[SCROLL DOWN TO WATCH VIDEO]
How many of us remember our teen years – a time of excitement for sure. Hopefully it brings good memories of friendships made, great adventures and the energy of being youthful and hopeful. However, we may also recall the challenges of growing up - increasing responsibilities, school stress and conflicts with friends and maybe even with family members – just to name a few.
Adolescence is typically a time of emotional highs and lows and this can be difficult for teens and their caregivers. Adolescence is that transitional period between childhood and adulthood, which includes some big changes – to the body, and to how a young person relates to the world. Many physical, sexual, cognitive, social, and emotional changes that happen during this time can bring anticipation and anxiety for both children and their families.
“When I came here this morning, I was so confused, so frustrated as if I was going to fall apart.” says Angela Wier, a mother of five children who participated in the recently held Helping Adolescents Thrive workshop, which was supported by UNICEF. In the session, facilitators were trained to use a set of tools that help to spark conversation around the challenges and solutions to support adolescents as they navigate this period of their development.
Facilitators included professionals from the health and education sectors. As part of the training, practical sessions were conducted with groups of adolescent girls and boys as well as with parents and caregivers.
Aside from increasing knowledge about adolescent development, the sessions with caregivers also allowed them to share their own struggles with parenting through this time of life.
“Seeing what other parents have been going through, I felt so much better. This it elevates me and motivates me to love my children better. Thank you,” reflects Angela at the end of the session.
Creating a safe space for adolescents is key
In addition to the session with parents, facilitators engaged adolescents and were able to help them work through some of the stress they face in relating to their parents and family members. Facilitator, Rory Roberts, Manager of the adolescent-friendly Teen Hub in the Half-Way-Tree Transport Centre noted that: “The main issue adolescents go through daily is that they don’t have a safe space to convey their issues or have difficulty being able to relate to their parents to talk about their issues – they don’t have that person whom they trust to communicate their issues which often develop into other issues.
Roberts spoke about the importance of improving the skills of health and education professionals to help adolescents work through these interpersonal challenges which are often a source of stress affecting their mental wellbeing:
“Having a safe space and having persons who they can find confidence into relate their issues is the most important. What was the most useful about this workshop is the inclusiveness of caregivers and parents. We often focus on adolescents in terms of trying to address their issues without including them but when we address this issue, they are going back to their caregivers or parent and it’s a different narrative there.”
Focus on what’s happening with their mental health
Anna-Kay Magnus Watson, Senior Education Officer, Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) unit at the Ministry of Education and Youth spoke to the need for a stronger focus on adolescent mental health: “Some of the challenges that we see with adolescents in relation to mental health, especially in light of what has been happening with COVID-19, are a lot of our students are facing anxiety, peer pressure, unfortunately, suicidal ideation, struggling with just managing their relationships, aggression, so it’s a wide range of issues.”
Magnus-Watson also highlighted to need for more collaboration among sectors with responsibility for adolescent wellbeing:
“We really have to spend a lot more time talking and listening to adolescents and working with adolescents to understand the issues that they are facing and see how best we can support them. Not just in the classroom and developing these skills but also ensuring that we established the relationships and connections we need with other sectors as well so that we can refer students and parents to get the kind of support and services that they need.”
Adolescent needs can be complex
Norda Spencer Dekid, Regional Nursing Supervisor at the North Eastern Regional Health Authority (NERHA) also noted that health care workers have a critical role to play in providing safe spaces: “There are certain good standard practices that are normally done in going about adolescent services. The needs of adolescents are multifactorial and diverse. With this workshop, our team members will be able to look at practical situations to what is occurring with adolescents now, especially when it involves social media and these new trends. We will use these new strategies within our various settings and continue to impact adolescents in a positive way.”
What’s UNICEF doing?
A total of 25 healthcare and education professionals participated in a workshop where they learned to use the Helping Adolescents Thrive intervention tools, which are aimed at ensuring more support for adolescents and their mental health. The methodology also prioritizes support to parents so that they are able to manage their own mental well-being and care for themselves as they guide their adolescents and young people. The method will be used in mental health clinics, adolescent health clinics, and other public health spaces where young people go to get services. It will also be used at the community level and in schools through the health and family life curriculum.