- The unemployment figures in South Africa are skyrocketing – are there any specific impacts of unemployment driven challenges that you have seen in your social work in private practice with youth?
The youth are definitely effected negatively with unemployment, especially during Covid-19. Society is made up of interlinking subsets that all influence each other, namely restrictions of work experience and opportunities, lack of peer support and the negative effect of the emotional pressure experienced by all in the home. The pressure experienced by the youth to dress well and to look affluent to their peers adds to further distress.
Many youth have to learn from a young age to support themselves or their families. Currently, those opportunities don’t exist as the ‘casual’ job market has disappeared.
The perceived loss of opportunities or building of a future creates a lot of personal distress. I say ‘perceived’ as the focus in therapy is on empowerment to be marketable in skill and in character. These barriers can be overcome with positivity and determination. Yet, it is harder to do so in economically and politically depressed times.
- What types of personal challenges are the youth currently facing in the context of SA during a pandemic?
The most defining questions are, who am I and who will I become? They often focus on their peer relationships and their attractiveness, their sexuality, role diversity and significance, to name but a few. Lock down has limited their exposure to peers and normal social engagements where these issues could be addressed within the context of their youth culture.
Another challenge is that fragmented schooling has increased fears of passing their grade or on moving up the ladder of life, as they see education as their ticket to global work opportunities and the attraction of perceived better jobs.
- If you had to make a list of what youth would most benefit from in the context of their family relationships right now – what would those be (from the context of what families need to be cognisant of)
- Show interest: As much as the youth often display a lack of interest in their families at this age, they actually really love being cared for and noticed. I encourage that the family show interest and engage for short periods of time with them meaningfully. Just chat a bit without finding fault. It is normal for teenagers to separate from their parent’s views in order to define themselves as separate human beings. Facilitate that process by asking what they think about normal life matters. They are still working it out and their views change easily in this process.
- Emotional support: They are more prone to depression and fears as they face challenges that their lack of maturity has not prepared them for during the Covid-19 crisis. They also have many social anxiety concerns and isolation or altered social contacts has left them vulnerable and frustrated. Check in with them emotionally and watch their behaviour for signs of distress or sadness. They have lost a lot in Covid-19 living.
- Social engagements: They need contact with their friends in a safe way and their mode of communication is usually over social media and messaging. They need some allowance on this but watch for extreme involvement with this type of communication as it gets addictive and the fear of rejection is strong if they lose access to the friendship circles. I would encourage verbal connections with the family at meal times and shared chores that force healthy conversation and sharing of life experiences. They need the connection as much as anyone else in the home but will seldom ask for it.
- If you had to make a list of positive behaviours that youth could adopt to negotiate this challenge what would it be?
- I would encourage healthy communication with friends of value and not broad communications with acquaintances. Communicating well and meaningfully is enlightening. The simple jargon used in social channels or messaging does not help build security and acceptance well. It can be an opener but needs to be followed with more depth. Sharing their concerns and struggles is helpful.
- Exercise is extremely helpful and also helps to stabilise moods.
- Create routines that plan for fun and for work.
- Have family conversations and activities that let them explore adult thoughts and yet still get to be a playful child at times. Encourage them to be all that they are and not just what they are expected to be.
- Engage with appropriate flirtations as lockdown does not change the fact that they are developing their sexuality and understanding of themselves. Gender confusion and sexual orientation enquiries are usual at this time, but possibly more confusing with the restrictions of Covid-19 limiting the explorations that bring clarity.
- Explore faith. The brain at this age is best able to process the abstract and to create their own meaning of life. It may be a time for debate, research and to engage socially with other youth. Most faiths have youth groups over virtual platforms that meet this need. Having faith has proven to stabilise emotions and empower resilience.
- Are there any specific strengths that you find youth have in comparison to adults in such a changeable landscape?
They are adaptable, willing to try new things and face learning challenges, especially with technology as they do not seem to fear it as many adults do. They can have fun, they give time to their friends, they can sleep through anything, they are less fearful of the future and are more present and expectant of the years ahead.
- As a social worker in private practice, and within the context of your profession, what is the single best advice that you would give to youth for their own development and wellbeing right now?
There had to be a few more than “one”….
- Get to know yourself and do your life well.
- I would encourage them to read their emotions well as it gives them information about themselves that is useful in plotting a way forward, e.g. “What am I feeling? Why am I ‘down’? What is bothering me and why? What does it say about me? What can I do about it? Who can help me with it? What could I do to make this better or have a different outcome?”
- To perceive the journey as being more empowering to their own lives and responsible for their growth.
- To hold the belief that they can adapt and grow. They can build a good life, based on good principles and good practices.
- To lose the unspoken view that someone will give you a good life already built, for you just to walk into.