Posted: 06 December 2019

How to talk to young people about Christmas

I have a neighbour who festoons their house with Christmas lights and inflatable reindeers almost as soon as bonfire night is over. It creates a range of responses in our street - from those who bah humbug their way past the house to those who take it is as the kick start to weeks of celebration. 

Christmas means different things to different people, and that is just as true for young people.

Approach with caution

We recently conducted a long term study with young people experiencing poverty, going back to the same young people over a three year period and finding out how poverty made an impact on their lives.

Many of those interviews took place either just before or just after Christmas. I always approached those times with caution as I never wanted to assume that young people would have a good Christmas.

It's complex

Early one January, I met with one girl who I was particularly concerned about. I knew that her household was a complicated tangle of shifting relationships that were hard to comprehend and that no one was earning enough money.

But what she described about her Christmas was a glorious rush of people pooling what they had to make a fun day and of all those complex relationships turning up unexpected gifts and food. Complex, complicated and a little chaotic, but neither sad nor problematic.

Yet, another young person at the same time had nothing to say about their Christmas, because nothing had happened. Nothing that changed what was a daily grind and regular disappointment of not having enough let alone having extra to celebrate with.

Don't assume

We just can’t assume. We can’t assume that things are always bad and awful for young people we work with anymore that we can assume that everything is better when they present something positive to us.

What young people choose to share with us about their lives is always revealing. What they reveal needs to be valued and treated with respect.

Listen

We want to be listening to young people more and more and we want our ideas and plans to be influenced by what they choose to share with us. It’s a constantly shifting, dynamic process that exposes us to joy and sadness in equal measure and leads us to celebrate young people in all circumstances.

Listening to young people? It’s not just for Christmas.

It's important to understand that Christmas can be a difficult time for many children and young people. For them, Christmas is broken, but their spirits don't have to be. Show them you're listening.

Pledge #IHearYouth

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