3 February 2024

A voice that matters: Are we listening to children?

Hannah Potter

A graphic shows a young person holding their hand up to their ear.

Ahead of Children’s Mental Health Week (5–11 February), Hannah Potter reflects on the importance of valuing a young person’s feelings.

How are you feeling? It’s a short but loaded question, and listening to the answer can change a life, especially for a child or young person.

The mental health of children and young people is ever declining. Services are pushed to their limits, there isn’t enough support when it’s needed and children and parents face the huge challenges of funding and waiting lists. As Christians, we play a crucial role in the trajectory of the next generation, so it’s important to be mindful of them.

The rising use of social media is a big cause of stress, anxiety and depression for children. While it can positively enhance communication, it also has the power to damage self-esteem, relationships and lives. Cyber-bullying and grooming are ever present and risk long-term negative consequences on a child’s mental health.

The self-image and self-worth of the next generation were also heavily impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Socially, academically, emotionally and behaviourally, these young people have transitioned from a ‘normal’ world into a world of isolation and fear, and then into a world of unknowns, what-ifs and continued devastation.

Too often, children receive ‘adult’ responsibilities. They’re exposed to stresses and challenges they shouldn’t see or hear so young. Then, if they aren’t able to cope, they’re labelled ‘naughty’, when in fact they’re struggling with their emotions.

Take one look at the suffering of the world – it breaks your heart. Then imagine seeing that through the eyes of a child or young person. You’d question what’s going on, what your future looks like, whether you’ll even have a future. Will the world’s resources run out? Will war ever cease?

Do we hear their worries and concerns? Their cries for their future?

Children and young people want to – and need to – be listened to. When we ask them ‘How are you feeling?’, we can’t assume we know their answer. We can’t interrupt, look down on them or dismiss their feelings. As adults we say ‘it’s OK not to be OK’, so let it be the same for children and young people. Let them share, encourage them, pray for them and show them that how they feel matters.

We may never know the individual personal life of a young person, what’s under the surface, what they contend with at home, at school or in their own heads. Lots of young people who explore their gender or sexuality don’t receive listening ears from older generations who think it’s a ‘phase’ or they will ‘grow out of it’. For those young people, this is their reality. This is how they feel, here and now, and they need to be listened to and accepted.

Throughout the Bible, God shows how important children are to him. As children of God, let’s recognise and reflect that. Whatever they are experiencing, we have a responsibility to love children and young people as they are, supporting them with the safety and security that comes from God.

Reflect and respond

  • When did you last ask a child or young person about their feelings?
  • Read Psalm 77:1 (New King James Version).
  • Pray for open ears, an open heart and an open mind, ready to listen. Pray for healing for the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.
  • From Bounce and Mindset to Starfish mentoring and the CY Schoolswork Conference in March, find out about the Children and Youth Department’s resources and work to support children and young people.

Written by

A photo of Hannah Potter

Hannah Potter

Norwich Citadel

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