National Teen Self-Awareness Month…

The onslaught of Puberty…Adolescence is a challenging time for everyone at that stage in their lives.

Physical changes in the body, the onslaught of hormones developing in different ways, leading to new emotions and anxious feelings…. The human being’s first attempt at finding their place and position in the world around them.  Growing fast towards that first step into adulthood in an uncertain time.

Peer pressure has always been a significant factor in a teen’s life – as dependence on the primary carer or parent decreases.  The influence from peers and the wider circle becomes a very significant factor.  This influence can be a positive, however often a young person may be drawn towards strong characters, those who try to coerce and divide to encourage the distancing from the primary carer for their own objectives.

Today the impact of social media and the internet is huge. The world becomes smaller, the influences stronger which seem inescapable.  The pressure to conform to someone else’s views and idealology is constant.  On top of this increasingly worrying factor, the young people may be experiencing other pressures in daily life, key relationship break down, exams, managing parental expectations, or the opposite – a complete abandonment of their emotional needs being met at this time.

Given the right support and guidance, it is possible to work through this stage enabling a more resilient, independent self-reliant, caring individual to emerge.

Without this crucial nurturing and supportive guidance, it is more likely that a young person will develop a low self-esteem and a decreasing belief in themselves, thus being drawn to more risky behaviours and negative influences.

The desire to ‘fit in’ and be ‘one of the gang’ often leads the young person into experimenting with cigarettes, alcohol and drugs for the first time, introduced by their peers and outer circle influences like the wider or extended/blended family who may be already addicted to these substances.

Through naivety and the desire to please, these influences prey on teens’ misplaced trust.

Many of the teens (or young people) who are referred to The Seeds of Change are already on this path of self-destruction.  Having already been exposed to negative influences, leading to their deep and low-level self-confidence, manifesting itself in angry outbursts, defiance and aggression or at the opposite end of the scale; shutting down, fearful and looking only inwards. Often those individuals are the most difficult to reach, because the ability to express themselves has all but disappeared.  At least with anger and defiance, it is more straightforward to challenge, with due care, giving an opportunity leading to a more constructive dialogue to take place.

Our approach, always, is to acknowledge the young person’s story to date.  To understand more fully the key relationships in the young person’s life and to gain an insight into their character, their strengths and individualism.

By demonstrating a ‘Positive Parent’ role,  showing regard, respect and enabling a containing space we are able support, the young person is able to begin to explore their presenting issues. By encouraging a link to thoughts, feelings and behaviours, their emotions and feelings are validated.

The horse is key in this early part of forming what may be the young person’s first positive Adult/Child relationship. The horse gives space, time, and presence; he delivers non-judgmental feedback in the way in which he mirrors the young person’s feelings and subsequent actions.

The young person will often begin to talk when they are working with their horse, almost as the third person, finding it less challenging in the early part of their programme than to address the coach directly.  The Coach listens actively and responds carefully being mindful of the language used – often a young person will internalise what is being said to them even though it may appear to fall on deaf ears!

As the young person begins to understand how to interpret their feelings, they will be more able to cope with challenging situations they find themselves in and be able to make choices for themselves independently of other’s influences.

All humans need structure and routine, a safe base in which to grow out from.  At the stage of adolescence this is key to any successful outcome.  The need to explore new freedom should be encouraged and supported, but boundaries have to be in place.  Through working closely with the horse as the Co-Coach/third person, he most naturally instills the need for boundaries, working on the ground, task-setting and sometimes roleplay exercises, the opportunity arises for the young person to express feelings and emotion more openly, but with far less pressure placed on them than a traditional talking therapy environment.

Once trust is established, work can begin on supporting the young person to acknowledge their own abilities to make choices for themselves.  As this process develops, self-esteem and confidence will be developed naturally.  When this happens, the young person will realise that they have the skills and strengths to make safer, wiser, more informed and appropriate choices for themselves, thus developing into a more independent and resilient young adult.

Katherine Dillon is a Director and Founder of The Seeds of Change.  To find out more about her story, click here