Counseling Teens with Big Emotions through God’s Design

Writing this section reminds me of my first day as the biblical counselor, working with students here at Faith Christian School.  It was freshman orientation day, and I was a part of the team working with the students. Can you imagine this? There were 70-plus freshmen; some knew each other from the years before, some were brand new to the school, some transferred over with their friends from their middle school, and some were new to Indiana, and the U.S. All sorts of emotions were evident, fears, like whom will I sit with, will I have the same friends after a whole summer? What will they be wearing? Will they ask me to talk out loud and participate in goofy games? Why am I so nervous? This is awful! Observing the interactions with the students, I felt like Counselor Troi from Star Trek, Next Generation, who was known for her alien gift of ESP (extra sensory perception), an empath.  When she came across an alien planet, the captain would ask her what she sensed, and she would cry out, “I FEEL PAIN!” Even as I think about this story, I sense those big emotions that come specifically in the teen years, with the unknown and relationships, new and old. I had a flashback of my freshman high school experience and had PTSD-like emotions. The teen years can be so hard and confusing. Yet God knows each student’s story, and He loves them.  Counselors who work with teens can offer the greatest hope as they seek to share in kindness all of God’s love and truth biblically.

God’s design and the teen with big emotions

In this blog, I want to investigate how to view the teen with big emotions biblically.  Counseling teens is like counseling adults.  We often look at the teen we serve and evaluate them based on their symptoms, the data about their culture, personal story, or even their current emotion. I want to acknowledge with empathy that each teen’s story is unique and is not exactly one size fits all. Teens with big emotions desire to be known and heard (Proverbs 18:13). While all those things are important and must be weighed and listened to, I propose we start with God’s intended design for teens. In this blog, I will refer to pre-teens/adolescents/teenagers as teens knowing each developmental season has its own challenges. I want to address how to view teens comprehensively as God does.  Biblical counselors must view teens as the Creator views the teen vs. how humanity views humanity(teens). (Kellemen, pg.100)

Insufficient description of teens by humans

A brief Google search found a definition of teenager/adolescent in the Britannica dictionary (Adolescence | Definition, Characteristics, & Stages | Britannica).  Here are some of the phrases they use to describe the time between childhood and adulthood:

  • During adolescence, issues of emotional (if not physical) separation from parents arise.
  • Teenagers seldom have clear roles of their own in society but instead occupy an ambiguousperiod between childhood and adulthood.
  • Young persons experience numerous physical and social changes, often making it difficult for them to know how to behave.

The above statements are just a few statements that would describe the modern teen.  The world needs to figure out what to do with teens and where they fit into the neat categories of society.  Out of this have come stereotypical descriptions and expectations of being a teen, like a bundle of hormones, defiance, foolishness, being emotionally charged, laziness, or being unmotivated.  These descriptions do not describe all teens; that would be unfair. I know that I was often prone to look at teens in this way and found myself discouraged. The world sees teens and how to help them with big emotions by looking at their development, circumstances, and surrounding culture.  There is importance to understanding the current times, personal circumstances, and the science behind the development of each teen to know the whole person.  God’s Word has a more robust view of teens and how that view can help counselors love teens like Jesus. Let us start with how God intended teens to be viewed according to His Word.

Are “teens” a thing?

What does the bible say? Did God create the teenager on the 8th day of creation? Did God intend for teens to be a separate people group of humans?  Teens are not listed in the Bible. We see children, sons, and daughters as categories for families rather than adolescents or teens.  Throughout the Bible, God does refer to youth, a young man, a person in their prime, a young person, not an adult. The word youth is referred 88 times in the NASB.  One of the most important references to youth is Proverbs 1:1-6, where Solomon gives the purpose of the book of Proverbs and to whom it is written.

To know wisdom and instruction,
To discern the sayings of understanding,
To receive instruction in wise behavior,
Righteousness, justice, and integrity;
To give prudence to the naive,
To the youth knowledge and discretion,
A wise person will hear and increase in learning,
And a person of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
To understand a proverb and a saying,
The words of the wise and their riddles.

Solomon is speaking to young men, being trained to be leaders in his military service.  He implores these young men to seek wisdom as a most treasured gift.  He asks them to pursue it as they would a wife.  This wisdom is their life (Proverbs 4:1-9).  Biblically, youth are young image-bearers who desperately need to seek the wisdom given only by the sufficiency of God’s Word. As believers, we all must continue to seek godly wisdom to live to please God. God did not create a separate category of image bearers known as teens.  He created them to be equally loved and pursued to be His son and daughter (Romans 8:14-16) through the precious blood of Jesus, co-heirs, equal dignity, and equal in need of His grace and mercy (Ephesians 2:4-8). God has given teens the same purpose as every person who calls on the name of the LORD, which is to be pleasing to Him (2 Cor. 5:9-10;14-15).  Teens desperately need wisdom, purpose, god’s perspective, and godly, wise adults to speak into their lives.  Teens need a biblical perspective on how their lives and emotions interact with God and the Gospel.   In the next section, I will present categories that help the counselor look at the teen (counselee) as a whole and holy person.  I will take my categories based on Robert Kellemen’s diagram in his book “Gospel-Centered Counseling.”

