Written and Narrated by Jacob Knowles.
I would like to begin this weeks article and podcast by acknowledging the work of teachers across the country, in the way they have supported students through what is an extremely confusing time. I have seen individuals go above and beyond both in my school setting and in countless social media posts offering support, resources and a sense of hope for their communities. At the same time, to parents and carers who are now having to engage more thoroughly in what many are calling the nitty-gritty side of education, we are here for you and your children. We want to ensure their continuity of learning in whatever form that may take. We want to ensure their wellbeing is maintained and that they know we care about each of them individually.
What a wild six months we have had here in Australia. Many states have experienced considerable loss after weeks of devastating bushfires. This was followed up with by erratic weather conditions including flooding and damaging hail storms. And most recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has occupied nearly every spare moment of media which has left many people living with a great deal of uncertainty.
Our young people have experienced things that have previously been unseen in their lifetimes and the lifetimes of many of their parents. This has included mass hysteria, panic-buying, calls for self isolation and lockdown of states, territories and the country. In their schools, cancellation of large scaled events and gatherings, sports carnivals and competitions. They have listened to their teachers trying to make sense of all of this and do their best to communicate it in a way that promotes a sense of calm and control despite waves of news report, videos and images that suggest the complete opposite.
The following are simply my observations of this through the lens of our young people and more directly adolescent boys with whom I have the pleasure of teaching and interacting with on a daily basis.
So what has this new epidemic shown us?
Nothing is certain! and from this uncertainty, there is a simmering and ever increasing element of fear and anxiety which cannot be ignored.
Lets begin by looking at fear. Fear, as we know, is essential for our existence. From a very early age, fear ensures we begin making good decisions that keep us safe. It protects us from dangers, keeps us alert, and in many cases sees us able to overcome adversity we normally would consider impossible. The offside to this is that fear can be paralysing. It often builds up. Then simmers. Then boils. Then… disaster. It can become all consuming and then inhibit our ability to navigate through and towards a place where we can manage it.
As parents and educators we need to look at how we manage our own fear and anxiety and build the necessary skills and techniques to navigate this period. Every person needs a positive role model. For most of us, we need a number of these so that we can learn from them a certain quality or attribute that we can aim to incorporate in to our person. Young people especially need positive role models particularly during times of fear and uncertainty. Parents and teachers will be the forefront of this over the next few weeks and months and we need to lead our young people with a focus on calmness, clarity, and control.
The following are SOME suggestions to help support our young people and each other through this time:
- Create Calm
It is often said that ‘fear is contagious’. It is important to remember that so to is calm. The way we respond to instances of uncertainty and stress has a profound impact on our young people. Calmness can foster resilience, hope and belief in a better outcome or growth through a situation.
The following are a couple of examples of ways that can develop a sense of calm with young people:
- Clear, honest and open communication: we need to help our young people make sense of what they are seeing or hearing about situations as they occur or change. Conversation give us an opportunity to provide reassurance and a sense of safety that is born from the unknown.
- Breathing and Reflection: it is important in times of stress to remember to stop and remove yourself from what is going on. With information overload presented by media and through conversations with each other, it is easy to forget to do this. Encouraging young people to take a few minutes each day to focus on their breathing or reflect on positive experiences can provide a moment of balance in their thinking.
- Do ‘nothing’: many studies suggest that procrastination is a positive form of wellbeing. It offers us a chance to distance ourselves from the troubles that are before us. Encourage young people to do seemingly random activities that may help recharge their energy supplies.
- Find the Good and be Kind
Something within us changes when we are able to help someone else in need. Children build empathy and compassion when helping others, releasing endorphins, that in turn, counters stress and anxiety. This starts with educators and parents modelling and reinforcing this, and promoting a ‘WE’ instead of ‘I’ culture at school and at home.
Some examples of spreading kindness might include;
- Acknowledging someone who has helped you with or through something – try sending a text message or a positive comment through social media.
- Look to get involved with a charity and explore ways to support and promote their work
- Make plans (and keep them) to spend time with someone outside of a being in a big group so that you can have quality time just with them.
As a society, we are so easily consumed in the bad and quick to forget about the good that still exists all around us. When things are going well, we can see the bad in the world and it is much easier to put that aside particularly when it doesn’t effect us directly. It is during times of adversity where redirecting the focus to love, gratitude and hope and encouraging others to do the same, is crucial.
Speak with other people, check in on them, ask how things are going and when yesterday you were told things are “fine” or “going okay”… ask again tomorrow and then the next day and the next. At home, go back to those rituals that may have become less frequent as your children have grown up. Have a family movie night, eat dinner at the table and talk to each other.
- Disconnect and Reconnect
The digital world is hugely important in the lives of young people. As the argument between how much and what type of technology continues, it is important to keep in mind the fact that often young people (and adults as well) are unable to avoid the almost hourly reminders of the current challenges facing the world. This inability to disconnect has its benefits for some in that it keeps us informed with important information, but for many this is lost through the ever increasingly number of bad news stories that amplifies feelings of fear and anxiety. By taking periods to disconnect from social media, we are able to avoid unnecessary information overload (which often includes the reading of misinformation as fact) and can also allow time to process and reflect on information through discussion with others.
This is one place where we as adults need to lead our children. Give them direction on how to limit technology and guide them through what they have heard or read to form their understanding and opinions. Most importantly, we must give them hope. Hope that this will all pass and as a country and globally we will come through this period better equipped for the future.
To finish, I would like to remind you of something that I wrote in my very first article in the ‘It’s a Boy Thing’ series:
“we need to remember that we are the adult in the lives of our young people. We are there to be a role model for them and they will learn far more from what we do than what we say. They will make mistakes along their journey, particularly during adolescents. We are gifted this small window of time to have an immense impact on who they will become.”
To my community, and all those other communities out there trying to find the best path forward, please look after your young people, look after your friends and family, but make sure you also look after yourself.
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