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‘Life ain’t always empty’

It would be difficult to avoid the elephant in the room of exam results this week. It’s not for this column to comment on the machinations of government and Ofqal over the last few days, but the emotional impact on the lives of some older teenagers has been profound. This column has however recently encouraged a focus on identifying the needs of young people emerging from lockdown and how the current circumstances have affected the joy of being young and thinking the world is their oyster. All those ambitions to be someone or make a mark to some extent thwarted. The Office of National Statistics have just released figures that suggest a doubling in the number of diagnoses of depression in adults since the middle of March. So this week’s blog returns to this theme of thinking how best we can support all those young people with a mission to change their world for the better.

Fontaines D.C. are an Irish post punk band who have just released that ‘difficult’ second album. It’s a lively, exuberant celebration of youth but peppered with darker minor key sections that provide a different, bleaker narrative. The title of this piece is a line from a song on the album. One reviewer described it as ‘capturing being young in all its excitement and challenge, its confidence and despair’. I like the reviewer’s next phrase: ‘the years where it feels like you are trying to find a foothold with your hands’. I guess that’s how many young people feel just now. So with our safeguarding hats on what’s to be done?

It was good to be back in non-singing, socially-distanced church on Sunday. But the Church’s sustained contact with young people will probably be on line for a while yet, and so the guidance developed and published over recent weeks and months is still relevant. This advice and guidance was initially predicated on the need to keep safe online by managing contacts and keeping on line spaces safe, but the need has perhaps shifted to a greater emphasis on spotting where there is concern about wellbeing, especially at this critical point of going back to school, moving to college or university. The concern may have been prompted by the emotional roller coaster of the last few days (hopefully this will now be avoided later this week with the publication of GCSE results), the usual anxiety about change as well as worry about the virus and how it can be contained and people kept safe in new settings. It may require some extraordinary resilience on the part of young people and their parents to navigate this unusual storm. We can’t prescribe individual solutions but our churches should be on the look out to see where we can provide hope and encouragement where there is may be a sudden emptiness.

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