating with others.
  3. Existential Loneliness refers to the sense of isolation which comes to the person who is separated from God and who feels that life has no meaning or purpose. Such persons need a committed and growing relationship with God, preferably within the confines of a concerned community of believers.

Causes of Loneliness

Loneliness may have many and varies causes and identifying them most often a job for a highly trained professional. However, some exposure to the possible influences on a young person who is feeling acute loneliness may nonetheless be helpful for the caring adult or parent.

  • Low Self Esteem: Studies by Levin and Stokes and Peplau and Perlman suggest that “negative evaluations of their own bodies sexuality, health, appearance, behaviour, and functioning” contribute to a young person’s vulnerability to feelings of loneliness. As Collin writes,

When we have little confidence in ourselves it is difficult to build friendships. The person is unable to give love without apologizing; neither can he or she receive love without cutting one- self down

– Collin
  • Poor Family Relationships: A number of studies suggest that family background is crucial factor in a young person’s vulnerability to loneliness J. Ponzetti Jr writes: lonely students recall poorer relationships with their parents and childhood friends. They also remember less family togetherness. Mohan and Hecht and Baum noted significant correlations between loneliness and disrupted patterns of attachment suggesting that the lack of bonding early in life may contribute to the experience of loneliness.
  • Social Factors: In their books Why Be Lonely? Carter, Meirer, and Minirth write: Our society is fast, mobile, and changing. Although we may come in contact with hundreds and thousands, there is not enough time to build relationships, and so people are lonely. also because of mobile there is less time for personal communication. Even the little time people have for each other is spent in loneliness in front mobile screens. Research shows that excessive mobile usage also causes individuals to trust each other’s less and thus promote loneliness.

We live in a society that tends to promote loneliness.

Temporary or Changing Circumstances: Sometimes youth are lonely because of their circumstances: a girl whose boyfriend “dumps” her; a unathletic boy whose closest friends time is consumed with cricket camp, practices and games; a college student who has not yet made friends; a teen whose family has moved to a new neighborhood, leaving many friends behind. Such situational loneliness is often temporary, however particularly in the case of youth.

People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.

  • Fear: Sometimes individuals do erect barriers to keep others out. Often this is done because of fear of intimacy, fear of being know, fear of rejection or fear of being hurt – as we may have been hurt in the past. The loneliness is painful but for such people it is no less painful than the fear and insecurity of reaching out to others.
  • Hostility: Some people are lonely because they harbor feelings of anger and bitterness that alienate others and drive them away. Such alienation, of course, often produces further frustration and anger, deepening the person’s loneliness in a whirlpool of self-defeating emotions and reactions.

An inability or unwillingness to communicate is sometimes at the root of a person’s loneliness

Inability to Communicate: Communication breakdowns are at the root of many, perhaps most, interpersonal problems. When people are unwilling to communicate, or when they don’t know how to communicate honestly, there is a persisting isolation and loneliness even though individuals may be surrounded by others.

Some loneliness results from estrangement from God

Spiritual Causes: An individual in an open rebellion against God will often feel a deep existential loneliness that can only be corrected by filling that God-shaped void that exists in every human hearts. The same loneliness often results from unforgiveness (not asking forgiveness) or even from a casual negligence of God’s care and His claim on one’s life.

Effects of Loneliness

Loneliness effects young people in many and varied ways. The following elaboration of the effects of loneliness may not only serve as warning but may also help equip a parent or concerned individual to spot the problem, which may in turn lead to a successful response to the problem.

Loneliness has a way of infecting every fiber of our being; our hopes, ambitions, dreams, vitality, desires, wants, as well as our actual physical bodies.

  • Physical Effects: Ira J Tanner’s book Loneliness – The Fear of Love records some of the physical effects of loneliness. Eating and sleeping are frequently affected. Obesity and greed may well be symptoms of loneliness, although loss of weight can also be traced to despair that goes with a feeling of being of no importance or worth to anyone, not even to ourselves. The misery of loneliness may manifest itself in the legs is not uncommon, stemming from the heavy burden of fear that we are carrying on our backs. Stooped shoulders, turned-down corners of mouth, a slow and painful walk, silence and withdrawal – all bearing testimony to loneliness.
  • Low Self-Esteem: In the cruel cycle that loneliness creates, low self-esteem and a poor self-concept can be not only a cause but also an effect of loneliness. Lonely youth report feelings of emptiness, hopelessness and worthlessness. As their loneliness deepens, they view their lack of friendship as a personal failure, a reflection of their unworthiness. Such people sometimes withdraw into self-pity, self-centeredness, and self-abuse.

People who have constant bouts with loneliness often fall into overly dependent style of life.

  • Dependence: Carter, Meier and Minirth writes, an overly dependent person becomes excessively worried and upset if he is rejected by someone. He clings to people, sucking up all their emotional energy. Dependent persons tend to follow a predictable progression in their relationships. They first discount their own abilities to take charge of their emotional lives. Second, the expect others to fulfill their needs for them. Then they begin to make demands of those whom they depend, Naturally, this causes others to retreat from them, keeping at distance. Dependent person finds himself back to square one and usually continues the cycle endlessly.

Loneliness breeds depression, which can lead to despair and, in some cases, to suicide.

