Leila Coward, Youth Development Worker (LGBT+ Project), reflects on the need for young people to have safe spaces.
I challenge any adult to live the life of a young person for one week and emerge saying that it was easy. Young people’s lives are complicated, with pressures looming in from every angle: from peers, from family, from school, from social media. Add to this the range of difficult experiences that some young people can face including childhood trauma, confusion about sexual orientation and gender identity, insecure housing, drug and alcohol issues, the world of pornography and sex and a flood of adolescent hormones and it is no surprise that young people struggle with their mental health.
Young people often seek online help for issues that they are struggling with and feel unable to voice. The online world is so appealing. It can be a place to, share or access information, try out new identities and unravel the meanings of peer chats. It offers the opportunity to be a part of a community of shared interests. Sometimes the belief in the anonymity of the online world allows young people to express and voice feelings that they would struggle to share face to face. Some of these experiences will be safe and supportive, others, risky and dangerous. I believe that the more vulnerable a young person is in their life, the more vulnerable they are to online risks. Having a supportive relationship with an adult can help to mediate this.
The importance of creating safe spaces for young people is invaluable. Safe spaces do not necessarily need a physical location, Zoom works too! The type of safe space that I am referring to is a supportive, non-judgemental empathic space in the presence of a trusted adult (in my organisation, MYPAS, this is provided by our members of staff). It is a space with clear boundaries where young people feel respected, valued and emotionally safe enough to share their experiences, feelings and thoughts. This space creates new opportunities for young people to reflect on their experiences, explore what is happening in their lives, to consider who they are and how they feel about things.
In a world where a lot of focus is placed on how you look, what you have and who you know, this safe talking-space is different. It provides a break from judgement and justifying. In this space young people are valued for being themselves.
It is a refreshing experience for young people to feel heard. Safe talking-spaces provide the opportunity to release emotional pressures, voice ideas, have real conversations about experiences and gain a knowledge and understanding of self. These spaces are powerful. They help to improve young people’s well-being and ultimately provide the support needed for young people to navigate life’s challenges both now and in their future.
Leila Coward, Youth Development Worker (LGBT+ Project)