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Life of an Ordinary Aussie Woman

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Another Teen Suicide: Building resilience in youth through true hope.

A youth suicide from bullying is once again headlining news here in Australia at this time.

It moves me to my core as a mother of 3 teenagers.

It moves me as a professional who has worked with children and youth for over 20 years.

And it moves me as a Christian.

I am deeply grieved thinking about the loss of a wonderful young life, and I admit I cannot bear thinking about how this family must feel or to extend this thinking to my own teenage sons…yet I do, as I not only believe what I say, I try to live what I say.

For those of you unaware, I made the decision recently to stop working as a school chaplain caring for the wellbeing of other children and youth, to be more present with my own 3 teenagers who like many others are facing their own struggles.

After two years of chaplaincy I have returned to homeschooling my boys who have often faced bullying and isolation in school. Honestly it’s not an easy job to homeschool my children but I also know the limitations of schools and will not shirk my responsibility to care for my own children God has blessed me with.

From my study and experience I’ve been taught that we need to work towards building resilience in the children and youth we work with…or grit as one academic calls it. The ability to bounce back from set-backs, to have a positive internal belief that you are worthy (aka a good self-esteem), and an understanding that you never stop learning (growth mindset).

With staggeringly high and alarming statistics in Australia today concerning mental health issues such as psychosis, anxiety, depression and suicide, along with a massive decline in church attendance, schools have taken on the wellbeing role of community for many Australian children and youth.

While schools do not want to replace the role of parents or upset people, family values, morals, ethics and progressive cultural beliefs are very much a part of education today, as they have been for a long time.

It’s my personal belief that a large number of people working in Australian schools today feel they are only putting ‘band-aids’ on problems beyond their abilities or control, and are mostly reactive in their wellbeing rather than proactive. It seems as if the problem of family dysfunction which results in bullying and poor mental health has ‘overnight’ become an epidemic.

Again we’re hearing via the media a call for more public awareness and people sharing about their own experiences of bullying to help create a culture of change. And while this has some merit, (similar to the #metoo sexual harassment movement) this is also reactive rather than pro-active.

We know from psychology in order for people to be more resilient they need to have a hope for the future, beyond what they’re going through at any particular time. We also know that to have a hope for a better tomorrow or optimistic outlook, it begins with cultivating a grateful attitude or character for what we have rather than a focus on what we don’t…

Now if I’m sounding preachy that’s probably because what I just said sounds similar to what’s in the Bible. Yet I assure you this is modern psychology…you can look it up.

So many schools (which now include wellbeing education) instruct mindfulness to students. These sessions instruct class members how to focus upon themselves and to thank themselves for what they have; to breath deep to relax and see energy (bubbles) float off themselves, and so on and so forth. The education department now teaches students how to be a good person based on the premise that this makes a good citizen, rather than this is moral righteousness. They teach our children that we come from nothing or a big bang which eventually became an ape, and expect our children to have gratefulness and a hope for the future…

Many people today in Australia look down upon families who are Christian and furthermore upon those who are Christian and homeschool…yet they also feel helpless and ill-equipped to deal with their own family problems. They do not comprehend what is happening to their child from a ‘good home’…

No family is perfect or immune from problems, not even Christian homeschooling ones.

The best families able to fight this epidemic I believe are the ones willing to fight in love as a soldier of Christ, and take on the responsibility of equipping their children with true self-belief, gratefulness and hope that comes from Jesus alone.

This is true pro-active parenting. 
It is not a ‘band-aid’. 
It is the anchor for one’s soul.

The enemy comes to kill and destroy. The enemy will take out as many lives as possible, and the poor children who do not know the truth about this life are like sheep to the slaughterhouse.

So many young people today find life meaningless and disappointing. They do not get to experience true joy and fulfilment, as they don’t know the Creator and Saviour. For them life is a puzzle with too many missing pieces…escapism suddenly become very appealing.

Psychology basically tells us that gratefulness leads to optimism, optimism leads to resilience, resilience leads to good self-esteem and good self-esteem leads to good mental health. But this will always remain a theory with missing conviction…It is a lie of the enemy that tells us we’ll be fine on our own...We can do all things on our own.

God tells us through His Word that we are fallible human beings born in a sinful state, separated from Him by sin, and that we need forgiveness and reconciliation only possible by His own sacrificial atonement.

He tells us of the lacking state we find ourselves in, and of the joy He is willing to give us when we repent of our sins and give our life to Him.

He tells us that upon the cross He died a death that can become ours, so that we will live eternally in the new world that is to come. He tells us He gave His life as a human being in trade for ours.

He then tells us that all things are possible for His reconciled children, through Jesus Christ who will give them the strength and courage.

The world tells us we can become resilient on our own by being grateful to ourselves. The Bible actually says this…

Suffering as Christians produces perseverance, perseverance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3)

Let me paraphrase it for today, with some modern psychological wording:
Hard circumstances as Christians produces grit, and grit produces decent hardworking human beings, and decent hardworking people create optimistic communities.

So many young people are not equipped to face challenges as they have no foundation for suffering and persecution. Sadly so many have no foundation as an anchor in the storm of bullying or poor mental health. Also sadly many feel they have no adults in their life to whom they can turn to for the support they need. From experience I believe this is because they are looking for the missing puzzle piece. They are looking for God’s genuine agape love. They are looking for support from people with something they don’t have – a strong core and anchor who is Jesus. Yet sadly there aren’t many Christians here in Australia in comparison nowadays to the majority.

Young people today need to hear they are not accidental creations…or highly advanced mammals. They need to hear they are human beings created in the image of a loving and awesome God who wants to become their best friend. They need to hear they struggle in this world because of sin as we all do, but there is a solution provided if they choose to repent and follow Jesus. They need to hear of God’s love displayed upon the cross and of the ‘good plan’ He has for them which is why the enemy wants to snuff them out...

Let’s not give our kids an ‘Aspirin’ when we can take them to the Great Physician. Let’s not be satisfied with more awareness of mental health…Let’s go forth by the grace of God and live the Gospel to all whom we encounter! 

By His Grace, Melanie.


Paul Ahnert said...

Wow, the state of affairs in Australia sound identical to the U.S. Very sad. Here, so many churches have the same disastrous approach to self esteem as your school system. good post! If enough small voices begin to speak out in love, those small voices will become very loud. Keep up the good work!!

Paul - The Metal Minister

Melanie J Symes said...

Thanks Paul. Yes, Australia has never been too far 'behind' the US with social and cultural changes and problems. There also are quite a number of liberal churches here in Australia which echo our state school 'teachings' :(