Facing Down Monsters

Facing Down Monsters

“‘Stories don’t always have happy endings.’

This stopped him. Because they didn’t, did they? That’s one thing the monster had definitely taught him. Stories were wild, wild animals and went off in directions you couldn’t expect.”

~ A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness


A Monster Calls is a book and movie that is beautiful and devastating all at once. It is about a 13-year-old boy, Connor, with a mother who is battling cancer. This story is told from Connor’s perspective when he begins to have nightmares about a ‘monster’ visiting him and telling him parable-like stories that make him reconsider all he has been taught. This story, while fictional, paints a perfect picture of what happens when trusted adults cause a negative effect in a serious situation faced by a teen.


We attempt to protect teens from pain.

The biggest issue within this story is that no one ever explains to Connor how serious his mother’s illness is, even after she is hospitalized. There are hints at multiple visits to the hospital, her hair loss, scenes of Connor doing chores and making meals, but no one ever tells him what is happening. Why is this? The adults are attempting to protect Connor by keeping him out of the loop. They are wanting him to continue to live his life as if nothing is changing. This is incredibly damaging because it just leaves him confused and worried without knowing why. The ‘monster’ that Connor begins to dream about, helps him to start understanding what is happening in a way that the adults refuse to.

In the story, Connor begins experiencing bullying and becomes angry. His actions are shouting out for help but the adults do not respond. This happens often with our teens. Adults are not always aware of the signs of an emotional disturbance. Very rarely do we ask the victim of bullying why they decided to fight back. Very rarely do we have an opportunity to genuinely ask what is happening at home. Very rarely do teens innately understand how to deal with serious situations on their own. Very rarely do teens have the words to ask for our help. These are situations in which we, as adults, should be asking questions to help teens process their actions and emotions in order for them to begin healing from stressful events.


We attempt to say the right things.

As the story is told, Connor’s father attempts to offer words to support him. I say the word ‘attempt’ because what is said hurts Connor in multiple ways. Connor’s father has a second family and lives in another country. When the father meets with Connor, he tells his 13-year-old son, to ‘be strong’. When I first read this part of the story, I was reminded of any time when I had been told this or something similar. These words, while sounding nice, would make me feel angry and hurt. These sentiments come from good intentions but end up causing more harm.

Telling a teen struggling with a ‘monster’ to “be strong”, “it will get better”, or “others have suffered more”, etc., creates a space where teens become more confused by what they are feeling. Teens who are experiencing a difficult time should not have to be strong. We cannot guarantee that things will be better. We should not compare suffering. There are ways to provide support without causing damage. We can do this by simply being there and allowing emotions to be felt in the moment. We can acknowledge that we do not know how a teen is feeling and state, “I am so sorry for what happened.” We can offer to do something specific that they enjoy doing and not make the situation about ourselves. These acts can do more to show support than any others.


We should attempt to face down the monsters together.

The positive side of A Monster Calls is when Connor finally understands that this world full of stories that rarely have black and white endings. He understands that the line between good and evil can be blurred, that not all the good guys get to win in the end, and sometimes the bad guys do win. He begins to understand that suffering is a part of his life story.

Teens already face an emotional upheaval almost on a daily basis thanks to the level of brain development that is taking place and an increase in hormones. The thing is, we are all emotional creatures; adults just hide it better. The world can seem overwhelming to a teen. This becomes especially true when that teen is facing a life changing event. When a teen is struggling to face down their monster, they should be given space to get angry, to cry, to be held. They do not know what they need, but we can be there to help them understand how to deal with the ‘monsters’ in their lives. We all have stories that do not have happy endings. We get angry, sad, mad, and there is nothing wrong with that. This is why teens need reassurances to feel what they need to feel because not every story ends happily but every story lived is important.


Here is a review from another professional about how this book has helped patients of all ages:


Shelbie Fowler is currently a volunteer for Teen Life and has her Masters in Family Studies. She is passionate about being an advocate for family life education in order to grow families stronger.
Helping When It Hurts

Helping When It Hurts

I just got back from serving with LiveBeyond in Thomazeau, Haiti, where poverty, starvation, sickness and Satan can be seen at every corner. While I was still processing this level of hurt and pain, I came home to the injustice of the Orlando shooting.

Hurt has so many different faces.

Hurt looks like scrubbing a tiny Haitian head that is covered in ringworm. Hurt looks like hundreds of people mourning the loss of loved ones to gunshots. Hurt looks like students feeling unsafe at their schools because of bullies. Hurt looks like shoeless feet traveling miles to receive medical care. Hurt looks like a nation crying out after acts of hate and prejudice. Hurt looks like a teenager struggling after his parents go through a painful divorce.

Hurt can be overwhelming and sometimes it is easier to do nothing rather than wade into the unknown of pain. However, if there is anything that I have learned while in Haiti, it is that we cannot simply sit back and stay quiet. If not us, then who?

But where do we start? How can I help people that are miles, states or even nations away?

There isn’t an easy or fix-it-all answer, but hopefully these can provide a good starting place for how to help in the midst of hurt:

Focus on the person in front of you.

Are you far away from Orlando or Haiti? Unless you have time off and money for a plane ticket, that is probably not going to change, but you can love on that neighbor who is also struggling. Or you can tell a friend who feels targeted how sorry you are. You can take food to someone who has recently experienced loss, or volunteer with a local organization.

When there is a tragedy or when the hurt and pain is too overwhelming, start by loving the person directly in front of you. Don’t freeze. Don’t turn around and run. By focusing on one person at a time, you are making a difference in a manageable way! Once you have made that person in front of you feel loved and heard, move on to another person and do the same for them!

Find ways to encourage from afar.

Technology has made it incredibly easy to connect with people in other states, countries or continents! If you can’t stand in front of someone who is hurting, find ways to encourage them from where you are. Here are a few ideas of how to help from your own home:

  • Spend time in prayer for those that are hurting. For example, print off the names of those who died in Orlando – spend time specifically praying for their families by name.
  • Send letters, Facebook messages or care packages. Find those who are affected or maybe those who are living in areas where they are interacting with hurting people and encourage them with words and thoughtful gestures!
  • Support organizations who are helping those in need. Even if you only have $10 a month, you can partner with an organization and make a difference in the lives of those who are hurting.

Take up the cause of the oppressed.

“He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?” declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 22:16

Since I am a Christian, the message of this verse is very clear – if I want to know God, it is my job to defend the poor and needy.

If you are not motivated by Christianity or a sense of higher calling, you can still stand in the gap for those who have no one else to defend them or speak on their behalf.

This does not mean that you need to go on a 2,000 word Facebook rant to shame those who act out in hate, but instead think about how you can offer your thoughts, prayers and encouragement in a short, positive post. Maybe defending their cause means bringing hope and understanding into a conversation of condemnation.

For me, it means talking about the organizations and people I love (like Teen Lifeline & LiveBeyond) whenever possible. I can share the struggles and challenges of teenagers and the people of Haiti. I can bring awareness and recruit others to join their cause.

So, I am asking you to join me. Let’s not sit by and retreat in times of pain! Instead, let’s try to help in the midst of hurt. Do you have any other ideas of how to help in times of pain and hurt? We would love to hear them!

Karlie Duke was in one of Teen Lifeline’s original support groups and now is our Communications Director. She is passionate about encouraging students to live better stories.