The New Zealand Herald is running a special series about youth suicide called Break The Silence. It will run for approximately five weeks from July 4.Warning: This article is about youth suicide and may be distressing for some readers.
We were all young once. One of the strange things that happens as we age is we forget what it was like to be children. Most remember the facts, the family holidays, where they went to school, their childhood home.
But looking back as an adult it can be hard to remember what it feels like to be young, to get back inside the experience of adolescence. This is pretty normal; our brains and minds develop across our lifespan and the past looks different in retrospect.
We don’t remember what it felt like as a very small child to not be able to read. And in the same way we too easily forget what it felt like to be 14 and struggling to regulate a whole swathe of new emotions and physical sensations.
Even so, it’s strange how wrong we get it as a community, as a culture, as families, with teens and young people.
Every single one of us was that age once.
Regardless of the generation, it is the task of the young to reject and rebel, to strike out in the world and find their own voice.
Listening to figures of authority doesn’t come easily as part of this journey (I know it didn’t for me) and it can be hard to remember what it felt like to be so sure you’re ready for the world, and so unsure at the same time.
Especially when it feels like the world isn’t listening, and there is no place for you or your point of view.
Every time adults approach any “problem” youth may have, I try to imagine what it might be like to hear the conversation with 14-year-old ears: To be talked at and to be told by so-called experts what’s wrong with you.
And what must it be like to hear our politicians describe you as lazy? To read about yourself described as “Snowflakes”, as privileged, or as ungrateful millennials.
Or to hear that you and your peers are committing suicide at record levels.
Therapy deals with the after effects of childhood; the impacts of where things went wrong. In many ways it is easy to see all of our human failings as the vulnerable, young, child part in all of us trying to express and protect ourselves.
I think this is one of the reasons why allowing ourselves as adults to empathise with young people can be deeply challenging. Because to truly connect we have to allow ourselves to feel that vulnerability in ourselves.
There is no question we need to #breakthesilence on youth suicide, but as adults we also need to shut up, so we can make more space for young voices in politics (both national and local), in our communities and in our schools. And in our homes.
We need to listen to their concerns, to their aspirations, to their dreams, their heartbreak. And we need to listen to their solutions.
Because while it’s natural to forget what it feels like to be young and lost, we need to listen more and talk less. We need to remember what it felt like to be afraid. We need to be the adults we all needed when we were young, vulnerable and struggling.
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