God’s comprehensive original design for the human personality

According to Kellemen, “God designed image bearers as one comprehensive being with the following interrelated capacities for personhood:

Relational beings: loving with passions – affections.

Spiritual beings – communion/worship

Social being: community/fellowship

Self-aware being conscience/shalom

Rational beings: thinking with wisdom – mindsets, thinking in images, ideas, and beliefs.

Volitional beings: choosing with courage – purpose/pathways.

Heart motivations, actions, and behaviors

Emotional beings: experiencing with depth- mood states.

Embodied beings: living with power- personality.

Embedded life situational beings: engaging our world-socially.

Everlasting beings: created by, like, and for God- Coram deo existence (living face to face with God).” (Kellemen, pg.100)

Figure 6.1 – Kellemen, Robert W. Gospel-Centered Counseling (Equipping Biblical Counselors) (p. 101). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

If you look closely at this diagram, you will see that the central part of us (and teens) is their relational part.  It is the core of who we are: to worship and be in a relationship with God and others.

Example of an application of teens as relational beings.

This diagram has so much info that I cannot cover it in this blog. But let’s briefly examine the core from the diagram that teens are relational beings whose greatest desire and, therefore, counseling issue is often to be in the right relationship with God and then others. Created in the image of God, like the triune God who was in perfect fellowship, unity, and love before all time, teens were designed to be in a relationship with their creator and others (Matthew 22:35-40).   All teens have this longing; (whether they proclaim they are introverts or not); they have a God-given desire, affection, and longing to be in communion and community.   Scripture speaks to this repeatedly: “Whom do I have in heaven but You? And with You, I desire nothing on earth. Psalm 73:25” Teens need to worship and to be in an intimate relationship with God, it was that way at the beginning before the fall (Genesis 3:8), and it is why they need to be restored to their Creator and Father.

 But now, this is what the Lord says, He who is your Creator, Jacob, And He who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!( Isaiah 43:1).

 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. John 17:24.

Proclaiming God’s design to teens in real-time

One of the most frequent reasons teens come to see me in my counseling office is because of a broken relationship, broken relationships with friends, whether between friend groups or dating relationships. Teens desire to be known, to be wanted by others, and to have that one person or group that is their community forever.  This is a natural, God-given desire, as teens are relational: social beings.  Teens’ good desire for community was meant to be met by God Himself and then to have other relationships put in the right perspective according to God’s Word. Friends are a good gift from God; His Word guides how to pursue friends, discern a good friend, and be a friend.  God’s Word does not tell us we must have friends but must be a friend (1 John 4:11)! God, in His mercy, loves us completely, and we can find all that we need from Him to be free to love others. (Matthew 22:35-40).

Now we can help teens think through how they can be relational beings: self-aware and understanding how God’s design for them is better than what they are wanting in a worldly way. Broken relationships were not a part of God’s original plan for teens.  And when God’s plans are skewed and used for our own glory, our God-given emotions become complex and big.  Emotions are another part of the personhood of teens (See figure 6.1).  When emotions are overwhelming, teens may need wise counsel and self-reflection on who God is and what He is doing in their lives. Teens must understand how to reflect on who they are in Christ (self-awareness in Christ) and what is happening in their souls.  God created humans (teens) differently than the rest of creation so that they can self-reflect and renew their minds according to God’s Word (Romans 12:1-2). Through this process, teens can learn what it looks like to have “shalom,” peace with God, others, and peace within themselves in Christ (Ephesians 1-2). Wise counselors can teach emotional teens how they can trust God to give all good things (James. 1:17), find satisfaction in Him alone (Psalm 145:16), and empower them to love others as He loves them (John 13:34-35). When we start our counsel with how God sees teens, there is a powerful change of mindset and purpose both for the counselor and the counselee.  The world can diminish teens based on viewing them on their problems or from cultural standards. As we counsel teens, God gives us His Word by the power of the Holy Spirit to view teens and help teens view themselves as God does, as “one comprehensive being with interrelated capacities for personhood.” Teens, as relational beings, are just one part of their personhood.  They can learn and apply the truth that they are designed to commune with God, have community with others, and have conscience-seeking shalom (self-aware) by keeping the counsel focused on God at the center.  Teens with big emotions can find great hope in understanding their big emotions by how God designed them to be image-bearers.

Kellemen, Robert W.. Gospel-Centered Counseling (Equipping Biblical Counselors) (p. 100-101). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

Kathy Hutton
Kathy Hutton serves with Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry and as a part of Faith Community Ministries. Kathy was certified as a Biblical Counselor in 2019 and received her Masters in Biblical Counseling through Faith Bible Seminary in 2022. She and her husband, Rod, live in Lafayette and have 5 children.