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Are you one of those adolescents who feel comfortable talking and sharing your daily challenges of life with your friends? If yes, you are not alone. You are like the majority of the adolescents.

Findings from surveys, both globally and locally have shown that young people turn to each other quite easily for information or help on matters related to growing-up such as physical and emotional changes that they are experiencing as they become adults. They also tend to discuss issues related to relationships, feelings for their girlfriends/boyfriends and on falling in love.

Why do the majority of adolescents connect to their peers and not so easily to their parents? Peers mean friends who could be their classmates, of more or less the same age group and whom they mix with and do things together. In other words, their own circle of friends. Here are some views given by adolescents:

“My parents? Teachers? Hmm…hmm…I don’t dare to ask them what it is like to fall in love. They will question me instead of telling me the facts. They may jump to the conclusion that I am in love!”

“My parents? They don’t seem comfortable. Neither do I, should we talk about body changes, for example, wet dreams and about girlfriends.”

“They don’t seem to understand us. There is this generation gap. They are so many curfews…. we can’t do this and we can’t do that”.

“It is so easy to talk to my friends. They are cool…they know what we are going through, they are also experiencing all these growing-up stuff. They do not condemn us. At least they listen to us, even if they are not able to help us a lot. They are there for us, even in difficult times”.

Do these voices of young people sound familiar to you? It is true that most adolescents can relate better with their peers and that there are adults who can be judgmental, insensitive, not approachable and instead of listening, they do a lot of questioning.

But hang on…. the reality is that adolescents may not be able to receive the actual help they need from their peers which they can get from adults. Furthermore, adults who are caring, sensitive, non-judgmental and knowledgeable can provide more help than their peers. However, everybody accepts the fact that young people can help one another and such peer to peer interaction should be encouraged.

Some of you may have at one time or another became a peer educator or a peer para-counsellor to your friends. Being a peer educator means you help your friends step by step to obtain information and skills. In doing so, you help to provide a base for your friend to make responsible choices on how he/she wants to act or behave. The role of a peer para-counsellor is to help your friends to see or understand their problems more clearly, to look into the possible actions or solutions and the consequences of each of these possible actions/solutions. By taking your friends through this process, you are helping him/he to make their own judgment on the best action to take to overcome the problem.

You may have a natural talent for para-counselling but being exposed to an organized training programme will definitely make you a more effective para-counsellor.

What are some of the personal characteristics that you will require to be a good para-counsellor? You will need to be friendly, open-minded, non-judgmental, emotionally balanced, sensitive, knowledgeable and being a good listener. You should also be an approachable person. You don’t have to be a “perfectionist”, but you should not be involved in risk-taking behaviours such as smoking, being violent or joining gangs. You must also have the commitment in wanting to help others and willing to spare your time to attend training and self-development activities to further improve your knowledge and skills.

Are you interested to be a peer educator or peer para-counsellor?
The Federation of Family Planning Associations, Malaysia (FFPAM) and its 13 member State Family Planning Associations (FPAs) conduct training for young people who are interested to be peer educators or peer para-counsellors on sexual and reproductive health via youth camps. You can contact FFPAM via email at ffpam@po.jaring.my or ffpam2@tm.net.my or the nearest State FPA.

Piaro Kaur,
Head,Programme Services

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