I always think we are blessed to live on an island with the most wonderful dialect and rich vernacular in the entire world. One example of our local use of language, is “mind”, or indeed “mine”. The late great author John Pepper, who gave a humourous spin on the way we speak, defined the word this way: “Mine: take care of, look after. ‘I ast her to mine the shap’” *
In line with this definition, an expression used in a particular way north and south of the border is “mine yourself”, advice which is frequently dispensed these days, due to increased consciousness of how the pandemic is taking its toll on people of all ages. As we all consider how to take care of ourselves, how does this apply to the young “wanes” in particular?
Getting our head around it
No part of children and young people’s lives has escaped the destructive impact of the events of the past year. They have suffered physically, as sport and other physical activity has been greatly reduced or cancelled totally for long periods. The impact on education and intellectual development has been well documented and only time will tell the overall cost. We are acutely aware of the social impact of isolation and separation from friends, and of course, are concerned especially of the spiritual impact of the absence of their usual church activities.
However, perhaps it is the impact on their mental health which has received most media attention, an area most of us feel unqualified to speak about. How do we even begin to understand the cumulative impact on young people of all the deprivations they have suffered? More importantly, is there anything practical we can do to help them “mind their minds”? Even though children and young people can be naturally resilient, as adults we need to give them a helping hand to keep emotionally healthy. Here are a few simple ideas that may help us do that, with some resources that might make it easier.
If we are struggling to provide some structure for young people, either as church leaders or as parents, let’s not forget the value of fun. Often the right thing to do is end a lesson early, keep the Bible study short and focused, or create another space to just give young people a good laugh. One girls’ Bible study I know starts every week with a riotous computer game “Among Us”. Other leaders are finding ways to give young people ridiculous challenges and memorable experiences to revive a sense of joy that is too often absent.
We need to check in with young people and ask how they are doing. One youth worker has a weekly “Happy Hump Day” poll on Instagram each Wednesday to help his young people give voice to how they are navigating their week. Part of the recent For Now resource gives some simple ideas of how to engage with and encourage young people. That is not easy right now, but small steps count.
At the most basic level, children and young people need opportunities to talk about how they are feeling. However, not only are they often reluctant to do that, but adults feel under-equipped to help.
Thanks to generous funding from the Education Authority Youth Service Northern Ireland, PCI is delighted to soon be making available free resources to help children and young people talk about emotions within a faith context.
Jesus and Emotions is a colourful journal which enables parents to help their children to think about how to process difficult emotions, and what the Bible says about that, in fun, creative and accessible ways. Shaken has been developed by Big House Ireland to help young people make good choices to live well when life shakes. It could hardly have been written at a better time, presenting key biblical truths to young people, as well as some practical coping mechanisms. Both these resources will soon be able to be ordered and delivered completely free of charge through the PCI website for congregations to share with parents, children and young people. Do watch out for their release soon.
Addressing mental wellbeing has thankfully lost most of its stigma these days, which means young people are more willing to engage with some of the excellent tools to help them remain healthy. One of the best resources available to them today is a mobile app Headstrong which is produced by Youthscape. This is an online space for young people which has a focus on promoting positive mental wellbeing with a Christian perspective. Headstrong has professional advice and insights, but is also a space where young people can contribute their own content and is full of humour and fun to help lift their mood.
Self-care so as to care for others
As we think about how to help young people mind themselves, let’s make sure as adults we do not neglect to do the same. Too many parents are frazzled, balancing working, home-schooling and broader family responsibilities, then trying to make sure they do not neglect their children’s spiritual needs. Youth leaders across the church continue to plug away at running online programmes and keeping in touch with their young people, and often they also fall into that category of busy parents too.
In these bizarre times, we must not disregard our own physical, social, intellectual and spiritual health, or we will be in no fit state to care for anyone else. We also must be careful to mind our minds, and there is help for us too. The Mind and Soul Foundation is a group of Christian ministers and mental health professionals who believe that God loves us and cares about our emotional and mental health. Their website seeks to inform, equip and encourage Christians to care for themselves through resources which bring together theology and positive approaches to mental health.
A set of PCI Bible studies entitled Whole are also available for download from the PCI website, enabling congregations to play their part in encouraging members to open up about how they are coping with life and to support one another as they look at relevant portions of Scripture together.
As you continue to “mind” children and young people and help them to care for themselves, make sure you take time to do that for yourself too.
* John Pepper’s Ulster-English Dictionary (1981)
Graeme Thompson is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s Youth Development Officer.
This blog is part of the digital programme series, Refined, to help move our denominational conversation on from what was needed to initially respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, to seeking God’s leading and guiding for this next season of church life together.
Visit the Refined hub here.