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  • Janyne McConnaughey, PhD

Giving Teens a Voice

Yesterday I sat on a community panel on the topic of teen mental health.That was surprising, but not as surprising as sitting between two teenagers talking about their own mental health. If someone graphed our ages, my bar would have looked like Mt. Rainier next to the other two, but my memories of being a teen who hid severe mental health issues made the age difference vanish. Surrounding the three of us were three other adults with varying ages and qualifications.

Realizing there would (unexpectedly) be teens on the panel, I thought, “How amazing! We are giving them a voice!” They represented their generation well! Some of what they said broke my heart, while other contributions gave such hope. When we seek mental health interventions for struggling teens, it matters!

An added caveat was having one of the teen’s mothers on the panel. She had her own qualifications for being there, in addition to the mother role. One of their mother/daughter exchanges was perfect! They were open and honest about the struggles and their triumphs were evident in their interactions. But at one point, the mother said something to the effect of, “I was wrong about that.”

I picked up the mic and said, “That is exactly how we change the future.” For far too long, we have viewed admitting parenting mistakes as a weakness. There are few things requiring more courage than telling our children we made a mistake. Maybe not so much as they grow older, but certainly in the process. Not admitting when we make parenting (or any other) mistakes is a generational pattern which does not serve us well—it never has.

There was an astounding amount of helpful information shared during the event. I couldn’t possibly recreate it—there will be a video eventually. You can check out the organization that sponsored the event at this link: Balance in Mind, (Powered by Lake Washington Schools Foundation). Communities are stepping up to make a difference, it was an honor to be part of this event which was hosted by Life Community Church (where my daughter-in-law is on pastoral staff).

This event ended a week that felt like a watershed (defined as a crucial dividing point, line, or factor—a turning point). There have been quite a few of those on my journey, but this week my mental health journey and the church collided in ways which are truly stunning. While all the elements of this will unfold over time, there is absolutely no question but what God is on the move to help the church better understand mental health. Sitting on the platform between the teens was an exclamation point on the end of a week which cannot yet be fully explained.

At the end of the panel, when asked to make one last comment, the moment felt overwhelming. What would my life have been like if churches and communities had understood what we now do about mental health (and trauma)? There I was, like Mt. Rainier, sitting between two amazing teenagers with their lives before them. From my vantage point, it was possible to see forever—both the beauty of life and the dark corners of hidden pain.

While leaving the church, I could see the lights shimmering across Lake Washington—in my mind, one of the most beautiful spots on earth. When teens feel hopeless, this beauty is inaccessible. Hopefully my words brought as much hope to others as it did to my teenage self who thanked me for giving her hidden pain a voice. She felt heard. This is what every teen needs—simply to be heard, without judgement.

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