Navigating the many shoals of life
Youth workers Hollie Marett and Tim Marshall have been working with high school-age youth, delivering a support programme called 24/7 for the last two years. Reporter Joanne Bennett caught up with them to talk about the challenges young people face, what support they need, what's important, and what gives youth hope and a feeling of self-worth.
What do you do?
TIM: We work off the basis that young people need consistent role models, people who can invest in them and have trustworthy relationships with them. Everyone's got strengths and weaknesses, and we encourage them to focus on their strengths.
HOLLIE: It's kind of just acknowledging the stresses that young people face. There's a lot of stuff going on during school years, so we're there as a come-to point, sometimes they just need someone to talk to. We do quite a bit of other stuff as well, like boosting morale at the school. We keep an eye on bullying, and come alongside both the bullies and the people who are being bullied.
What is your aim?
TIM: To be a good role model and a consistent presence. For so many the family structure is broken. For some people, it's so inconsistent and all over the place, it's good to be able to be that person who is always there, who is always going to give advice, or point them in the right direction. The aim is different, depending who you're working with.
HOLLIE: Sometimes students are so overloaded with personal issues they can't actually focus on what they're at school to do. They need somewhere to off-load all that tension and stress, so I guess our main aim is to de-stress them and bring about a mental space where they can actually learn effectively.
We also want to bring some hope back into that generation, when they look around and think "what are we here for?," and to give them some purpose. Each of them has something they can do to make a difference, and we hope to help them realise their strengths, and what they can give.
What are some of the challenges that young people face in the modern world?
TIM: There's such a broad range . . . but I'd say they find it hard to find their purpose and their direction and their identity. Often they're not comfortable with who they are, so they decide to try and impress this group of people, then this group of people, and by doing that they end up doing things they don't really want to do. It's like that quote "We buy things we don't want to impress people we don't like". We try and express to them - just be yourself, be confident in who you are.
HOLLIE: It's also the obvious things - drugs, alcohol - all those things have got a far younger. You've got 12 and 13-year-olds drinking, smoking, doing drugs, having sex, all those things have innate pressures, and young people aren't able to cope with the consequences.
All these things have become normalised, and that's really harmful.
Identity and lack of self-worth are biggies, and those are ways out of not knowing how to cope with those pressures.
Another one is business. Families often don't have time to spend quality time with their kids. If they don't have those role models they go to their peers for advice, and they're not able to give any decent advice either, so they all fumble along and do whatever, so they lose their central purpose.
They're getting so many mixed messages from media, and family values and morals aren't as strong as they used to be.
TIM: Social media is a big thing these days. Things like Ask.fm can be so damaging. I'm not sure what the answer to that is, but they need to realise their worth, and they don't actually have to get their value and identity from what people say on social media.
What people put out there are the highlights of their life. Everyone thinks they've got a perfect life, but really it's just the highlight reel, you shouldn't compare yourself to that. It makes life even more difficult than it should be.
HOLLIE: Social media has stunted people's ability to communicate effectively, to share their emotions, that's really lacking. It creates a group of people who don't know how to do it in a way that's positive and effective.
What do you find gives young people the biggest boost?
HOLLIE: Someone coming alongside them, and being there with them through the ups and downs of life.
TIM: Someone who can tell them how it is, not always what they want to hear. A lot of the time they muck it up by going to their peers for advice, and the advice they get is often something that will be detrimental to their character and their morals, and they'll end up sacrificing something they never wanted to sacrifice.
Boundaries and guidelines actually make people happy, we need them in our lives.
What do you enjoy about your job?
TIM: Seeing people get passion and purpose and drive for life back.
HOLLIE: Seeing changes, and seeing them take on board what we say. If we can turn someone's thoughts around, it's such a privileged position to be in. Everyone has an innate desire for life, we were created to live life to the fullest. Everyone wants that, sometimes they're misdirected.
There's a whole side of life that teenagers often don't see because they're all wrapped up in their own world. Some haven't even thought of living life differently to the way media portrays "normal life" - they haven't thought they might want to be in a long-term relationship before they sleep with someone. It can be quite revelatory.
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