By Dr. Seth Drown
Over the past decade or more at Augustine School, we have noticed a change in student struggles. We used to have the normal behavior issues one would associate with middle school students (we didn’t have a high school then). Students might be mean to one another or disruptive or messy or lazy. We never had a lot of serious behavior problems, but there were always a few each year.
Strangely and wonderfully, as we have grown, we have noticed fewer behavior problems. It’s not that our students are sinless, of course. But by God’s grace, there is a strong culture that includes many strong, godly teachers and a growing number of mature upperclassmen that the Lord graciously uses to restrain immaturity and serious misbehavior.
The Pervasiveness of Struggles
However, during that same period, we have noticed an increase in the number of students with various mental, emotional, and spiritual “issues” and struggles: depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and more. We had a couple of wake-up calls a few years ago that really clued us in to the pervasiveness of these struggles in today’s youth. As a result, we sought advice and training from Christian counselors and have since shifted from being reactive to pro-active with regard to student mental and emotional health.
The vision we have always had for shepherding hearts has broadened from focusing mainly on behavioral issues to also focusing on mental and emotional struggles as well. Instead of assuming our students are “ok” (as, at first glance, they often appear to be) and waiting until some crisis makes it clear that they are not, we now assume that all of our students are struggling in some way.
Whether those struggles are evident or not, and we take the initiative to talk to them and their parents about the struggles that teenagers typically face. The main message is that we all struggle in various ways, that we are here to help, and that ultimately Christ is the answer to all of our problems. We also have practical help for students at all levels of struggle and difficulty.
Instead of assuming our students are “ok” (as, at first glance, they often appear to be) and waiting until some crisis makes it clear that they are not, we now assume that all of our students are struggling in some way. Whether those struggles are evident or not, and we take the initiative to talk to them and their parents about the struggles that teenagers typically face. The main message is that we all struggle in various ways, that we are here to help, and that ultimately Christ is the answer to all of our problems.
Some of the key things that we now emphasize include:
- Grades (and other “results”) don’t ultimately matter and aren’t entirely within our control. What matters is effort and faithfulness (see the parable of the talents, Matt. 25:14-30). If students are doing their best with what God has given them, they will improve. Of course, we do not believe in grade inflation. An “A” is an “A.” But we realize that not everyone may be capable of making an “A” in every class, and that is ok. What matters is they are doing their best seeking to learn and grow.
- Our worth and value is found in Christ alone and nowhere else. If we are united to Him by faith, then we are secure in his perfect righteousness, which frees us to live out our faith confidently using the skills and abilities he has given us to His glory and facing every challenge knowing that He is with us and is stronger than anything we will ever face.
From the first day, then, we are checking in with students, reassuring them, asking if they are ok, seeing if they have any questions, and encouraging them to share concerns with us. We are talking every week as a faculty about students who are struggling with known issues or who are in any way “at-risk.”
Building Resilience In Our Students
While we do spend more time attending to students and their various mental, emotional, and spiritual struggles and seeking to support and nurture them through those struggles, we do not want to encourage the victim mentality (so prominent in today’s culture) in which students feel at the mercy of their struggles and use those struggles as excuses. Our ultimate goal is to teach them the resilience that comes through faith, the ability to recover quickly from setbacks and withstand the stress of challenges.
As Psalm 112 says, “The righteous shall never be moved . . . He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord; His heart is steady; he will not be afraid” (Ps. 112: 6-8). The key to Christian resilience is learning that, as Paul learned, “the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25) and God’s “grace is sufficient, for His power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9), for “When we are weak (in Christ), then we are strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
Our understanding of the grand story of redemption in Christ means that we can face all trials, challenges, and hardships with the knowledge that “all things work together for good for those who love the Lord” (Rom. 8:28) and that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8: 38-39). These truths, along with compassion for and attentiveness to student struggles, are a growing part of our efforts to shepherd hearts, and we have seen the Lord bless these efforts and help our students grow in grace, strength, and Christian resilience.