Higher expectations should be set for youth

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There are many easy ways to encourage youths to live up to a higher set of expectations that are currently set for them. In fact, a pamphlet handed out during the Canadian Mental Health Association Swift Current Branch's annual Mayor's Luncheon on May 22 highlights that there are 150 simple ways as a start.

Jim Magee, the Executive Director of the Swift Current Community Youth Initiative shared the pamphlet "150 Ways to Show Kids You Care" with the capacity audience during the ninth annual Mayor's Luncheon. As the keynote speaker during the popular annual luncheon, Magee highlighted that society does not have a lot of expectations for youths, but this talented age group should be held to a higher standard. Over a three decade career as a councillor, coach, and youth worker, he knows the potential youth have and he has developed higher expectations for adolescents. He would like to see more people encouraging and enabling youth through simple actions like praise and encouragement.

"We need to help them change that mindset and have more expectations of them, give them more responsibility, and help them more responsibility. Help them to be accountable and to be good people and good citizens," Magee explained following his address.

"If we can encourage them in positive ways and influence them, and be that encouragement and be that positive influence, we can help change them too."

The pamphlet given to every luncheon participant highlights simple actions including: listen to them, set boundaries that keep them safe, present options when they seek you counsel, to surprise them, thank them, and tell them how terrific they are.

Magee recalled during his high school sports days that after making a tackle during a football game an opposition coach simply said "nice tackle", and that recognition inspired his play for the rest of the game and has stayed with him as an example of the power of acknowledgement.

"It doesn't take much to make somebody's day does it," he said. "So how much influence can we have on kids that we do know? Or kids that we see on a regular basis as volunteers to encourage them to be a role model or an example or an encouragement in their lives."

Magee feels youths are unfortunately bound by "invisible shackles" of low expectations and that our culture has bought into the myth of poor adolescence behaviour and character.

Instead, Magee stated emphatically that we should stand by youth when they are going through difficult times.

"There's a lot of youth that maybe aren't having the same role models as we grew up with two parents, there's a lot of blended families and single parents," he said. "Maybe we've swung the pendulum almost too far the other way. Maybe youth aren't learning responsibility, not all youth obviously, but in general I think it's changed quite a bit from when I was a kid."

The issue of youth mental health was also in the spotlight during the Mayor's Luncheon.

Ruth Smith, Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association Swift Current Branch noted the branch has received a grant to work with The Center during the coming year. They are partnering on a trio of projects: helping upgrade The Center's patio area for kids; providing upgrades to their media room; plus painting two more murals on the exterior of The Center.

In addition, Mental Health will have a 20-hour a week, half staff employee working out of The Center during the summer months, with once-a-week duties for the remainder of the one-year grant.

"We're kind of missing that component at Canadian Mental Health and we wanted to be able to help that group if we can. Whatever we can do," Smith said.

"We'll hope to continue on with something that will be more appropriate for younger people. Our drop-in centre is more appropriate for an older crowd, and if you had younger people coming in there they might feel a little bit uncomfortable sitting around with an older group of 20-year-olds and up."

CMHA statistics show about five per cent of males and 12 per cent of females, aged 12 to 19, have experienced a major depressive episode. The total number in that age group at risk for developing depression is 3.2 million youths.

Magee notes that more youth are reaching out to them in this area.

"The whole stigma of Mental Health is I think changing because kids are reaching out and we're able to help kids at an earlier than they normally would have been helped."

Organizations: Canadian Mental Health Association Swift Current Branch

Geographic location: Swift Current

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