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Local ears for youth

The newest branch of one of Aotearoa’s longest-running youth services aims to be “all ears” for the young people of Wairarapa.

Youthline, founded in 1970, established its first Wairarapa-based centre earlier this school term – set up to support local rangatahi [youth] as they traverse everything from future career plans, to precarious friendships, to existing in both the virtual and 3-D worlds.

Best known for its free telephone helpline and text service, Youthline also offers in-person youth coaching programmes and one-on-one counselling sessions in schools and within the community. There, youth workers can provide a listening ear for rangatahi facing “problems big and small”: Dealing with mental health challenges, grappling with the discomfort of adolescence, or simply hoping to grow as individuals.

The new Youthline Wairarapa is staffed by experienced youth workers Lydia Roper and Luke Tiller – based out of the Wairarapa Community Centre, and providing group and individual mentorship in schools throughout the region.

The service was set up by the organisation’s Central North Island centre, made possible with funding from various community organisations, including Trust House and the Lotteries Commission.

Roper said Youthline offers a judgement-free space for young people to share their struggles – and receive “the tools to navigate their own challenges”.

“We’re all about championing the youth voice. Young people want to be heard, seen, and validated. They want to belong, they want to be needed, and they want to feel they’re making an impact.

“They want someone to hear them out. Our role is to be there to listen – and, eventually, help them step up as confident citizens of the world.

“They may not feel they can confide in Mum and Dad, but we can offer our perspective as the older wise aunt or the cool uncle.”

Roper and Tiller are working out of primary and secondary schools, where they lead Youthline’s Standing Tall programme – which helps facilitate open and supportive discussions about pressing issues for young New Zealanders. Conversation topics include coping with stress, managing relationships, bullying and peer pressure, body image, and sexuality.

“We ask questions like, ‘what would you do if you were sent a [potentially damaging] photo of someone you knew online? How would they feel if you shared it? How would you feel if it was your photo?’” Roper said.

“It’s helping them develop empathy – stepping beyond themselves and seeing the world through someone else’s perspective. We can also discuss how to prepare for the difficult conversations that might come up: Like breaking up a romantic relationship, or coming out to a loved one.

“It’s awesome to see those a-ha moments. You see it in their faces when the penny drops, and they realise they know how to solve the problem in front of them.”

She said a popular discussion topic is navigating online spaces – and how to maintain in-person connections in an increasingly digital world.

“It’s easy to create a different persona online. The relationships you form on the internet don’t always cross over. Young people find it confronting when the person they’ve been online gaming with the night before completely ignores them at school.

“Teachers have noticed a lot of their students are very shy and haven’t come out of their shells. We want to help grow their confidence so they can exist in the real world – where real life happens.”

The youth workers are also available for one-on-one sessions if students don’t feel comfortable speaking in a group, or need space to discuss their personal struggles.

Tiller said Youthline can offer teachers an extra pair of hands to help with students’ mental and emotional development.

“Teachers want to support students with their emotional health and develop life skills – but they’re under a lot of stress, and don’t have the time or resources,” he said.

“Also, we bring an outside perspective – some young people feel more comfortable talking with someone who isn’t as intensely involved in their lives, or doesn’t have any preconceived ideas. If they need to vent, we can be a neutral sounding board.”

He and Roper also hope to support young people outside of school – including school leavers needing advice on transitioning to work, flatting and budgeting. Any callers to Youthline from Wairarapa can be connected to the local team.

To contact Youthline, call 0800 376 633,
text 234, or email
[email protected]

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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