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Important Conversations with Young People

“Life is about making choices; some will be good; some will be bad.
But every choice you make shapes your future.”

There has been an encouraging shift in energy since we returned to school to commence Term 2. A sense of calm coupled with positivity and optimism circulates within the community despite the challenges we still face. We acknowledge and recognise the hectic and exhausting start to the school year which has enabled staff, students, and parents/guardians alike to identify what to stop doing, what to keep doing, and what to start implementing to establish sustainable workloads and realistic expectations to achieve success. 

During the teenage years, our young people are required to make numerous decisions about school, their friends, and their future. Yet, the parts of the brain that control decision-making do not fully develop until early adulthood. Therefore, a teenager’s developing brain places them at greater risk of making poor decisions and being less able to consider the consequences of their choices. 

Research shows that having open, honest conversations with a child – early and often – is one of the most effective tools we can use to help teenagers make good choices. It is not always easy to talk to teenagers and now, more than ever, they seem more reclusive or emotional. We need to find the right time to connect, listen, and help them unpack their emotions so they can tell the difference between a feeling and a fact and identify why they feel the way they do.

We can gently ask questions like:

  • What feelings are you having right now?
  • What is the strongest emotion you are feeling?
  • When did you notice you were feeling this way?

We can help young people clarify the decision they need to make by suggesting some questions for them to consider, like:

  • What is the problem I am trying to solve?
  • What is my goal?
  • What is the best outcome I am aiming for?

We can suggest some questions they could consider when making a decision such as:

  • Will it help me achieve my goal?
  • Is it honest?
  • Is it fair?’
  • Will it create a problem for someone else?
  • Is it safe?

Reflecting on a decision and how it turned out is a valuable learning opportunity. Finding a good time to talk to teenagers about what they learned in making their decision is essential. We can suggest some questions they could ask themselves such as:

  • What did I learn about myself?
  • What’s important to me?
  • What was hard about what I did?
  • What was easy about what I did?
  • Next time I must make a decision, what would I do the same?
  • What might I do differently next time?

Making decisions is difficult and can be especially tough for teenagers given all the changes and pressures they are facing. Our greatest challenge is to allow the space for our young people to make their own safe decisions, even if they don’t seem practical to us. We need to listen, guide and support the process without judgement. If we think their idea is a little crazy; don’t shut it down. Instead, gently guide them by asking questions and pointing them to other information sources so they can work out it’s perhaps not the best choice on their own. Suggest they consider how the positives and negatives will look now and then further down the track.

When we praise the actions of our young people and acknowledge the way they have taken on responsibility, it empowers them and encourages them to try again. Ultimately, they feel valued, connected, listened to and safe, the result we are always aiming for. I look forward to continuing working together with this community to guide and support our young people in making good choices now and in their futures.

Dean of Wellbeing and Culture
Emma Grant

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