I was privileged this week to be invited to attend the graduation event for Queen Margaret University, known to most of us as QMU, in Edinburgh’s elegant Usher Hall. I was there because of the growing partnership Cyrenians has with QMU which we value greatly. The ceremony also included the inauguration of QMU’s new Chancellor, the soon to be Great British Bake off’s new judge the restaurateur, caterer, television presenter/broadcaster, businesswoman, journalist and novelist Prue Leith.
It was an amazing event full of energy as the newly graduating students celebrated their journey so far and look forwards with great anticipation too their next steps.
Prue Leith’s inaugural speech was very powerful. She encouraged the new graduate to be curious, tenacious, develop stickability, to have a hinterland, be interested and interesting with others and to never be too grand to do the dirty jobs. Good advice for us all I thought. She also spoke to the parents, families and friends present, noting how proud they must all be and reminding them of how the person they were there to celebrate had developed from a one “grumpy teenager” had now flourished in this celebrating adult.
The “grumpy teenager” comment caused a loud ripple of knowing laughter from the audience, for it was a generalisation but one with more than a modicum of truth. Much has been written about this crucial stage in young peoples lives, why it happens and how parents can respond. Some commentators suggest it’s a tool of searching for identity which parents shouldn’t try to breakdown. Other emphasis understanding the stage of brain development which is going on whilst some scientists argue the grunts are not a lack of communication but a different language!
Dr John Colman, who founded the Trust of the Study of Adolescents, spoke at Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution annual conference in February 2017 on this very subject. He argued that parents have a tough job here and many of us react in the way we do because we struggle to know our role, we feel shame or a sense of failure, that we are being judged, as are our children and all that shapes our reactions or engagement with our children. He encourages us to learn the art of negotiation, rather than coercion or instruction. It’s tough but we need to know we, as parents, are very important in our teenager’s lives, despite how we might feel about how they see us
Cyrenians have a long history of working in mediation and conflict resolution with families. We know that still far too many young people leave home because they have fallen out with their families. A great deal of our work is not dealing with what has been said and done but supporting families to understand why all involved are who we are at these stages in our lives, how so much of what drives us is not conscious but deep inside us, in how our brains are wired and how our emotional reactions have been shaped by our previous experiences.
Last year 4145 young people left home because of family breakdown which drop of 11% from the previous year but is still a shocking number. As ever, it’s not really the presenting problem which needs dealt with. And healing needs time, space, patience and a willingness to see beyond the grumpy teenager and the frustrated parent to understand what is really behind the actions which brought the relationship to breaking point.
Without those key ingredients, to take a cooking metaphor in honour of QMU’s new Chancellor, the recipe of healing and hope won’t work. But if we do use them, new life can be found in those apparently broken relationships and the kind of flourishing I saw and celebrated in the Usher Hall can happen too in living rooms across the city.
13 July 2017