I’m Not OK; You’re Not OK

Over the last twenty years, most of my work as a pastor and now therapist has been with teenagers and their families. From majority white middle- and upper-middle-class churches and Christian summer camps to small college campuses and underfunded high schools with incredibly diverse populations, the teenagers I meet have one thing in common: an almost cellular uneasiness in the world. What I love most about these teenagers – especially ones regularly referred to as “emotionally disturbed,” “problems,” or “one of those kids,” – is their ability to colorfully lay bare the aspirations, fears, values, and stinging contradictions of the systems they are attempting to survive. Teenagers are unapologetically themselves, even if they aren’t always sure who they are just yet.

This simple fact led some of the early thinkers of the systems-driven family therapy movement to treat everything interrupting typical adolescent development – from schizophrenia to eating disorders – as less the result of individual pathology and more the cries of an entire family, community, and society in pain. According to these philosophers, researchers, and psychotherapists, the “problem kids” aren’t broken or crazy. Instead, they’re the only ones telling the truth about what actually runs our world.

The difficulty in receiving teenagers’ sometimes gruff witness arises whenever we adults confuse the medium for the message, the tone for the content.

From “It’s Not You, It’s Everything: What Our Pain Reveals about the Anxious Pursuit of the Good Life” by Eric Minton