Young People Ask . . .
What Should I Do When Others Tell Me Their Problems?
“There is this girl in school. Her parents were going through a divorce, and her grades were starting to fall. She would talk to me about her family problems.”—Jan, aged 14.
“A girl in school confessed to me that she had relations with a boy. She got pregnant and had an abortion without her parents even knowing about it.”—Mira, aged 15.
YOU are having a conversation with a friend or a schoolmate. Suddenly he “unloads” a problem on you. * Maybe he is dealing with typical teen concerns—clothes, money, looks, peers, grades. On the other hand, he may have problems that are far more weighty and challenging.
The situation in the United States illustrates just how serious the problems of young ones can be. According to Newsweek magazine, “the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that 8 percent of adolescents and 2 percent of children (some as young as 4) have symptoms of depression.” Another survey noted: “Approximately 97 per 1,000 women aged 15-19—one million American teenagers—become pregnant each year. The majority of these pregnancies—78 percent—are unintended.” Then there are the millions of young people who live in unstable home environments. Thousands are the victims of physical or sexual abuse. Over half of U.S. high-school seniors have abused alcohol. Alarming numbers of young ones are coping with an eating disorder.
Little wonder that many youths desperately need someone to talk to and confide in! And often the first person they turn to is a peer. What should you do if that peer turns out to be you? If you are a Christian, their doing so should hardly come as a surprise. The Bible commands Christians to be “an example” in conduct and to be reasonable. (1 Timothy 4:12; Philippians 4:5) So other young ones—including unbelievers—may very well want to confide in you. How, then, should you handle such a situation? And what if you feel that you’ve heard more than you can handle?
Being a Good Listener
The Bible says there is “a time to keep quiet and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7) When someone has a problem and wants to talk to you, oftentimes the best thing to do is simply to listen. After all, the Bible condemns turning a deaf ear to the “complaining cry of the lowly one.” (Proverbs 21:13) It may have taken a while for your associate to build up the courage to talk about the matter. Your being willing to listen may make it easier for him to talk. “I usually just let the other person talk,” says a Christian youth named Hiram. “I let him say what’s on his mind, and I try to sympathize with him.” Vincent likewise observes: “Sometimes people just want to talk.”
So your associate may not expect you to solve his problems. All he may need is a good listener. So listen! Try to avoid being distracted by your surroundings or needlessly interrupting him. Your just being there and listening can be a big help in itself. It shows that you truly care.
Does this mean that you should say nothing at all in response? Much would depend upon the nature of the problem. Most of the time, a thoughtful, kind response is appropriate. (Proverbs 25:11) For example, if an acquaintance has experienced some personal tragedy, it may be best to express sympathy. (Romans 12:15) Proverbs 12:25 says: “Anxious care in the heart of a man is what will cause it to bow down, but the good word is what makes it rejoice.” Perhaps what is needed is some encouragement. Express your confidence that the individual will be able to meet his challenge successfully. Such statements as “I can see why you feel that way” or “I’m sorry that you have to deal with this” can let your associate know that you are sincere and that you want to help him.
Nevertheless, Proverbs 12:18 warns: “There exists the one speaking thoughtlessly as with the stabs of a sword.” It’s important to avoid such comments as “That’s not so bad,” “Just get over it,” or “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Beware, too, of trying to lighten up a problem with humor. Your associate could easily conclude that you don’t respect his feelings.—Proverbs 25:20.
What, though, if you are at a loss for words? Just be honest. Tell your friend that you really don’t know what to say but that you still want to be there to help him. Ask, “What can I do to help?” Yes, there may be some practical things you can do to ease his burden.—Galatians 6:2.
Offering Friendly Advice
What if you feel that your associate needs advice? Of course, as a young person, you are relatively inexperienced. (Proverbs 1:4) So you may not be qualified to give advice on every problem. However, Psalm 19:7 says: “The reminder of Jehovah is trustworthy, making the inexperienced one wise.” Yes, despite being “inexperienced,” you may have enough knowledge of Bible principles to be of some help to a companion in need. (Proverbs 27:9) Without being preachy, why not share some points from the Bible? If you are not sure which Bible principles apply, do some research. Over the years the “Young People Ask . . .” feature of this magazine has published much Bible-based counsel on a variety of subjects. Another valuable source of information is the book Questions Young People Ask—Answers That Work. *
Maybe it would be effective to share your own experiences. Perhaps you even have some practical suggestions. Without imposing your own viewpoints, you can explain what helped you. (Proverbs 27:17) Keep in mind, though, that each situation is different. What worked for you might not work for everybody.
Words of Caution
Don’t become consumed by listening to the problems of youths who do not fear Jehovah or respect Christian standards. Many of their problems may spring from a life-style that is out of harmony with the Bible. Trying to help those who disdain the Bible’s counsel could prove frustrating to both of you. (Proverbs 9:7) Also, you could find yourself exposed to a lot of foolish or even obscene talk. (Ephesians 5:3) So if a discussion makes you feel uneasy, have the courage to say that you’re not in a position to help out or that you’re uncomfortable with that topic.
Be careful if a member of the opposite sex seeks to share his inner feelings with you. The Bible warns that the heart can be deceptive. (Jeremiah 17:9) Close association can arouse romantic feelings and even lead to sexual immorality.
In addition, don’t get trapped into promising that you won’t tell anyone. Modestly recognize that the one speaking to you may need more help than you can give.—Proverbs 11:2.
When the Help of Others Is Needed
In many cases the best thing to do is to get some help yourself. Mira, quoted at the outset, said: “I really didn’t know how to help my schoolmate. So I talked to a congregation elder about it, and he gave me some good advice on how to help her.” Yes, within the Christian congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are experienced men who can assist you. (Ephesians 4:11, 12) The elder suggested that Mira encourage her schoolmate to talk with her parents. The girl took Mira’s advice. Says Mira: “Her situation has improved. Now she wants to know more about the Bible.”
What if a fellow Christian confides in you? Naturally, you will want to do whatever you reasonably can to help. (Galatians 6:10) If you fear he is drifting away from Jehovah’s moral standards, don’t be afraid to “speak truth” with him. (Ephesians 4:25) Be honest but not self-righteous. Your being willing to speak up is the mark of a true friend.—Psalm 141:5; Proverbs 27:6.
In such a situation, it is also imperative that you encourage your friend to seek help—from his parents, an elder, or some mature Christian whom he respects. If a reasonable amount of time has passed and he hasn’t talked to anyone, you may have to talk to someone for him. (James 5:13-15) Doing that may take courage on your part, but it shows that you really do care and that you want what is best for your friend.
Of course, Jehovah does not expect you to solve everyone’s problems. But when someone does confide in you, you don’t have to feel helpless. Put your Christian training to work, and prove yourself to be “a true companion.”—Proverbs 17:17.
^ par. 5 For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to the one having the problem in the male gender. Naturally, this information applies to young ones of both sexes.
^ par. 15 Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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In some cases you may have to get help for a friend in trouble