Through the beauty of nature I was reminded this week of how things come back around.
Whilst out walking near my home in the Scottish Borders I found myself under the flight path of thousands of Geese that return year after year to feed on the surrounding fields. You can to almost set your watch by this memorising event.
Another event that takes place at this time of the year is one that has been taking place within Scottish High Schools since 2011. Young people across Scotland are volunteering to act as mentors to support their school in the delivery of the Mentors In Violence Prevention programme (MVP). They are undergoing training delivered by school teams and partners. Also many of these young leaders are starting to work with younger peers through delivery of peer led sessions addressing some of the many issues that we know are impacting on young people and effecting their ability to attain and develop healthy relationships.
With much focus being placed on attainment it is therefor important that focus is directed at supporting health and well-being as well as supporting social and emotional development in our young people. As one headteacher said to me recently “if we don’t get this stuff right what’s the point in working to pass exams”. Much has been discussed around the connection between healthy relationships and learning. American educationalist James Comer said “No significant learning will take place without a significant relationship”. It is vital we find ways of helping young people be the friend they want to be and to have the friend that has their back. Healthy and supportive relationships are closely linked to attainment and will help reduce violence.
Today Young people face a number of challenges which are alien to previous generations. We have always found ways to communicate with each other, however nowadays, with access to modern technology young people are living a life online which often means they are accessible 24 hours each day. A recent report in national media suggested many young teenagers were checking their telephones and other media platforms up to 10 times each night at a time when they should be doing just one thing, sleeping. The impact is clear, young people are coming to school fatigued and in many cases not ready to learn.
A sense of having to conform to a norm that is being driven by perceptions of how others behave is one reason for this. “I better do it because others are doing it” may be behind a need to be always accessible. Having spoken to many young people it is clear they actually share the same feelings, they just want to sleep. I can remember that need as a teenager.
Having the ability to discuss these issues is surely a protective factor for young people. The ability to see that their peers actually share their own personal feelings can only help young people who feel pressure to conform. This need to fit in is often seen within other behaviours that are being seen within schools across the country.
Peer mentoring is nothing new, however the young mentors delivering the MVP programme in our Scottish schools are opening a dialog which many young people are crying out for. We all crave reassurance and safety in our lives and we often get that from our observations of others.
Recent media around the increase in sexual offences and incidents taking place in schools are shocking but should not be surprising when you start to look at the climate young people are growing up in. All efforts that focus on telling young people not to do something are being eaten for breakfast by the culture they are growing up in. Pornography is shaping and defining relationships. We need a counter balance. I feel that balance comes in part through the discussions that MVP mentors are having in Scottish classrooms.
In Scotland we are pretty good at talking about the problems we face in society. Through sessions, mentors are trained to spend time on the healthy parts of a relationship. It is important young people are able to talk about respect so that they can see and feel it in their own relationships.
This week media has been reporting on an open letter that a mother has written after the death of her son. Her son killed himself after years of torment from those who were unkind to him and who isolated him from the group. The mothers words are poignant and cry out to those who witness these behaviours. In the letter she says “I am appealing to children to be KIND always and never stand by and leave bullying unreported”. Towards the end of her letter she says “Please be kind always, for you never know what is in someone’s heart or mind”. I know young people in our schools witness their friends being called names or having a naked picture shared around the school. If we don’t want young people to stand by we need to help them discuss ways to be that active bystander.
The conversation being had in schools across Scotland simply focuses on being that friend. The role modelling from the MVP mentors I’m sure will help shape future relationships for the better.