I absolutely LOVE watching young carers form friendships at our Young Carers WA events. It’s one of my FAVOURITE parts about my job. You’ll often find me sitting quietly in the background, with a goofy smile on my face, when I see young carers swapping phone numbers or making each other laugh.
The downside of this is hearing about how some of our young carers experience bullying at school, or their friends stop coming over because of the awkward or aggressive behaviour of their care recipient or they just can’t go out because of their young carer duties. This bit makes me really sad.
It also makes me want to really want to shout – this isn’t the end!
This generation “is being described as one of the most lonely ever” –Triple J podcast.
According to this podcast, the average person has zero confidantes – which means no-one that they can tell their deepest and darkest secrets to – and that shocked me.
There’s ALWAYS hope!
I was, seriously, the SHYEST kid you have ever met. At the age of 10, my Mum developed post-natal depression. This then morphed into manic depression and schizophrenia. As my parents were divorced and my Dad didn’t live with us, I became the primary carer in our house, looking after my baby sister, my Mum and my brother who was 8. Mum was unpredictable, sometimes she was loving and other times, it was best to stay out of her way. I learned to be as quiet and invisible as possible. (Note to self: being invisible doesn’t help you to make friends, even if it IS a cool superpower.)
I’ve lost count of how many primary schools I went to before I was 10. By the time we moved from Geraldton to Perth in 1990, I was so shy that I just wouldn’t talk to anyone. I was naturally quiet and found it hard to make friends and by this stage, I was exhausted from the effort. From year 6 to year 9 I spent every school lunch in the library, reading and if they had let me, I would have spent every recess there too.
I was so lucky, I never experienced bullying, although my brother did – he had started to act really strangely and was angry all of the time - later he was diagnosed with depression and schizophrenia too. I had so much guilt about this but that’s a blog for another time. However, there are lots of other young carers who do get bullied.
I was pretty lonely and also felt like an outcast. However, I’ve always believed that YOU have the POWER to CHANGE your circumstances and I decided to befriend two other outcasts at school. You know what? We may not have been the coolest kids but one of those girls is still my close friend today – 20 plus years later. She is DEFINITELY a “confidante” of mine. (Incidentally, after years of working out our relationship, so is my Mum. We’ve been through so much together and loved each other the whole way through, so telling her something embarrassing or potentially yuck is a non-issue.)
What makes a good friend? Am I good friend?
"A friendship is a two way thing. You've got to be enjoying it – you've got to get pleasure out of it, so [look at] how you experience pleasure in relationships and what a good friendship is like for you," Dr Ben Buchanan.
- YOU DECIDE what a good friendship looks like to you.
- Give and take. E.g. you both save a seat for each other at lunchtime. Or maybe just making sure that it’s not always one person texting the other first, instead, you both check in with each other.
- You actually have fun together.
- You have things in common... a hobby, sense of humour or maybe you are both young carers?!
- You genuinely care about each other.
Dr Buchanan says that you know that you’re a good friend if you can remember what’s happening/ has happened in your friend’s life and their feelings about that event.
To state the obvious, young carers are CARING people. Which means that you also need to make sure that your friendships are healthy and that’s all about BOUNDARIES. Boundaries are agreed upon rules that help people to feel safe and respected.
Boundaries could be:
- How many times you see each other or talk a week
- The way that you talk to each other e.g. some people might be OK with being teased but teasing might hurt another person’s feelings, depending on how far you take it
- Touch – some people might like to hug and others might prefer not to, or only want to hug people that they know really well
The awesome thing about friendship is that you can always talk to your friend and choose to change boundaries, if you want to. If someone is crossing your boundaries a lot and doesn’t listen to you when you talk to them about it, it might be time to let that friendship go. If you do decide to do this, make sure that your friend knows why; if you just stop talking to them, your friend may not understand and this could hurt their feelings even more.
Young Carers WA can help to. If you meet a young carer that you’d like to stay in touch with, at an event or camp but you’re too shy or miss your chance to exchange details, you can just ask us to pass them along for you. We don’t mind, really!
Friendship and mental health
Caroline Beaton wrote an article called “Why Millennials Are Lonely.” In the article she says that some of the impacts of loneliness are (basically):
- One lonely person can influence a whole group of people to feel lonely
- Less trust and more hostility to other people (also not good for making friends!)
- More social stress
- Increases the risk of death by 26% (insert sad emoji)
- The internet makes us lonely
It’s pretty much a known fact that social media is a double-edged sword. It can both help you and hurt you when it comes to making friends.
- It can be superficial. ESPECIALLY social media that’s all about an image, like Insta or Snapchat.
- It’s FALSE. Even if you’ve got over 100 social media friends, they’re not quality friendships unless you actually talk to and spend time with them, outside of the app.
- Social media is a time sucker! The time that you spend on social media can be spent calling or emailing a real friend, or playing a team sport where you can make friends AND do something that makes you feel good.
- Don’t have the money to play sport? Check out places like Kidsport or the Get Active Project through Communicare. Kidsport can help pay for club memberships. Communicare’s programs are usually free and are for young people from an Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, culturally diverse or at-risk background. A lot of young carers fit into the “at-risk” category.
- You can use social media apps to meet new people and sometimes it’s a lot easier than actually going up to a person and asking if they want to hang out.
- “Sit With Us” is an app that helps you to find someone to sit with at lunchtime. It was actually developed by Natalie Hampton a teenager who got excluded and bullied when she changed schools.
- It’s also SAVES TIME AND MONEY. Most social media apps are free, so even if you have no money of your own, you can still use an app to talk to your friends and make new friends.
- It’s GLOBAL – you can talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime. (This is also where you need to be careful. Make sure you check with a parent before signing up to any social media and make sure that you’re the right age for them.)
If you’d like to explore the topic of friendship more, you can always head to ReachOut.com. They even have a forum where you can talk to other kids and make friends there.
Remember to make sure your parent’s email address is up to date, to be emailed when a new Young Carers WA event or camp comes up and to like our Facebook page for alerts. You can contact us through this website.
If you are feeling lonely, or isolated, Carers WA has counsellors you can talk to, who will listen to you without judgement and help you to find solutions.