Latter-day Saint Life

Family Counselor: How We Can Use the Atonement to Build Trust with Youth and Create Life-Changing Conversations


A few days ago, a beautiful young person met with me in my office. As we talked, this youth shared with me deep feelings of sadness, feelings of not measuring up, frustrations that they were not perfect, and worries that they were disappointing their parents.

As we talked, I prayed silently to know what words to say to help this youth understand how Heavenly Father sees them, to help them know perfection is not required to be of worth or to be loved. As tears flowed freely, I quietly listened as this young person shared deep-seeded feelings of shame which added to the sadness they expressed. With listening ears and gentle words together, this youth and I were able to begin the process of trust and to share thoughts which allowed us to move away from shame and towards truth.

Towards the end of the session, with trust established, this youth felt comfortable enough to confide that they had been viewing pornography and using drugs. I felt immense gratitude that this youth was finally able to tell a trusted individual about such personal struggles. As we talked, the heaviness of this youths’ burden, which had been carried alone for so long, began to lighten and tears of healing flowed. I thanked the youth for trusting me enough to share such personal struggles.

After sharing, we then were able to talk about why it was so important not to carry such burdens alone—that it is Satan who wants us to be silent and keep things hidden. When things are hidden, shame increases. When youth talk about mistakes with those they trust, shame can be replaced with the blessings of remorse, the desire to change, the knowledge of forgiveness, and with feelings of self-worth and love which come through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

As this youth left my office that day, I thanked Heavenly Father for helping such critical steps to take place. Then I found myself wondering: why did it take so long for this youth to open up and share? To which the thought came to my mind: this social media world and our busy lives trend towards creating environments of unsafe silence, meaning that today we tend to share only what is more surfaced and fun. In the world of Snapchats, Facebook posts, and text messages there appears to be limited time for deep conversations—the type of conversations that typically come about when we are sitting knee to knee, eye to eye, and listening not just to words but also voice fluctuations. Those conversations that are both planned and unplanned which connect hearts, lift burdens, and say, “I love you always even when you think you have made a mistake.”

This modern world also seems to make it hard for youth to understand that feeling difficult emotions is okay and that such emotions need to be talked about. That life is about feeling, growing, and trusting. That we are not supposed to be alone and that we need to share with those we trust. As adults and as parents, we need to help create environments in which our youth can open up to us, know we will listen, know we will strive to understand, and know we will love them while gently allowing them to understand the process of growth, accountability, repentance, and how to feel remorse instead of shame.

As a mother and as a counselor, I have seen how talking with both my kids and my clients about the difference between shame and remorse has helped a lot. Far too many people think they are one in the same. But shame says, “I am bad,” remorse says, “I made a mistake, and I can feel sadness for that mistake but understand I am not bad.”

In my role as a mother, I also take time to share with my kids examples of my own personal forgiveness journey. I let them know that I, too, have needed the blessing of repentance and that I, too, have needed individuals I could trust and talk to and that I still make mistakes. I also talk often with them about what a great blessing the power of repentance and forgiveness is in my life and that repentance is a process, not a destination. I want my kids to understand that process of repentance is real and nothing to fear. I think far too often youth see repentance as intangible or as a punishment. I think one of the very best ways we help our kids today understand the beautiful process of repentance is by letting them know we live it every day of our lives. Teenagers need to know that we as parents are not perfect and that beautiful blessing of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is here for all of us. The Atonement of Jesus Christ allows us to repent and to be accountable for our actions in a very comforting and supportive way.

The youth of today are so amazing and they have such great potential and promises. I am grateful for the lessons I learned that day in my counseling office from an amazing young person who is seeking to gain trust and an understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

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