by Comprehensive Staff
As I was reading before bed this weekend, in my attempt to get less screen time, I was struck by a quote in one of my favorite books, The Little Prince: "Grownups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend they never ask about what really matters. They never ask, what does his voice sound like? What games does he like to play? [...] They ask how old is he? How many brothers does he have?" Later on in the chapter the author, Antoine De Saint-Exupery, states that "children should be very understanding of grow ups."
I thought about times when the questions I ask the children and teens in my life may miss the point of showing that I care. If I ask a question am I willing to listen? Am I willing to ask more questions, not about numbers, grades or subjects, but about feelings, thoughts, and actions?
Just a bit about numbers…
In 2014 the State of Washington completed their Healthy Youth Survey. This survey is completed every two years by 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th graders and asks a variety of questions ranging from physical health, substance use, school safety, and depression and suicidal ideation.
Surprisingly, the survey does not ask 6th graders about depression and suicidal ideation, despite the fact that 27% of 8th graders report depressive symptoms. That is nearly 3 out of every 10 kids who are in 8th grade! Given this high percentage, we need to ask ourselves what is going on in the years prior to 8th grade, and why aren’t we monitoring depression in younger teens?
According to the research on Adverse Childhood Experiences, having at least one caring adult who is willing to be a safe container is one of the most essential resilience factors for young people. In the Healthy Youth Survey, 49% of the 8th graders reported that they had an adult that they could turn to and talk to for help. For 12th graders, that number went up to nearly 57%. One possible explanation for this difference is that young people feel more comfortable sharing feelings with adults as they grow older. This also leads to the question of what that percentage would be for those 6th graders, or even younger.
Here is my quest to you, reader, whether you are a parent, teacher, aunt, uncle, grandparent, or mentor: Take 15 seconds and think about one youth you interact with. Right now… Now write on your phone, your notepad by your desk, or even on your hand—write one question you will ask the next time you see your youth.
If you struggle to come up with a creative question, I have a few you can borrow.
Who is your best friend?
What was something fun that happened today?
What is your worst fear?
Who is your favorite teacher?
Do your friends make you feel good about yourself?
What is your favorite color?
Listen to their answers. Ask another question. Be curious and build on your connection. Our youth are more than just numbers and statistics. This challenge asks you to be vulnerable with a young person—to be creative and honest. Taking this step can build social resilience and ensure that every child and teen has an adult with whom they can feel safe, supported, and understood.
If you want to see the results for the suicide and depression portion of the 2014 WA Healthy Youth Survey, click here.