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Posted on: January 13, 2021

Today on the blog we have a guest post from Nick Wright, a psychological coach with a wealth of youth work experience. Nick has written a short e-resource for those who work with young people around the issues of labels and being labelled. Nick explains more in the post below and you can download the resource here.

In an age when young people find themselves increasingly defined by labels, questions of identity are often up front and centre in young people’s minds. There are, of course, many ways in which young people can identify themselves and each other, whether by, e.g. gender, race, culture, sport, dress, music, games, or number of likes and followers on Instagram or TikTok. Facing the complexity of multiple identities, both self- and socially-constructed, can feel bewildering and anxiety-provoking.

I worked with one group of young people in the Philippines who aspired, in the future, to become teachers and social workers. I mentioned I had noticed skin-whitening products in the local shops and invited them to tell me a bit more about that, including their feelings about it. Person after person stepped forward to talk about the pressure to be whiter, the shame of being brown-skinned and the felt-impact of their parents apologising to friends and family that their child’s skin was so dark.

The impacts of self- and socially-imposed identities, whether white, black or any other label, can be deeply profound. Having spoken with young people in places as diverse as the UK, Germany, Tunisia, Israel, China and the Philippines, I see the same psychological and cultural patterns being played out. The ways in which we define ourselves and each other have a significant influence on what we notice (and don’t), what sense we make of the world and ourselves, how we feel and what we do.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the Bible reverberates throughout with issues of identity and, related to that, issues of purpose. We see God changing people’s names (e.g. Abram to Abraham in Genesis 17:5; Simon to Peter in John 1:42); Jesus’ radical reframing of a young person’s apparent state of death, from a uniquely divine perspective (Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5:35-42); John describing the most incredible transformation of identity from children of natural birth, to children of God (John 1:12-13).

This is the power of re-definition at work, vitalised by the Holy Spirit. If I find the behaviour of a young person difficult and I change my definition of that person from ‘trouble’ to, say, ‘trouble-d’, I can notice a shift in my perspective, how I feel and what I’m likely to do in response. If I change my question from, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ to, ‘What has happened to you?’, a similar shift occurs. It’s about changing definitions prayerfully and, with it, changing our stance to see what then becomes possible.

Nick Wright is a psychological coach and trainer who works with charities, NGOs and churches in the UK and internationally. Nick was former Youth & Community Work consultant for the Shaftesbury Society and former practice tutor for Youth & Community Work students at Oasis Trust. (