Dear Evan Hansen: Can You Help Us Talk with Teenagers?

Posted on 10/08/2021 @ 08:00 AM

Tags: Teen Education & Engagement, Teen Education & Engagement Youth Professionals

Want to help a teenager but not sure how or where to begin? Are you concerned about a young person and not sure what to say?

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

One of the important messages that Dear Evan Hansen teaches us is we need to have more and better conversations with our teens.
 
Dear Evan Hansen, the Tony award-winning musical, is widely beloved. The new film adaptation premiered September 24th and although it has received some critical reviews, the more interesting focus is to ask ourselves why this powerful story unearths something deeply troubling about the young people in our midst.
 
According to recent research, young people suffer from loneliness far more than any other age group. A study published in July 2021 found that twice as many adolescents experience loneliness today as they did 10 years ago. Dear Evan Hansen highlights the difficulties teens face and how they are often riddled with social and emotional pressures that can feel overwhelming and difficult to manage.
 
Professor Suniya S. Luthar co-published research entitled The High Price of Affluence and noted: My first study on upper middle class youth was conducted essentially to look for a comparison group for inner city kids, and while doing this comparison we found, much to my surprise, that the so-called “privileged” or “rich” kids were doing much more poorly – again, mostly on substance use, but also on depression and anxiety. So, that was way back in the late 90s and since then we’ve followed that trail and replicated these findings over and over again.
 
Leaning into the core of the narrative, Dear Evan Hansen illustrates the need for families, friends, and those working with young people to engage in meaningful conversations and create safe spaces for teens to be able to share their anxieties before it’s too late.
 
In 2018, CAJE-Miami brought our Youth Professionals and a few teens to see a live-stage performance of Dear Evan Hansen. After attending, everyone participated in a text study and discussion of resources that we are sharing with you here.
 
What was so unique about our post-performance discussion of Dear Evan Hansen was how the story resonated with both teens and adults because the pain of feeling alone, featured so prominently in the play, is part of our human experience at every age.
 
In Genesis 2:18, we learn that when G!d created humanity, G!d first created Adam from the dust of the earth. “And G!d said it is not good for a living being to be alone. I will create for it an ezer kenegdo,” often translated as a suitable helper.
 
G!d first created animals to serve as Adam’s ezer kenegdo, as companions (and of course, Adam had G!d as well). But the animals were not enough. An ezer kenegdo was Adam’s missing piece, a reminder he was not alone, a reminder that there was another that cared about his well-being.
 
Today, our teens need suitable helpers more than ever. Who are suitable helpers? It might be parents but then again, it might not be parents, depending on the teen and the family situation. Other adults that could be helpful are: grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends of the family, therapists, clergy and youth professionals and so forth.
 
In the Dear Evan Hansen musical, You Will Be Found calls out: 

Have you ever felt like nobody was there?
Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere?
Have you ever felt like you could disappear?
Like you could fall, and no one would hear?
Well, let that lonely feeling wash away
 
Maybe there’s a reason to believe you’ll be okay
'Cause when you don’t feel strong enough to stand
You can reach, reach out your hand
And oh, someone will come running
And I know, they’ll take you home
 
Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found

Each one of us need to be that ezer kenegdo for each other, but especially for our teens. We must be that person for the young people in our lives and tell them: You matter; you are loved; you are valued; you are found.

For additional resources on how to talk to teens
about difficult issues visit: