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Navigating the tricky bits to keep rangatahi safe

The tragic events of the past two weeks have touched the lives of many rangatahi, whānau and communities.

For parents, caregivers and teachers, these events have highlighted the importance of finding a way to talk to youth about making good decisions and keeping safe.

Dr Sue Bagshaw, who has spent over 30 years working with youth and championing their rights, says the main thing to consider is that the relationships young people have with those around them are changing during this time.

"All of a sudden there is a desire to differentiate themselves by creating a new identity. At the same time they’re taking in loads of information, not just from friends, teachers and parents but from what they see on social media.”

With all the changes going on in their lives, and emotions running high, Dr Bagshaw says it’s crucial to do all you can to keep up communication.

Keeping up the kōrero:

  • Don’t sit down and have ‘the talk’ or go about things by yelling.
  • Spending time together is really important.
  • Normalise hard conversations by having them in casual situations – washing the dishes, saying goodnight, or being in the car together is a great time.
  • If communication channels are already open, start a regular routine of asking your kids how their day was and sharing parts of your day with them.
  • Make a time each week to spend quality one-on-one time with your child – this is especially important if there is more than one child.
  • Go out for a hot choccie or for a walk to the beach for some special one-on-one time.

Make communication a two-way street

  • While we shouldn’t overload our children with our own concerns, it is important to normalise emotions by sharing how we’re feeling.
  • Try ‘I’m feeling worried but I would like to know how you are feeling'.
  • Give them space to respond to what they’re worried about.

Why language matters

  • Come from a point of caring.
  • Be explicit in how you feel as younger teens can misread emotions, for example mistaking worry for anger, so it’s important to say ‘I’m worried, can you recognise my worry and I would like to recognise what’s going on for you and how you are feeling at the moment’.
  • This can help build trust.

Building trust and setting boundaries

  • The negotiation of boundaries is important. You want them to learn to set their own boundaries but at the same time it is our job as adults to help them set their own boundaries.
  • This could be asking your child to let you know if they’re going out, where they’re going and how late they’ll be, as a matter of courtesy. Let them know you’re asking these questions not to be nosey but to ensure they remain safe.
  • Setting up a code is an effective way to help your child get out of situations where they feel uncomfortable. Try picking a word or an emoji that can be text or said via a phone call that lets you know your child wants to be picked up urgently.
  • Another good conversation to have is if they’re at a party that spirals out of control that they leave immediately.
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