The team at Freederm have contacted us to ask if we could share their useful guide on teen body image and self-esteem.
Their guide (Click here to see) contains helpful information about what can impact a teenager’s mental health, such as fear of missing out, cyberbullying and poor self-acceptance. As well as this, they explain the importance of hygiene, sleep and physical activity for teenagers as they develop, grow and cope with the transitions they are experiencing.
Finally, there is support for adults on how best to talk to teenagers about what they may be coping with or feeling, both when they are already struggling but also in order to support and prepare them for what may lie ahead.
I will admit I was
struggling to think what a theologian could add to this blog. Then it struck
me, what about faith? We all have to decide what we believe in, even an atheist
believes that there is no God. There comes a day for all of us when we must
decide what we believe and hopefully understand why.
Questioning and discovering
our beliefs can be difficult and is something I believe is heavily influenced
by our experiences in childhood. The people who have a direct impact on our
lives will shape what we think, how we act and ultimately what we come to
believe. That is not to say that as a person grows their beliefs and world
views cannot or will not change. But arguably what we are exposed to in our
formative years will have a profound effect on us all. It is, however, vital
that a person’s beliefs become their own. We have to take ownership of what we
believe, otherwise these beliefs have no authenticity.
Have you ever sat down and
mapped out exactly where your beliefs come from? I have, it’s a process that
can be lengthy, yet it is wonderfully helpful in aiding us to understand why we
believe the things we do. I would encourage you to try this yourself; write
down the beliefs that you hold and work back from them, to see who or where
they may have come from.
Let me give you an example: I believe in God, no surprise there, that belief goes back like this…An experience I had as a teenager in Church – growing up in a Christian family – Mum and Dad both having a strong faith.
My parent’s faith may have
been the catalyst that resulted in my own, them believing and bringing myself
and brother up in the faith is what inspired me to go to church. Without that,
I would not have had the experiences in church that I did. Yet, I had to make
the decision to believe, by myself. Nobody could make me believe, I had to take
ownership of that decision.
This is just one example of
how you might map back some of the beliefs that you hold. But, it’s also an
example of how the people who surround us in our formative years will play a
role in what we come to believe later on in life, as an adult. My parents
influence helped start me on a lifelong journey, of discovery and faith. Arguably,
without my parents input my life might look very different right now. In a
recent study, 5 out of 7 young people said their parents were the main
influence on their faith, with the other 2 naming life events or a youth pastor
(Tighe, 2019). This just goes to show the importance of the people around us,
in those formative years, on our later faith life.
Dr Warren Farrell, a
prominent sociologist, writes in his book The Boy Crisis (2019), “your
mission to help your son discover his mission begins with helping him to
discover himself as human being first, and then helping him find a way of a
being a human doing – of making a living – that supports him as a human being.”
While Farrell is talking about a different problem, his model for helping young
boys find their purpose in life, could also be applied here to our
conversation. Some may argue that it is not the task of a parent to dictate to their
child what they must believe but instead help them find their own way. For those
of any faith, or none, one may stress the importance of not dictating to
children what their ‘human being’ should be. To put it another way, we should encourage
children to seek their own state of ‘human being’. Once that has been accomplished,
we can then encourage them to find the means to support that belief, the ‘human
Something that is of greater interest to me, is how faith may be transferred from clergy parents to clergy children. Soon to be entering Christian ministry, one of the things I think about is how will I act as both a parent and ordained minister. How much should one inform the other or maybe importantly where do the distinctions lie?
Coming from a background in youth ministry, I know that there is often considerable pressure on the child but also the clergy person, that their child find faith. This pressure can at times also fall squarely on the shoulders of those in charge of young people’s formation within the Church. My wife, the daughter of a clergy person, has spoken of the pressure she felt growing up to be the ‘model Christian child’. This pressure is something I wish to protect my future children from, and I believe is something that many clergy also feel.
A lot of effort goes into
children’s and youth ministry and Tighe lists a few of these things as being, “the
Church herself, her children’s and youth programs, para-church ministries,
Christian schools, and, of course, parents” (Tighe, 2019). The amount of time
and effort that go into these programmes is immense. I spent countless hours as
a youth pastor; planning and executing mission plans, Sunday school teaching,
school assemblies, Christian unions, youth bible studies, young people’s summer
camps, to name just a few. These things are great, they enable young people to
explore their faith but there is one glaringly obvious problem, they separate
child from adult. Inter-generational contact, I think, is one of the most
important ways we can allow children to explore a vast array of beliefs and
ideas. The ideas that they encounter will help them to forge their own paths,
which we as adults can help provide the tools to support them.
One thing I noticed as a
youth pastor is that children do not need to be pressured into believing
something. In fact, the harder you try to get them to believe, often the harder
they push away. This is where I like Farrell’s approach to helping children
find their ‘human being’, before their ‘human doing’.
This short addition to the blog, I hope, will help to spark a conversation on how we think about faith in children. Children are remarkable, they approach new ideas in a wonderfully inquisitive way. We need to allow them to take greater responsibility for their beliefs and the paths they take to find them. Belief in God is a wonderful thing, it should never be hampered.
If we are serious about promoting healthy growth in children, we need to create a safe space for them to develop their own belief systems. We need to view this area of their life as just as important as any other.
On the 3rd February, the University of Portsmouth hosted an online discussion surrounding inclusive and exclusive practices, in relation to wellbeing, safeguarding and social care (See video link here). Awareness of mental health issues and needs of children and families has increased and many effective interventions are on offer. However, the proportion of those who need mental health support and social care but do not receive adequate support remains high, especially in the midst of the current pandemic. We know that existing mental health and social care services fail to meet the particular cultural, social and linguistic needs of service users from ethnic minority communities.
For example, mental health problems are often unrecognised in Asian communities and existing services are unsuitable for their (cultural and social) needs. We also know that mental health and social care staff tend to use more coercive approaches to mental health treatment of African-Caribbean individuals and they are more likely to enter mental health services via the courts/police.
The speakers provided insight into the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus pandemic on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, raising areas of concern regarding ethnic inequalities and race relations, social care and well-being.
The following speakers featured in the event:
– Ms Sonia Carr, CEO of the Wiltshire Racial Equality Council (WREC)
– Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten, Reader (Associate Professor) in Childhood Studies and Director of Postgraduate Studies in the School of Education & Sociology at the University of Portsmouth