For many young people, the formation years are a great stumbling place; at times, a dark, harrowing and tangled thicket of worry, low self worth and social discomfort. Anxiety…in their own words, from the mouths of our young people, “a constant and always present sense of worry about what is going to happen in the future.”

Our young people are growing up in a world of rapid and constant change ~ pondering what will happen in the future isn’t such an extraordinary thought to have. In a year or two, educators will meet and teach students who have absolutely no experience of twentieth century. They will refer to the twentieth century as history, the past, no personal experience or deep connection to it at all.

Patrick, 13
I’m not fun to be with.
Everyone’s better than me.
Why didn’t I get invited?

Each day they are thrust into a world of turbulence, fast-paced schedules and exponential advancement in technology, science and human discovery. The deep inner whispers of thought, curiosity and emotion, their quiet quest to find their centre, purpose and meaning are forgotten, unseen and undervalued.

Sari, 9
I’m not good enough.
They don’t like me.
No one cares.

Do they not know how to come back to their centre or listen to those soft belly whispers of truth, or are they a generation who have not been given a single chance to find it at all? Is it our imperative to explicitly teach them what they need to know to navigate their way through a world that has wider freeways but narrower viewpoints, taller buildings but shorter tempers? Schools offer the perfect platform for early intervention and change, to give them time and space to come back home.

Thomas, 17
My heart races and my breathing is shallow.
I feel blood rushing to my face and neck.
Sometimes I can’t focus my sight.

The formation years, a crucial time of development, a time when young people are attempting to develop their understanding of the world and humanity. To find their place in the universe - through confusion and critical questioning about what comes next is of utter most importance. Our young people are anxious. Worried. Fearful. Wondering what the future holds for them....and TBH, it’s no wonder!!

Nikki, 9
I have bad habits.
I am so ugly.
No one thinks I’m cool.

What is making our kids so anxious? We get asked this question every other day.
Parents ask. Teachers ask. Kids ask.

So we asked ourselves.

Not, why are they anxious, but, why are they NOT thriving?
What are the ingredients to social-emotional development that leads to forming engaged, resilient, compassionate and self-aware young people?
Schools that are open and receptive to the need to move forward with the times offer the ideal environment for young people to feel safe, calm and centred.

Annabelle, 16
I can’t do anything right.
My parents fight because of me.
I am a burden for my family.

The complexity of the question we hear every day might be a little clearer if we simply consider  the essential things *a young person needs to thrive ~ The Four Universal Growth Needs of Children and Youth*

Who knows we might then be able to see where are falling short...


  • Create opportunity to establish trusting connections and relationships.

  • Model respect and concern in our communities.

  • Develop a motivation to affiliate and form social bonds.

  • Provide a secure sanctuary of care and support.


  • Schools that lend themselves to appreciating our young people.

  • Classrooms that create opportunity for competence in solving problems.

  • Communities that empower to create a life path of purpose.

  • Celebration of prowess and aptitude of all skills and talents in equal measure.


  • The choice I make today is my own.

  • I choose to take responsibility for my own life path.

  • My happiness does not rest on my circumstances.

  • I can influence my world.


  • Altruism - selfless concern of welfare.

  • Benevolence - acts of kindness from a place of well meaning.

  • Giving - How can I share my gifts or time to serve another?

Whomever you are, celebrate and revel in the happy, joyful, gregarious and confident young people in your charge. But always turn toward and cultivate the confidence of the those who feel like they don’t belong or have mastery over their craft. The ones who have lost their independence to make a difference in their world or the ones who have never experienced  the delight of giving and sharing themselves to another person.

Vincent, 12
I don’t deserve love.
I have nothing to offer.
I am sorry for being me.

Let’s lead our young people through their tangled and messy thicket of formation knowing that one third to one half will be the deep thinkers, dissecting that glance you have them last week, pondering the implications of the misplaced word they heard in their home last night. Always bear in mind that what we see on the outside is not necessarily the reality for our children. The next time you happen to witness a young person holding immense composure in a social environment, remember that her internal landscape might be messy, uncomfortable, worried, fearful, wishing to escape or pondering the meaning of all that is the world around.

Layla, 6
I am boring.
I am not beautiful.
I don’t have anyone to talk to.

Layla, Vincent, Annabelle, Nikki, Thomas, Sari and Patrick...much like Alice (in her Wonderland) find themselves diving into a rabbit hole of fear, projection, anxiety and worry more days than not. They choose to go to the depths of their centre, but need guidance, because sometimes they get stuck. We must empower them with the keys to stumble through their rabbit hole to make it out the other side to their plentiful garden of belonging, mastery, independence and generosity.

*Four Universal Growth Needs of Children and Youth adapted from Brendtro et al. (2009), ‘Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future’.

**Names of children have been changed to protect identity.**

Samantha Stenner