Believe it or not, most of the challenges that impact youth of today are not a secret or a surprise to adults. Perhaps, some of the intricacies of these challenges may have changed overtime, but developmental struggles remain relatively the same over the years. According to Erkison’s stages of Psychosocial development, ages 6 – 12, children are going through a stage of industry versus inferiority. Children begin to compare themselves to their peers and if they don’t feel they measure up, then feelings of inferiority begin to be realized. For children ages 12 -18, Erikson highlights the stage of identity versus role confusion. Again a sense of self for
adolescents needs to be realized or they struggle with figuring out the role they should occupy in society.
Self-esteem, confidence, sense of identity and belonging, building relationships and establishing early goals for the future are common areas of struggle for youth. Moreover, the expecations that adults place on their children or teachers on students further amplify the daily developmental challenges of youth. Why do we force our kids to determine what they want to do before they even discover who they are? Why is there a persistent focus on material learning without first emphasizing character development and how to foster healthy relationships?
This leads to one of the paramount dilemmas families have – unhealthy relationships or weak ties and connections with each other. Children and adolescents often feel disconnected from parents or the adults in their life. Communication is often disjointed and limited, especially as children develop to adolescents. Children often have unrealistic expectations of their parents and teachers and parents and teachers have unrealistic expectations of their children and students. The humor is that rarely does either party articulate their expectations of the other. Only when frank and open communication occurs between both children and adults in their life, does holistic growth occur, of not only future generations, but adults begin to heal from past hurt, trauma and current fears for their offspring (further discussion on this for another time).
In my experience as a mental health provider and a social emotional support to children and adolescents, I have learned that when adults model vulnerability children and adolescents feel more connected to that adult. When trust is built, communication is easier and healthy and successful young adults are formed. Yet, as we know it is not as easy as it sounds. In a society built on fear and relationships fostered are predicated on position or status, it is a challenge for genuine connections to exist.
My belief is that the first step is to break the idea that a child should only “listen” to an adult because of their age. If effective communication is not modelled by adults, it is no wonder why our children and teens do not “talk” or share as they were trained to “be quiet”. Parents and teachers much practice listening to understand, not just to react or respond.
There is definitely not a one solution that fits all, but based on experience and study, the journey to supporting the holistic development of children and adolescents starts with adults modeling vulnerability and effective communication – listening to understand, not respond.
Will you practice the art of active listening, beginning today? What are your thoughts on building relationships with children? Let us know in the comments below!
Guest writer, Kandra Knowles is currently pursuing a Doctorate degree from Fordham University in Social Work and partners with the Urban Assembly in NYC for research on social emotional learning in New York Public Schools. She obtained an undergraduate degree from Bard College in Annandale-on- Hudson in Psychology and Latin American and Iberian Studies, and pursued her Masters in Social Work from New York University. She is a former school counselor in The Bahamas and has been a Licensed Social Worker in the State of New York for
the past six years.