Monday Musings…Is Anybody Listening?

“It was nice giving my thoughts and feelings on how I feel mentally,” the 17 year old male wrote. When you give students a platform, especially when it’s anonymous, they will write what they think.

This was one of several statements written by high school students in our area as they helped myself and my student team enter their head space. It has been a year-long endeavour to craft a curriculum to meet the needs of grade 12 students as they get ready to launch themselves into independence. It is probably the most exhilarating and yet terrifying experience a young person goes through: choosing a school, deciding to work, living on your own. So much freedom and yet so much fear.

It’s interesting to note that a person can have the best relationships, the wealthiest parents, even the highest grades, and still not know ‘how to adult’. In fact, it is a regular sighting on Facebook to read “I don’t want to adult today.” Teens struggle for independence only to mourn that familiar high school class schedule, the warm cockroach-free bedroom, the lunches mom made, and the laundry that was done and folded.

But why does it seem that students today are more overwhelmed than even a decade ago?

The current grade 12 graduates grew up after all with mandatory car seats, Velcro shoes, bicycle helmets, and hockey visors. They’ve been protected from harm all of their young lives. They should feel secure. And yet they don’t.

They’ve grown up, for the most part, during a time of economic prosperity. There are two vehicles in the driveway, annual family vacations (of the non-camping variety), big screen TVs, multiple gaming systems per household, and everyone has a cell phone. They should feel connected. And yet they don’t.

There’s pre-school programs, after-school programs, paid community tutoring agencies, and so many options to strengthen a student scholastically. They should feel prepared. And yet they don’t.

What’s the problem?

No one asks them what they are thinking or feeling? (Read the first line of this blog over again. And don’t focus on the grammar!)

For most young people, they have been cuddled and coddled and cushioned and compensated only to be commanded to complete their tenure as a teen with confidence as they catapult into a career…. Listen to the cacophony as it rings in a young person’s ears as their head space screams: “No one cares what I think.”

In the silence of the meal time milieu, there resides not a void but rather a vacuum that is sucking the frivolity of family fun and replacing it with pressure, performance, and the pursuit of perfection. Expectations abound. At first, they are external but that quickly becomes absorbed internally as the child or youth first seeks to please but then acts to avoid punishment or disapproval. And they feel they just can’t measure up. Instead of discovering who they are, they are told what they should be. And in the mass confusion, they retreat into their headspace.

So my students and I decided to break the silence. We went at 3 specific times over the grade 12 year to a variety of schools in our area where my students opened up the conversation about mental health. And the high school students responded. Many youth wrote of feeling misunderstood, judged, and that it was hard to trust others or disclose what was going on especially with counsellors. They told us they were overwhelmed and nervous for their future.

My students brought them the security of knowing they are not alone, that they too felt the same apprehension and pressures and are replacing those fears and failures with resilience. My students brought honest connection, real conversation, and it didn’t cost anything but time. And lastly, they sought to prepare the grade 12s by sharing the realities and responsibilities of becoming independent through a pretty handy resource they created because that is what the grade 12’s asked for. We listened and we delivered.

If young people feel no one is listening to them, they will shut down. We all do that. So let’s all of us open up some conversations. It CAN make a difference. Our research supports that fact.

The goal of the project was to reach at least one person in each presentation and provide positive support and encouragement for the journey to adulthood. One piece of evidence that confirms that we met the goal was in the young man’s comment that he left voluntarily. So, young man, it was SUPER nice that you gave us your thoughts and feelings on how you were feeling mentally. Now we know what young people want. THANK YOU!!

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