Amid the many lessons involved in an adolescent’s coming-of-age is that of processing disillusionment in a productive way. It’s inevitable for teens to begin to see flaws in their teachers, parents, pastors, and other authorities, and their response to such frustrating revelations is key to their spiritual stability. Some of the reasons for various responses will be based on personality and natural tendencies, but training and spiritual maturity also play a part. Typical responses include the following:
As you might expect, those with a melancholy tendency may be most at risk for discouragement when faced with the imperfections of others. Negative thinking patterns or tendencies toward self-pity are not propensities to which we should resign ourselves or the teens we love, but at the same time, some will struggle with them more than others. If you know a teen that struggles with such responses, you’ll want to be ready to offer some extra TLC when their “knights fall off their horses,” since self-injury or suicide can be outlets they explore. In addition, the failure to focus on the positive is clearly something that can be conquered through spiritual discipline and God’s grace (Phil. 4:8).
Compared with utter devastation, this equally unproductive response involves inflicting pain, as well, either toward the person who has disappointed them or toward others they’re now sure will disappoint. Instead of focusing inward, some teens tend to lash out at others, pointing out various inconsistencies and playing the blame game. Such a critical spirit reveals a heart plagued with unkindness and unwillingness to forgive (Ephesians 4:32). For all of us, the key to graciousness toward others includes understanding and appreciating the grace and forgiveness that have been given to us by our Lord, if not by many others.
When teens tend toward harsh criticism, self-righteous pride can rear its ugly head, as well. This tendency has us thinking ourselves to be above making the same kinds of mistakes we see in others. Sometimes teens come by this tendency honestly, since the same authorities whose inconsistencies they see have dealt harshly with them, when they have failed. Legalistic, grace-less treatment can breed more of the same, leading to a community of Pharisees that constantly harbor eye-for-an-eye mentality, each blind to their own shortcomings.
Unlike prideful, critical, or devastated teens, those who have understood and embraced key gospel truths can emerge from frustrations with others by having a hopeful outlook. First, they must understand their own sinfulness, and the sinful, depraved hearts of all people who fall short of perfection (Romans 3:23). Because even the best of us is as certainly imperfect as surely as we are mortal, realizing the shortcomings of others can have the same effect as the king’s death did on Isaiah (see Isaiah chapter 6): Focusing on He whose holiness and perfection will never fail.