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1. Dreaming On

What it is: Stress from the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have increased the prevalence of nightmares. The New York Times published a newsletter (paywall) about the psychology behind what haunts our dreams.
Why it’s relevant to teens: Recurring dreams set during our high school and college years often begin in adolescence and recur for our entire lives. That’s because our memories from late childhood into early adulthood tend to be incredibly formative. Our lifetime preoccupation with this time period even has a name: the “reminiscence bump.” We get our understanding of the world as well as many conclusions about our own identity from these years. The anxieties specific to the teen years can also become actual nightmare fuel, as stressors like standardized tests, family frictions, and romantic relationships leave their mark. Some psychologists say that our fixations and anxieties from the teen years take on an outsized importance in the way we view the world as adults. It’s also a reflection of how very overwhelming stress can feel when you’re a teen, and how very helpless one can feel when dealing with it.

2. Unsent and Untraceable

What it is: iOS 16 launched Monday and it may change the way some people use their iPhones.
Why it’s on parents’ radar: The biggest feature in this software update is probably the ability to modify or even completely unsend texts after you’ve sent them. Users will have the option to edit their messages however they would like for a full 15 minutes after pressing “send,” though they will show as “edited” in the messaging app. Some users were able to play around with “unsending” in beta for the past several months, but now it’s finally available for everyone to use. There’s also a feature called “Safety Check” that turns off all services being shared with others with the touch of a single button, disabling any family tracking capabilities. Other features like an updated Home app are cool but may be of less interest to parents.

3. Spotting the Signs

What it is: Mashable has published some tips for how to spot a teen who may be headed for a mental health crisis.
Why it might be helpful: It can be hard for parents and caring adults to distinguish between normal teen behaviors and the signs of a serious mental health issue. A community resource with six screening questions for adults to ask teens is a tool that might be useful. You may also want to be on the lookout if your teen is overtly identifying with people in their lives or even with fictional characters who have depression or suicidal tendencies. It may seem scary to bring up suicidal ideation. But with suicide as the third leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds, staying silent is not an acceptable risk. Conversations about suicide should be cushioned in language about how much an individual teen is beloved, wanted, and welcomed in your life. It can be a bit jarring to introduce the subject, so consider starting with gentler questions about what teens are dealing with and what feels heavy in their life instead of starting with a question that might seem too blunt.

Song of the Week

“I Ain’t Worried” by OneRepublic: originally released as part of the Top Gun: Maverick soundtrack, this lighthearted song has been growing in popularity over the last couple of weeks. The song is basically about enjoying a moment free from worry in the midst of life’s various stresses. For the lyrics, click here; for the music video, click here. 

Translation: Spotting the Signs

The Mashable article linked above discusses a suicide risk screening that begins with this question: “Have you wished you were dead or wished you could go to sleep and not wake up?”

The question is significant because it addresses a common feeling in many suicidal people—the desire for escape. The National Institute of Mental Health gives a list of reasons why someone might be thinking of ending their life. The reasons include feeling hopeless about life events, feeling trapped, or feeling lost. The thread that ties these feelings together is the idea that there is only one way out.

We have all felt that desire to get out of deeply painful situations; it’s natural, it’s human. But for a young person who’s experiencing that feeling of being trapped, it may be the most intense thing they’ve ever gone through in their relatively short lives. Any caring adult knows that these times come and go, but for a teen, the feeling seems total and endless.

No one should have to go through that experience alone, which is why it’s essential that parents and caring adults talk to their teens about what they’re feeling. John 10:10 tells us that Jesus came so that we “may have life, and have it to the full.” He is the way out that suicidal teens are really searching for. And though a teen struggling with hopelessness may not be ready to hear that, parents and caring adults can embody that truth by believing it fully for their teen as they sincerely and lovingly reach out to them.

We can’t save people suffering from mental health crises, much as we may wish to. But we can be there for them, steadied by the grace of God and encouraged by His love. In the words of Reinhold Neibuhr’s “Serenity Prayer,” we can remind them to live “one day at a time, one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace.” God is powerful enough to reach even and especially those who most need Him. We can trust that for our own lives and the lives of those we love the words of Psalm 31 ring true: “I am trusting you, O Lord, saying, ‘You are my God!’ My future is in your hands.”

Here are a few questions to spark conversation with your teen:

  • What’s one thing you really enjoy about life?
  • Do you believe Jesus offers hope to people who are suffering? Why or why not?
  • If you were feeling hopeless, how would you want people to reach out to you?