Back to school essentials: don’t forget your mentor

Back to school supplies: tools to help young people through difficult transitions

Transitional phases are often considered the most stressful times of a person’s life. Changes in employment, relationships, and housing can have a tremendous impact on a person’s ability to cope with the daily demands of life. During these times, strong social support networks are especially important to help people manage the changes smoothly.

Young people are constantly going through significant transitions in their lives; they have new materials to learn with each year of school, they transition between schools, they make and lose friends often, they try new interests and activities, and throughout all of this they are learning to define their sense of self.

Children are often quite resilient, so it’s easy for adults to discount the enormity of these changes. But, in very profound ways, young people are in a constant state of flux. As adults we sometimes belittle the problems of young people, but surely all adults can remember a time from their youth when a problem seemed like the end of the world.

The pressures on young people today are strong, as the disappointment over the most recent GSCE results has shown. And, as we push through a time of economic uncertainty, we have seen a troubling rise in the NEET statistics. Add to this mix the increasing risk of cyber bullying, and it paints a very challenging picture for young people today.

With so many pressures and changes, it is important that the adults who are consistently present in a young person’s life are equipped to provide them with positive support. Here are some tips and techniques from our caseworkers on how to be supportive to a young person:

  • It helps to start with a good relationship with the person. Know what’s happening in their life so you can be aware of tough times. Know how they usually act, so you can pick up on changes in their behaviour. And know their emotional capabilities so you can communicate with them at their level.
  • Most importantly, be a good active listener. Active listening is very different from the type of listening that we all do in everyday conversation. There are many active listening techniques, such as asking open-ended questions or empathising with how the other feels and how they view a situation. Active listening is a specific skill set that most people have to develop over time. It is an important part of the training that we provide to all of our volunteer mentors.
  • If they come to you with a problem, do not give into the temptation of falsely reassuring them that everything will be alright or trying to step in with a solution. The best thing to do is respond with active listening. Asking open-ended questions and helping them to name their emotions will encourage them to understand their feelings and work out a solution on their own. The ability to understand your feelings and find your own solutions is a very important life skill for young people to develop.

We hope that these tips give you a better idea of how to be a good friend to the people in your life who are going through difficult transitions. If you’re interested in learning more about being a friend to a young person in London, please visit the volunteer section of our website.