If you had to give just one bit of advice for working with young people, what would it be?
I have been asked this so many times over the years when I have delivered my own training or delivered training for selfharmUK. Even in the last couple of weeks this has come up with professionals working with young people and parents I have had contact with.
I get the question. It has been born out of frustration and anxiety of saying or more importantly of doing the right thing for the young person. In some cases it has been about desperation of looking for the silver bullet answer to all the questions. (Heads up, it doesn’t exist). But often it is about asking me to distil what I do. What is at the heart of my work or what is the essence of how I interact with young people and bring about change.
Of course it’s not an easy question to answer. Yesterday I explored the idea that intentional one to one relationships are about process. You can read that here. So how can I reduce everything, that is a deliberate process, to one thing. The point of the post was to say that it wasn’t simply one thing.
However, even the process, which I referred to yesterday, fits under the banner of one simple idea. One that is actually very powerful:
In this I mean that you, as someone working with young people will be able to offer something that others cannot. Time. We need to see this as a commodity which we offer and when we do that, we offer it freely. You will be aware that the pressures that young people are under are immense. These pressures come from all sides and its hard for young people to have time for themselves. A digitally connected generation in which a simple ‘ping’ can bring on physical anxiety.
What these young people need is someone who can offer something that no one else can. Time. Time to learn about themselves, time to think and time to hear the small still voice in their own heads.
I work with young people who have 3 game consoles, tablets, phones, mobile gaming, social media etc which can all be played on 50″ TV’s in their bedrooms, often with little or no parental accountability. One thing I have learnt from having children myself and working with young people across the age spectrum; the off switch is not a natural response to tiredness or stress.
Add this to many children having to balance time between multiple family homes following separation we find that young people have not learnt to give themselves space. The epidemic of children unable to handle boredom is becoming more and more significant with children as young as 9 unable to deal with silence. They are not used to being able to hear their own mind.
Today I ran my mindfulness colouring club in a Primary School. Throughout the session we do a variety of awareness exercises, grounding and breathing, along with slow and deliberate colouring in mandala for grownups. This week we did things slightly differently and ended up with 20 min of total silence. At the end of this the young people felt more relaxed than they had felt in a long time and reflected that they couldn’t remember the last time that they had experienced silence liked that and they loved it.
I have become more and more convinced that children need to learn to sit in silence with their boredom so that they can become aware of the voice of their own mind and body. Essentially that they can hear themselves.
This is what I do. I give space, sometimes in silence but more often than not, for children to hear themselves and know their own mind and body and make their own reasoned choices.