AMA: What is the biggest challenge for young people in Guernsey?

Poppy Murray asks, “What do you think is the biggest challenge for young people in Guernsey?”

I will answer by first giving you answers from a group of young people I work with, then my own thoughts.

What do young people think the biggest challenges facing them are?

I asked a group of disadvantaged young people I regularly work with Poppy’s question a while back (to read my thoughts on what advantages young people, check out this post – spoiler, it has nothing to do with money and everything to do with love and attention).

The group comprised about 20 boys and girls age 12 to 16, the majority attending comprehensive schools and a couple special needs schools.

With pen in hand, paper behind me, group of heckling teenagers in front of me, I ask, “What are the biggest problems facing you as young people today?”

“Paedos!” shouts one young lad, his friends guffawing. I often have to discourage young people from dropping the P-bomb—you can’t safely provide emotional support to children if one allows the word to be cheapened and bandied about for the shock factor and some laughs—but, being a serious discussion, I write it on the board.

Child sexual abuse is a horrifying reality, and you can be sure it happens on Guernsey. If victim of such abuse, the resulting trauma will almost certainly be the biggest challenge that young person faces in their life. Overwhelmingly, the victim will know the abuser, and about a third will be related to them.

“Sexual health,” says a young girl, with a contrasting pang of seriousness. We have organised sessions with the sexual health clinic and tried to address this need—I mentioned a session we had on this blog—prevention always being preferable to cure.

Sexual health is challenge for some young people, certainly many of those I work with. This pertains to sexually active young people, who are more likely to be from less advantaged backgrounds, with more trauma and concomitant risk-taking behaviour.

“Detention,” says an older lad, a chronic recipient of these ridiculous 19th century throwbacks, always showing me his list of detentions on his smartphone – not out of pride, but out of a shared sense of bewilderment.

Punitive detainment of young people in the already-prison-like school system is an aspect of a larger problem, being the 19th-century school system itself, which we have lazily allowed to outlive its sell-by date. (Ken Robinson has the best critique of our creativity-killing education system.)

“Mental health,” says a young boy. I put him on the spot and asked him what he means by mental health. Bless his heart, he shared with the group the struggles one of his parents suffered during the lockdowns, which he witnessed. Despite his staggered and nervous speech, all were quiet and listening, many suffering similar experiences. In that moment, he seemed to speak for everyone.

And there they are: four answers about the biggest challenges facing young people, straight from the horses’ mouths.

What do I think is the biggest challenge facing young people today?

Of these four challenges, I am most interested in mental health.

I am not going to say it is the biggest challenge, but it should rank highly, and it ranks highest in my personal purview.

Straight off the bat: the term ‘mental health’ I have problems with insofar as it separates mind from body, a bizarre uncoupling originating in Western thought.

I subscribe to Dr Gabor Mate’s idea of mind-body unity and Bessel Van Der Kolk’s theory that the body keeps the score, that is, traumas are ‘stored’ within the body as well as the mind.

Poor mental health – or, rather, an unhealthy mind-body – means poor resilience, low mood, depression, illness, unhappiness, suffering. An unhealthy mind-body has a low tolerance for adversity.

Good mental health – a healthy mind-body – means happiness and health and contentment. A healthy mind-body can withstand anything and becomes stronger rather than weaker through adversity.

Mental heath – or the state of the mind-body – can be the difference between being crushed by a life event or being built by it.

This all needs to be said for the following reasons.

Lifestyle choices destructive to a healthy mind-body have been increasingly accepted, normalised, and even encouraged in the 21st century. This is at the expense of lifestyle choices constructive to a healthy mind-body.

In general, this is not good. Lots of unhealthy people do not make for a healthy society.

For young people from less advantaged backgrounds in particular, without a mind-body built on a firm familial foundation of love and support, this can be catastrophic.

I propose that the proportion of young people suffering with mental health issues will differ significantly between these two groups. Can you guess which?

Group One

  • Generally active
  • Plays a sport
  • At least one self-defined hobby or interest
  • Spends quality real-life time with family and/or friends
  • Minimal social media usage
  • Spends time outdoors everyday

Group Two

  • Generally sedentary
  • Doesn’t exercise
  • Watches TV and/or plays video games
  • No self-defined hobby or interest
  • Minimal real-life interactions
  • Hours of daily social media usage
  • Avoids time outdoors

Group One is defined by action, movement, doing, and has a strong fighting chance at developing into a healthy and happy human being.

Springing to mind comes a young person I helped with Duke of Edinburgh last year, who competes at boxing, and whom I saw over the weekend at the gym with his friends (real example).

Group Two is defined by being sedentary, passive, stagnant, a breeding ground for discomfort and disease of the mind-body.

Springing to mind comes the image of a young person eating a processed meat stick and packet of cookies for lunch, by herself, head craned over her phone, flicking through TikTok (real example).

It makes me squeamish to generalise in this way. I work with dozens of young people and know plenty of adults who find themselves mostly in Group Two. It feels uppity or harsh to write; a value judgement it is not my places to make.

Squeamishness notwithstanding, I am at leisure to generalise here for a couple of reasons:

  • This is my blog
  • If young people are encouraged and empowered to remain in or move to Group One, they are far better placed to deal with all life has to throw at them.
  • On paper, some young people have it all, but finding themselves in Group Two, they are miserable, and oftentimes can’t say why. Some people come from hellish circumstances, but being in Group One, have found some happiness.
  • I don’t need to insult your intelligence by saying exceptions exist, and some active and social young people with good upbringings are unhappy, just as some inactive and introverted young people with rough upbringings who are addicted to social media find themselves happy. However, we must remember, exceptions are exceptions.
  • I am writing a messy but honest reflection, not an attack on any one young person or specific lifestyle choice mentioned. 
  • This is my blog.

Coincidentally, the mother of a young person whom I’ve provided some support to sent me this message and picture over the weekend, serendipitously coalescing this article, which sat half-written for a week:

“Thanks so much for the session yesterday… [Young person] was so buzzed after it having been pretty low the previous couple of days. He said after the session ‘It’s amazing how much happier you feel after exercising.’ Amazing Liam. Love and light.”

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