As I assign homework to teens, I keep Ephesians 3:17-19 in mind when choosing assignments:
“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.”
The Importance of Carefully Selected Homework
One of the most common questions I am asked about counseling teens is “what resources do you use for homework?” The connotation of the word “homework” is often an issue when counseling teens. After spending a little time discussing why homework is important, they will begin to engage in the assignments as you encourage them.
Homework for teens can include things like Bible reading and memorization, journaling, learning to use online tools to study the Bible, practical assignments related to their current issues, worksheets, etc. There are many options for homework assignments for teens, but I am focusing on just one in this article: books. There are a handful of good teen resources right now that are gospel-rich and applicable to biblical counseling, mentoring, and discipleship with teenagers.
When I assign a book for homework, I appreciate one that has small chapters and spaces to write answers or notes. This is not because teens are not smart enough for meaty content (I use only content-rich books), but because they have an overload of school homework already and I do not want to overwhelm them with lengthy reading assignments that they will not complete.
The following books are my latest recommendations:
This is my most commonly assigned homework book for teens. It is safe to say that the topic of the “fear of man” is a common one in all biblical counseling sessions, and teens have their own particular struggles that manifest from this issue. Insecurity, misunderstanding their identity, peer pressure, people-pleasing, comparing and judging, and various other forms of the fear of man are often revealed in counseling. This book helps the teen to learn about the dynamic in their own hearts that tempts them towards making people the ruling force in their lives. The goal is to guide the teen towards freedom from the bondage of the fear of man. This book is an excellent tool.
Written by an exceptionally bright and solid young woman when she was 19, this book was written directly to teens. She has a passion for the gospel and challenges teens to understand that they were created for something bigger than “self.” She points them to the gospel in powerful and engaging chapters. Teens I have taken through this book have been changed as they hear the author’s perspective. They see that they, too, can live lives to the glory of God.
Written specifically for girls, the author focuses on “identity” and the struggle to navigate a world where teens are continually exposed to social media and all of its good, bad, and ugly sides. Many teens are in counseling because they have misused social media, or have been bullied on social media, or simply engage in it as a continual distraction to the detriment of other aspects of life. The focus in this book on identity in Christ is why I have assigned it as homework reading for several girls. It opens the door for discussion about the lies teens believe, and the Truth that sets them free.
Because this book has quite a lot of content, I use it for teens who are going to be meeting with me for a while. It is applicable for the teen who may not yet know Christ, to the newer believer, and for a teen who is a more mature Christian desiring further growth. The content offers basic discipleship. This is a unique devotional-style book that can be adapted for your use as needed while addressing topics such as: clarifying the gospel, how our stories intersect with God’s story of redemption, and how to navigate issues of fear, worry, friendships, forgiveness, and much more. This is an excellent discipleship tool for you and the youth you serve.
I have found this book to be useful for older teens who lean towards a more studious approach to their counseling and homework. It is similar in content to the original book Respectable Sins, but geared towards youth. It is very helpful for teaching a teen the dangers of legalism and performance-based thinking.
This book is written to be used as a small group or youth group study, but can be adapted to the counseling relationship fairly easily. You might find some chapters useful as homework and discussion in your meetings with teens, and others can be used as a guide for your counseling sessions. The content is gospel-rich and helps the teen to understand the gospel and apply it to their life in practical and meaningful ways.
The content of this book is what you would expect from the excellent Peacemaker resources. It is very helpful in counseling youth who are in conflict with family or peers. It provides the same principles you find in the other Peacemaker books, but is written with teens in mind. I find this book to be invaluable in my ministry to teens.
I was once taught the “80/20 rule” regarding books to recommend vs. books to toss out. The rule is that if a book has 80% great content, it is a keeper as long as you can navigate the problems with the other 20% (assuming they are not major doctrinal or theological issues, but areas where we can disagree with others in the body of Christ.) If the books is 80% problematic and only 20% good content, toss it out. It is difficult to make good use of a book that is weighted so heavily toward lack of good, useful content. I only recommend books that I believe fit the 80% great content rule. You can also use the 20% problematic content to teach discernment to the counselee as you work through a book together.
Questions for Reflection
What books do you find useful in your ministry to youth? What other types of homework assignments do you utilize with teens?
Ellen Castillo is the Executive Director and a Biblical Counselor at Word of Hope Ministries on the Central Coast in California. Word of Hope Ministries is a biblical counseling and training center that serves local churches and is also available online.