What I've Learned About Young People as A School Counsellor
Welldoing.org counsellor Debbie Foers has worked as a school counsellor for four years
Here she shares what she has learned about young people in that time
If your child or teenager is in need of professional support, find a therapist here
How often do we hear that young people have everything laid out on a plate? Sometimes we hear people labelling young people as ungrateful or entitled, that they expect to get everything they want. But, would you choose to be a teenager or young person in this fast-moving world? Have you thought of the challenges they are likely to face on a day-to-day basis?
I've been a school counsellor for ages 11-18 years for four years now. What I’ve noticed is how resilient they are even when faced with really difficult problems.
The usual comment is that all they want to do is fit in. I say to them, “What does fitting in mean to you?” Usually they reply, “I want to be like my friends”, “I wish I could be popular.”
What they are saying is that they want to belong in the ever-changing world we live in, to be part of something whether it be a dance group, drama class or even just being seen.
There are so many obstacles for young people today. How can they get it right? How can they keep up with the trends? When they are pressured into being perfect? When there is a need to impress others? It’s nearly impossible.
Online communications mean ample opportunity for misinterpreting text messages from a friend, or enemy. Leaving that person feeling worried, confused and unsure. Wondering what they can do or how to respond next. When I was younger, we would just tell the person face-to-face so there wasn’t this constant battle to understand what they meant or how they interpreted everyone’s comments.
Young people are both trying to be independent and yet are still being reliant on others; this is another area of difficulty. They want to become a responsible individual yet temptations and pressures from peers as well as expectations of parents all conflict. Children and young people often tell me, “I’ve tried to talk to my parents but they’re not listening”. This time is when an important connection can be lost in the child-parent relationship.
Between 12-16 many young people are in a developmental stage that encourages risk-taking. During this time, it can be particularly hard for them to say No. This may present as smoking, drinking, staying out late, stealing, criminal damage and many more besides. What would you do in their position? How would you get out of scary times when you’re the one in the middle of it? Constantly bombarded by expectations of peers, friends and even family sometimes. One person says, “Go on try it” whilst others urge us not to get into trouble.
Life for young people isn’t all fun usually. It means using lots of energy on pleasing others. Or in some cases, by pretending to be OK when they’re not OK really. It may mean sacrificing certain dreams as a result of a hectic lifestyle they are generally leading. How can we support these young people so they can have an enjoyable childhood and yet stay true to themselves? What will help them to feel safe?
Maybe we can give them a message that they are going to be OK regardless of what others might say or think. Give them praise and compliments. Try to be less of a critical parent and become a more nurturing one instead. Try not to pass judgement and set healthier boundaries.
If you are a parent, you can help your child feel safe in the world by letting them know they can come and talk to you at any time. Ask them whether you can help with anything; ask them what is troubling them. Listening to their worries and anxieties will be comforting. It will increase trust and confidence, and boost that sense of belonging that most young people are striving for. By supporting your child, they stand a better chance of growing up happy, healthy and wise.
All young people want is to be heard, in a frightening and uncertain world that they haven’t yet worked out. Can you remember that feeling? How difficult it was not to have the answers?
Young people today may appear to have more material things and means that ever before, but what I've seen a significant lack of real emotional connection, making it harder for young people to express their emotions, as they haven't been taught how to do so. This is where you can support the young people in your life, show them what it means to have real connection and authentic conversation. We can help the next generation to be strong, determined, ambitious, positive, motivated and connected.
Young people have no choice but to survive in a complex and challenging world. It will be a test of endurance, effort and determination to win all the demands put on them.