Understanding the teenage mind
Former Christian counsellor and school nurse Mary Weeks Millard focuses on a troubled teenager in her latest novel
One of the benefits of being in ‘the golden years’ of life is that I have many decades over which I can look back and reflect. When I reached my teens, ‘teenagers’ had hardly been invented; the world seemed far less complex, but even so, I carried unhealed hurts into my adult life that took many years to address.
A generation later, when my own children were in their teens, teenagers had most definitely been invented! Christian values were being eroded in our national life and I saw the conflict that this brought into their lives.
Now, as a grandmother of teenagers, the edges between good and evil, right and wrong are very blurred, leaving many young people confused, depressed and frightened, and not always sure of where to go for help. We have heard on the news stories of troubled youngsters turning to social media sites, with tragic results.
These reflections, along with my career experiences as a school nursing sister and then as a Christian counsellor, have been the inspiration for my latest book, The Runaway. It is the story of Tiago, a teenage boy living in London, who is emotionally, physically and sexually abused at home, as well as bullied at school. Alcohol and drugs are being misused in his home and he fears knife crime on the streets. The only way he copes with his life is by resorting to self-harm. Finally, he runs away from home, scared, lonely, not able to trust anyone, but trying to make a new life for himself. Joining a gang brings a sense of belonging, but with it come new dangers and challenges.
Tiago runs away again when he is warned that the police are looking for him, and the story tells the physical, psychological, emotional, intellectual and spiritual journey he makes, as he struggles to trust people and to find a place to live and begin a new life which will eventually reach a place of security and faith in a loving God.
I wanted in this book to create a character who was credible and real, but also to write a story that would be gripping and appealing to young adults and show that everyone is given the opportunity to make choices in life which can lead to a better future.
Tiago, the main protagonist, chooses to stop running away, to trust people, to forgive his mother for her lack of mothering and to believe in God who promises him a hope and a future.
My personal experience helped me when I was writing this book, to include some defence mechanisms that people use when their lives are falling apart. In the 1980s, in my role as a school nurse, I met young people who were struggling with problems in their lives, and some of them resorted to self-harm as a way of trying to escape their pain, but awareness of mental health issues in teenagers was still then in its infancy.
I was, for many years, the leader of a large girl Covenanter group in greater London. I learnt so much from these girls as I listened to their struggles growing up through their teenage years.
Similarly, later in life, when practising as a Christian counsellor, I met several women who had problems resulting from childhood trauma. One of these women would regularly burn herself with an iron – it was her way of dealing with her inward pain. It wasn’t until, by the grace of God, her childhood trauma was healed, that she was able to move away from this destructive practice and live a happy life.
Almost everyone I have seen God touch with healing in this way has then found delight in creativity in one form or another. In my story, as part of the healing journey, Tiago excels in carpentry.
I feel this book will reach people on different levels. It can be read simply as an exciting novel where Tiago escapes from a very dark life, into one that is much lighter and fulfilling as he finds love. It can also be read thoughtfully, and the issues Tiago faces can be discussed, giving young people an opportunity to air their fears and problems. I am also aware that it can give insight to adult readers who are concerned about the welfare and mental health of young people in the 21st century. My prayer is that God will use this book to bless young people and adults alike.
Mary Weeks Millard is the author of The Runaway, published by Instant Apostle (ISBN 978-1-912726-01-1, RRP £7.99), available from Christian bookshops and online.