Written by Christi Hymel //
If anyone would have told me that one day I would be working on a daily basis in a residential facility for troubled teens, I would not have believed them. Mostly I would have doubted this because I never had juvenile justice on my radar. And I believed that teens who found themselves in trouble with whatever authority was present in their lives, almost always got there strictly due to their lack of self-governance or rebellious nature.
Fast forward two years, and my views have completely changed. Our facility, House of Hope, is a residential facility with a full-time school and counseling office. The number one reason teens show up at House of Hope is because the family dynamic has broken down. The vast majority of our teens come from homes without a dad. The abandonment of fathers in today’s society is the biggest threat against society in general and youth in particular. Regardless of what modern society wants to believe, it is not good for children to be without a father. For boys, fatherlessness breeds gang involvement, drug use, sex outside of marriage, and sexually transmitted diseases. Girls fair no better. They seek male attention by becoming sexually active at a much earlier age and risk teenage pregnancies, diseases, and a host of shameful behaviors that carry over into adult life. Most teen violence stems from this disfunction at home. Our current justice system tends to put the juvenile offenders into the adult prison population. And this has proven disastrous. Teens are abused in adult prisons and rarely get the help they need to overcome their problems. While some juvenile crimes warrant severe punishment, the vast majority of juvenile delinquents really require targeted counseling and serious efforts to rewire the faulty reasoning and worldview they’ve acquired while growing up in dysfunctional homes.
The first thing we do when a teen arrives at House of Hope is simple: we love them. A broken teen will almost always have a tough exterior, seem unreachable, and will do everything in their power to push away those trying to help. Once in the program, they see they are not alone and that there are many others just like them. Satan’s biggest lie to all of us is to tell us that we are not good enough on our own and that no one could ever really love us. Teens, especially, seem to take this to heart and it takes tremendous effort and time to rewire this way of thinking.
Two of the ways we tackle these problems are one-on-one counseling with a trained counselor and group counseling. Counseling can best be described as a long obedience in the same direction. Only time can heal many wounds. We also allow our teens to get involved in justice missions from around the world. Often times a teen will experience growth in healing when he or she is able to get involved in helping someone else. Feeling like a part of something bigger than themselves is crucial to developing justice-minded young adults. We constantly strive to reinforce the idea that freedom and self-governance are closely related. House of Hope’s program centers on discipline: showing teens that a disciplined life is a joyful life. The more a teen can see that self-control and freedom go hand in hand, the easier it will be to enable that teen to leave the program with tools for a successful life.
After working at House of Hope these past two years I have come to see that teen violence can be curbed, but that the process must start in the home. Teens are our primary focus but we also work diligently to put families back together. The mission statement at House of Hope comes from Malachi 6:4 “He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents.” This is the real mission of House of Hope: family restoration. We believe it is the right of everyone to grow up in a stable and secure household where love, grace, and peace grow in abundance. That takes much effort and hard work. It is never too late to learn how to communicate within a family. Troubled teens have learned early on how to avoid conflict, how to mask pain, and how to transfer their affection in the wrong directions. We teach them and their families about effective communication, realistic expectations, and how to give and receive grace. Recovery from abuse and addiction is a long road. Teens that help themselves in the recovery process fair much better than teens put into detention centers or prison populations.
We want justice whenever a crime has been committed, but we should also want to bestow mercy when it is in our power to do so. As Bryan Stevenson writes in his book Just Mercy, “Mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given. Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving.” To truly change the life of a troubled teen we need to be about both justice and mercy. This helps them, in turn, make the world a more just and merciful place.
Christi Hymel holds degrees in English and History from Mars Hill University in NC. She has taught English and history for the past 30 years, spent 20 years in Classical Christian education, and homeschooled 3 children through high school. She is currently a teacher, principal and curriculum developer at House of Hope, choosing and crafting curricula especially suited to each teen’s specific needs and goals.