There is a well-known saying that it takes a village to raise a child. That’s because it does.
Who doesn’t know a parent having a bad day that just lets out way more frustration and anger than needed to a situation based on an event or circumstance the child has no idea about. The whole purpose of a village is that the child still has a safe haven, a place to go where they feel loved and can work through big, new, different feelings, without raising the ire of a tired, frazzled parent who is trying to juggle two fulltime jobs, study for a promotion, cook dinner, iron tomorrows school uniform, complete the next days lunch order, and fill out the latest excursion permission form whilst trying to remember the date and when they last had a wee.
We’ve become quite separate from those around us, with our lives filled with technology, instant gratification and a daily level of ‘busy’ that doesn’t offer many opportunities to just hang out with those we love and care about. Even now, at this moment, I am sitting in the same room as my husband, both of us writing on our laptops and intermittently messaging each other as we have an idea or need help with a word.
Increasingly, our children and young people are expected to operate as miniature adults and are being provided with less and less space to play, explore, discover, grow, and develop.
This is especially true of our teenagers. Gone are the days when they went out in the morning and came back when the street lamps came on. They face menaces we never had to think about, such as grooming by strangers over the internet, or online bullying and abuse.
Adolescent girls are bombarded with oestrogen and progesterone to physically and mentally prepare them for the production and nurturing of offspring. The mood swings can be unbelievable. One gorgeous girl I know went to bed one night a sweet, generous, funny girl and woke up a teenager with a chip on her shoulder the size of Ayres rock it took us years to whittle down to the pebble it is today. Funny to talk about now, but not so funny at the time. Without safe adults to hold a space of acceptance and ok-ness, she could have become lost in her stormy moods and not developed into the amazing, gorgeous, strong, successful woman she has become.
This teacher told and showed me I had worth, and metaphorically held me in that space until I realised I had worth too.
Adolescent boys can sometimes experience surges of testosterone up to 40 times greater than found in an adult male. No wonder they sometimes loose the plot and resort to grunting; without a strong and safe male to role model how to deal with these rushes in a constructive and practical way, this can spiral out of control and lead to a whole load of problems.
A friend used to talk about how his teacher took the class out to his farm and taught them blacksmithing and clay-pigeon shooting. He commented about how the teacher provided a space for the boys to bond and support each other, as well as being an amazing example of a balanced, respectful and successful man.
With all these hormones, brain and body changes happening in a relatively short amount of time to our young people, it is not surprising that they sometimes feel as though they are adrift at sea, hoping for a safe harbour to rest in or a lighthouse to guide their way.
And it’s important that these adults are not our parents. Adolescents go through a stage of making their place in the world, forming their identity and deciding how their personality will express itself in the future. Part of this is looking around and making decisions about themselves based on the reactions of those around them, and how they appear objectively through other peoples eyes.
I was very lucky to be provided with several safe harbours as I was growing up. I’ve recently reconnected with a teacher who provided me with both a safe harbour AND he was a ‘lighthouse’.
He was my woodwork teacher and allowed me to visit the normally off-limits woodwork room during recess and lunchtime in high school, when the ‘not fitting in’ became too much. There is only so much bullying a teenage girl can handle at once without loosing it completely and he provided me with the space to sand out my frustrations, anger and tears, whilst not allowing anyone else in the room.
He demonstrated what respect looked like, and validated who I was at a time when I was surrounded by people who were telling me I was a waste of space. I’ve often wondered over the years how life would have looked without this hour every day where I could collect my thoughts, breathe, and at times, put myself back together. I inevitably come to the conclusion that I would have come to a sticky end, either through drinking too much, or destructive decisions based on feeling worthless. This teacher told and showed me I had worth, and metaphorically held me in that space until I realised I had worth too.
This is just one example of an adult who made a significant difference to my life. A member of my village. A man who was respectful, generous and productive, an example of how I deserved and should expect to be treated.
Did he know he’d had such an impact? No. I didn’t know at the time. He knew things were tough for me at school and he did what he could, but it wasn’t until I recently shared with him that he realised the difference he’d made.
So lets make a difference to the young people in our lives. Our teenagers get such a hard rap in the media and society at the moment. It’s as if we expect them to have life figured out when we ourselves sometimes have trouble controlling our temper and have no idea what we want to ‘do’.
Making a difference to a young person doesn’t have to involve deep and meaningful conversation, or impactful actions, or transformational moments. Being the difference for a teenager can involve simply being there; providing a space literally and metaphorically. Allowing them time to breathe, and process the strong overwhelming emotions they are experiencing. Validating their presence.
So I invite you to be a safe harbour and a lighthouse, and guide someone off the rocks and into adulthood securely and in one piece. With Australia having one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world, the cost of not being part of a village is devastating and heart breaking and not one I’m prepared to pay.