In today’s day and age it would be easy to believe that the teenagers of the world are a disturbed bunch. Articles on adolescent stress, anxiety, depression, poor body image and social media addiction abound the Internet, and I too have been guilty of writing articles that focus on the negative. However, us adults would largely look back on our youth with great fondness and reminisce about the time we spent with friends and carefree days of no responsibility.
Teenagers today are more connected than ever to their friends and we need to celebrate the power of such relationships. Schools in Victoria recently took the move to ‘ban’ mobile phones from playgrounds and, while some media outlets chose to put this down to the spread of cyberbullying, most educators would argue that it is actually an effort to improve our face-to-face, in-person connectedness. Having recently taken a period of maternity leave, nothing hit me harder than going from interacting with hundreds of people every day to suddenly just one or two. In this day and age, I obviously had the benefit of social media, messages and emails to maintain my relationships, however, nothing beats simply getting out of the house and meeting with my friends in person. Having a coffee or just sitting on the couch chatting to these people changed my attitude for the day and they will never truly know the impact they had when I was feeling emotionally exhausted.
Healthy relationships are the key to wellbeing and happiness and it is important for adolescents to nurture these friendships while in school. In her book, The Friendship Fix, clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior explores simple ways to strengthen friendships, one of which is to remember that strong relationships are not made in big strokes, but rather in the continuity of little connections and kindnesses. How brilliantly placed are children in school to do this! They see their friends each and every day and are quick to pick up on if someone is feeling down or just slightly off. We often talk about relational aggression between girls or laddish behaviour of boys, but do we celebrate when teenagers are there for one another in vulnerable times? Do we celebrate that they pick each other up when down? Do we celebrate their ability to make their friends’ birthdays seem like the greatest day on Earth? It would seem that despite our belief that the teenage years are laden with angst and challenge…adolescents actually have a thing or two to teach us.
I have always been fascinated by the way that teenage girls embrace each other whenever they meet. Hugs, squeals and laughter can be heard and they truly wear their hearts on their sleeves. I am not a ‘hugger’ by any means, and I am not about to suggest that this is how we should greet each other each day, but what delight I take in watching the outpouring of affection between teenage friends and wish that us adults would express the same honest joy in seeing those that are most important to us. How often do you find yourself responding to the greeting of, “How are you?” from colleagues, friends or family with, “Busy”? We too often get hung up on the negative and focus too easily on the stressors of work and, indeed, life. We live in a beautiful part of the world, we are part of a fantastic school community, and perhaps we need to take more time out of our ‘busy’ weeks to connect with those that fill our cup and to bask in the power of friendship.
Anita Gibson | Head of Middle School