As young people start the (often nerve-wracking) transition from childhood into adolescence, they will naturally have many questions, not just about their bodies and sexuality, but about the social discourse that is happening all around them. The media bombards teenagers today with images of all sorts of unattainable beauty standards, and social media acts as a showreel only showing the highlights of someone’s life, creating a distorted view on reality. Where can a young person turn to for real advice?
The natural conclusion to this dilemma is to ask someone who’s already been there and done that: an adult. Whether it’s a parent, teacher, older sibling, family friend or even a stranger, young people rely on worldly, experienced adults to provide them with the answers to life’s big questions. But have you thought about what makes an 'askable adult'?
What Is an Askable Adult?
An askable adult is essentially someone who is approachable; someone who kids trust to reveal their secrets to and know that not only will they get the answer to their problem, but also that their issues will be kept in confidence. It can be a lot of responsibility, but very rewarding to be that person who a teen can turn to for advice or assurance.
Sometimes, it can be easier for children to discuss ideas with people that are unconnected to themselves and who will be able to give some impartial advice that is free from prior knowledge or any pre-conceived ideas about the people involved. Take, for example, the popular series of videos "Ask A Grown Man". In this series, celebrities are posed questions by teenaged girls about life, love and the general confusion that accompanies being a teenager. The popularity of the videos and the continued number and nature of the questions submitted really goes to show how important it is for younger people to have someone listen to their problems (even if you haven't got an internationally acclaimed rap duo to hand).
Utilising Young Teachers
We spoke to Calvin, a 27-year-old teacher, about being an askable adult. "I teach science across all years at school. And although we mostly cover the biological aspects when teaching sex education or reproduction, I tend to put a question box at the back of the classroom so the pupils can submit any anonymous questions about the social aspects of sex," he said. "However, students seem to be quite comfortable in asking me questions of that nature within classroom discussions anyway. I think it helps being a young teacher as pupils don’t feel so far removed from you, and just treating it like a normal conversation removes any awkwardness or apprehension."
Educational posters are a great way to gently provoke curiosity and get young people asking their lingering questions. Why not hang up the Facts About Porn Educational Poster Pack around the classroom to encourage a healthy conversation about sex, and dispel any rumours or misinformation they may have picked up from unreliable sources.
Peer Counselling and Mentoring
Drew, a marketing executive, was a peer counsellor during his university years. "I used to go into secondary schools and sixth forms to talk about my experiences with alcohol and drugs during my early teens. While I didn’t want to scare them, my stories were definitely meant to shock; I never had anyone to turn to when I was their age, so they could learn from my mistakes. I think having a real person talk to them about these things, someone not too much older but with more experience, really makes them think about their choices." He recounts running into one of the teenagers he mentored, "About 18 months after my last talk, I ran into a lad in town, who approached me to tell me that I had spoken at his school. He said that he was in a similar situation to me when I was younger, and that my talk resonated with him. I loved it because it meant I stopped at least one person from making the same mistakes that I did, and potentially stopped him from a very tough time."
Here at Health and Care, we have a range of products suited to educated young people about the effects and potential dangers of drugs and alcohol. Start with Addicted: Drinking and Drugs Discussion Cards to get the ball rolling and engage in a casual conversation about the topic, or use the Alcohol Changes Everything Game Educational Aid for have a more interactive and fun way to educate teens in a less threatening way.
Normalise Your Everyday Conversations
There are so many other products that can make an adult’s life easier when faced with big questions from their teenagers. The Straight Talk Self-Esteem Workbook and Card Game Set is a great program that encourages parents and children to have a regular, open and honest dialogue about tougher social issues. Normalising these conversations will not only make children more comfortable in speaking to and confiding in their parents, but will ultimately make the familial bonds that much stronger. Don’t forget, education isn’t just for young people: parents can learn a lot from their younger counterparts, too!
Don’t Be Afraid and Don’t Be Ashamed
While most young people will want to turn to their parents as their first port of call is answering life’s tough questions, don’t be too preoccupied if some of what they are asking is beyond your comfort zone. Simply acknowledge your difficulty with the subject, but then also try to find an opportunity for your child to discuss this topic with someone else – a friend, a neighbour, a teacher… or even maybe reach out to health clinics or counselling services, who will have staff equipped to deal with any problems you child may be facing. Actively aiding your child in seeking the guidance they need will still make them feel like they can approach you with anything - so everyone's a winner!