What’s worrying teenagers? (In their own words)


This is Suicide Prevention Month 2015, indeed as I type this it’s World Suicide Prevention Day. Twitter is alive with useful information and resources, talks and seminars are taking place all over the world – and it’s great. And for me, every day should be suicide prevention day.

I listened to Dr Harry Barry speak today about how to reach our young people before they consider suicide. It was great to hear someone echo my thoughts, and those of my fellow professionals. Prevention is key.

Bottom line: we need to “get to” children before they start down the road of hopelessness.

We need to teach our young people that we can empathise, that we are willing and able to listen and that we believe they are worth hearing. We need to teach resilience, critical thinking, problem solving, and we need to do it as a matter of urgency. Ideally we will do this on a curricular level as well as at home. All of us can chip in.

This, in my opinion, is true suicide prevention.

To use Dr Barry’s metaphor, we don’t want to pull bodies out of the metaphorical (or literal) water, we want to stop them entering the water upstream. To do that we need to be available and to have an idea of what concerns our young people have. And so I thought I’d share this information with you.  I didn’t make it up or guess, these words were kindly given to me by a group of lovely teenagers. So it’s from the horse’s mouth as such. I asked them if I could share it online so that older people might understand and younger people might feel normal. They didn’t hesistate. I thought that was enormously kind of them.

In the 16 years that I have worked with Transition year students delivering a personal development programme I’ve noticed that teenagers and their feelings don’t really change. But the actual problems with which they are faced certainly seem to have magnified. The explosion of media consumption has brought with it more body image pressures, sexualisation pressures, social pressures, and as we know alcohol use among teenagers is higher than ever before. Our teens are under very real pressure. I know I have colleagues who agree.

There is more to talk about than ever before. Each year I’ve felt that I don’t have enough time to cover all the topics they are bursting to discuss. You can see for yourself the vast array of topics that are important to teenagers in the first pic below. Most teenagers love to talk. The ones who don’t like to talk usually love to hear their peers talk. And everyone loves and needs to be heard. It is always a joy to me to randomly meet ex students in their twenties who still remember the work we did when they were in Transition Year ( I don’t alway recognise them though..!!). I know of teachers who have similar experiences. Teenagers very much notice when we hear them. 

What does this tell us? 

I believe it tells us that our young people are willing and able to talk – all we need do is make ourselves available to listen in a safe non-judgemental environment. I believe that it’s our job as the grown-ups to provide that. 

Meanwhile I’ve made a collage of some of the answers one group of students gave me to three of the many questions I have posed over the years on a questionaire I provide at the start of each programme:

(I’ve made them extra big so I hope you can read them!)

1: Have you any suggestions of topics you would particularly like to cover?

2: Can you list three things that annoy you?


3: Can you list three things that depress or worry you?

Some of these will ring a bell from your own past (or present!) no doubt – they certainly do for me!

If you are a teenager reading this, you can see how normal you are – I hope!! If you are an adult reading this, then know that a teenager near you is possibly ruminating right now on one or more of these topics. Maybe sharing this post with them might be a way to start a dialogue? I hope so.

That’s why I’ve posted this. You don’t have to be a mental health professional to support a teenager. My dream is that we create a series of spaces for teenagers to talk to each other and to us about the many challenges they face. That is my utopia, and I understand that the “how-to” requires commitment and resources. I’m working on that 😉 A lot of people are – teachers, youth workers, GP’s, people who simply care – and they are doing fantastic work!

Meanwhile, here’s some homework for you: check in with a young person near you today: don’t be afraid to put down your phone, look them in the eye and ask the question: how are you? And then wait and listen. That’s it! Simples 🙂

So let’s get to them before they enter the water!


If you need help with how to talk to a teenager please feel free to contact me on the contact form here on this site.


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