The youth of today – they’re so difficult. And, yet, we’ve all been the ‘youth of today’ in our time. This Youth Day, let’s reach across the divide and truly connect.
Can you blame young people if they act out? They face endless reams of scary news plus constant social media on how to look, act and live. Add to that our country’s heart-wrenching past and the challenge of choosing a career and finding employment. Young people feel everything more intensely but, because the brain isn’t fully developed yet, they generally lack the impulse control and decision-making skills to make sense of everything.
The dangers of the disconnect
All that pressure is leading to an increasing number of young South Africans finding escape in addiction, teenage pregnancy and dropping out of school. Tragically, almost one in ten will end their own lives. A big part of the struggle is the lack of connection with adults who are willing to listen without judgement and work with them to build a better future.
Here are some tips to re-engage with the youth in a way that creates meaning and healthy cooperation, steering them away from mind-numbing substances and behaviours.
Key to engaging the youth is to truly listen to them, which means being open-minded and non-judgemental. One tip is to take a walk together or to chat while busy doing something. When there’s less eye contact, it feels less like an interrogation and teens may find it easier to open up.
Establish family traditions early on, such as eating dinner together, movie nights, etc. and stick to them, no matter how much your kids act like they’re hating it. Research has shown that family rituals are a powerful way to bond generations and provide a sense of stability, identity and place in the world.
Physical activity boosts self-esteem and mood – and it doesn’t have to be a slog around a field. Allow young people to try out multiple options and encourage their efforts without force or judgement. The aim is to find something that’s exciting and engaging, be it running or netball, hip-hop or dog training, so they’ll want to do it regularly. (PS: Kids learn by example so get your own exercise shoes on too.)
No, this doesn’t mean snooping through their search history. It means staying involved and the earlier you make this the family norm, the better. Remember, to provide a much-needed safe space in a turbulent world, you’re responsible for sensible rules and boundaries, e.g. no visits to friends you haven’t met. Don’t be put off by push-back – explain that it’s not because you don’t trust them; it’s because you care and are genuinely interested. And, deep down, isn’t that what we all crave?
Sometimes, young people need more help than we can give. Fortunately, be it a pastoral counsellor, psychologist or addictions expert, there is a lot of professional help out there. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group can point you in the right direction.
Whitney Houston was spot on when she sang that the children are our future and that we should teach them well, show them the beauty they possess and give them a sense of pride. This is the most precious gift we can give to the youth of today – and it’s a gift that will keep on giving.