  • Depression and Despair: Youth often keep their problems and feeling bottled up inside, fearing to express how they feel or not knowing how to express how they feel, increasing their sense of aloneness and heightening the despair they feel. The self-pity and alienation that often characterize chronic loneliness becomes a cycle of self-defeating attitudes leading the sufferer ever deeper into what it seems like a black hole of hopelessness.
  • Substance Abuse: Alcohol and drugs often seem to be attractive means to escape to a chronic sufferer of loneliness and may turn to substance abuse in an attempt to ‘drown their sorrow’ or in a misguided attempt to make friends of other abusers. Such behaviours, of course, fails to produce the desire results and adds yet another problem to the loneliness.

Person suffering with extreme loneliness will often feel out of fellowship with God, estranged from him, perhaps even deserted by Him.

Spiritual Effect: Cartner, Meier and Minirth speak to this in their book Why Be Lonely? Because of our human imperfections, we are bound to fall short of a state of constant communication with God. Unfortunately, the person who suffers from loneliness does not allow himself to grasp the inner peace found in this relationship. He feels far away from God.

Response to the Problem of Loneliness

People suffering from acute loneliness are often counselled to “change jobs, join a club, be positive, become aggressive, get married, travel, move, have fun, never be alone. listen to music, watch netflix, enjoy movies, read a good book, take up hobby, pursue cultural interests, expand your horizon, play, increase leisure, renew goals, volunteer – and all of these activities may temporarily remedy the pain of loneliness, but they fail to meet the problem on a deeper level and do not produce the desired lasting results”.

When helping lonely teenagers, however, the wise caring or parent or friend will instead pursue a course such as the following which may help determine the root problem and address it affectively:


Encourage the young person to talk freely about his or her loneliness. Attempt to help the youth express himself or herself with such questions as:

  • Can you describe what you’re feeling and thinking?
  • Have you struggled with feelings of loneliness for some time?
  • When do you feel most lonely?
  • When do you feel least lonely?
  • Are there times when these feelings get away? Describe them.
  • What are some ways you try to cope with your loneliness?

Try to stay away from “Why” question (Why do you think you are lonely?) and instead try to focus on “What” (What makes you feel better?) and “How” (How do you think you can respond when you start to get overwhelmed again?)


As the young person shares his or her feelings of loneliness, communicate your empathy and interest by:

  • Leaning slightly forward in your chair.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Nodding to indicate understanding.
  • Reflecting key statements (“You feel… and “You’re saying…”)
  • Waiting patiently through periods of silence and tears.

Be careful not to say “I know how you feel” or to relate stories from your past but try to communicate that the young person is not alone in feeling the way he or she does.


Be alert to every opportunity to offer sincere and truthful affirmation to the young person, particularly if there is a chance the youth’s loneliness is a result of low self-esteem. Collins says,

Lonely people must be helped to see and acknowledge their strengths, abilities and gifts, as well as their weakness.

– Collin

Counselees must be reminded that in God’s sight every human being is valuable and loved, that every fault can be forgiven, that each of us has abilities and gifts which can be developed, and that all people have weaknesses which can be lived with and for which we can compensate.


Gently but firmly guide the youth to talk through the causes and effects of his or her loneliness, sensitively steering him or her to accept responsibility for our own loneliness. If we sit back passively and wait for a relationship to be restored or a new one to be formed, it won’t happen. If we blame our lonely situation on someone else, we’ll only feel bitter. If we blame it on ourselves, we’ll only feel defeated.

The first step in overcoming loneliness is to face it and accept the responsibility for coping with it.

Be especially alert to opportunity to guide him or her to answer the following:

  1. Is the loneliness due to a temporary situation? All of us experience occasional situations that cause loneliness, such as the student who moved with his parents to new city. Such bouts of loneliness often disappear when the temporary situation is gone.
  2. Is the loneliness due to changing circumstances? Life has a way of surprising – or disappointing – us with sudden changes that throw us off balance. The grandparent the teen had always confided in dies. His or her three best friends have begun to do some things the lonely teen can’t participate in, and now they are shutting him or her out. These situations usually take more out of us than temporary events. New adjustments are required that don’t come easily. We have to experience the grief of loss; we have to find new friends and build relationships. And that’s not easy.
  3. Is loneliness due to something inside the youth? Perhaps the youth is shy by nature. Maybe he or she has an inner insecurity that makes it hard to make friends. Certain characteristics of the youth’s personality may alienate him or her from others. Maybe he or she has dreaded social skills. While this their kind of loneliness may be the most difficult to resolve, it can – once identified – be addressed with honesty and sincere effort.


Enlist the young person’s participation in developing a plan of action for overcoming his or her loneliness.

Once the primary cause or causes of loneliness have been identified, guide him or her to establish specific goals (such as adjusting expectations in a particular way or taking new risks in specific areas). Such an action plan should involve small or manageable steps, it should be specific and measurable, it should be reasonable and workable, and it should be stated positively (“I will invite a friend to a concert this weekend” instead of ” I’m not going to hibernate in my room all weekend”).


If the young person’s loneliness seems to persist or worsen – particularly if his or her behaviour becomes erratic, or he or she begins to talk about suicide – refer him or her as soon as possible to professional counselling.

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Bijo Joseph is the Founder of Bijoyful Foundation, a faith-based NGO (reg, 357152/Sec. 8 Co.) that aims to deliver positive changes in the lives of young people troubled with adverse mental health, addiction or other life challenges through range of strength-based, recovery and livelihood programs and peer support offered by counsellors, coaches, social workers and volunteers.