One of the consistent complaints by youth is that adults do not listen to them—they don’t mean passive hearing, but active listening and understanding. Youth discern very quickly whether people are genuine. If they are listened to and responded to with respect they develop a sense of dignity, of being valued as a person, and develop a sense of self-worth.
Youth are the experts in their own lives and we need to listen to them with respect.
Young people often ignore or overlook their successes; astute listeners listen for these, however small. They listen to the way language is used and the values underlying statements, using these observations to create openings for reflection. By adapting a stance of active curiosity adults can encourage conversations with young people that allow them to reflect and articulate. These kinds of conversations assist young people to build the chapters of their life story; making links with significant people and events, and navigating the feelings and emotions connected with these.
The way adults, indeed any person—young or old—interacts and communicates with young people can have a life-long impact on their experiences and development as they progress through to adulthood. The adult who is able to connect with a young person has a tremendous opportunity to influence the course of that young life. Adults have a role in enabling them to experience success. Sometimes, this can involve challenging—with empathy and caring—their observations and interpretations of the world, and their own behaviour. We can assist them to learn to self-advocate through conversation.
Changes in the way of an emerging and growing adolescent thinks are almost invisible, yet they are just as great as bodily changes. Guidance is needed, though it may not always be welcomed. An adolescent needs to test out their new thinking skills and learn how to make sense of a very complex world—a world of drugs, sex, conflict, job-search, unemployment, love, and a myriad of pressures and uncertainties of all kinds—all while trying to establish independence. Underpinning this journey are the values and ideas passed on by their parents, carers and peers, and the search for their own ideas and values. To do this successfully, they need to author their own life story and be given opportunities to reflect on and articulate the events, thoughts and feelings that punctuate their lives. This kind of reflection and articulation gives meaning to their experiences.
Through active curiosity one can gain valuable information about what is important in young people’s lives. In his book From Surviving to Thriving—promoting mental health in young people (ACER Press 1998), Australian author Andrew Fuller notes:
It’s surprising the amount of information that can be extracted out of a song lyric or favourite films. The art seems to be to use their own diversion strategies as an entrée to their world. Also, it allows them to educate you about something, which often places them in a different position from being misunderstood or not listened to.
Two of the most important things you can do to enhance your relationship with someone is to improve your communication and to create opportunities to connect.
To really connect with a young person you need to share some good times with them; find some common interests, talk, share stories and do things together regularly—whether it is one-on-one or in a group. Deep Speak cards can provide the opportunities to do just that. They have been found to be a valuable tool for parents, youth workers and other carers of young people. But more importantly, they are a great resource for young people themselves—giving them opportunities to tell their stories and share their thoughts, feelings and beliefs.
Jo Haythorpe (Foreword from the booklet accompanying Deep Speak card set)