Case Study: The Youth Identity Project

by Caroline Stott

Caroline Stott has a background in Community Education and Development, and graduated from Kingstown College in 2015. For 15 years she was employed at Managerial level for organisations that work with women, children and young people and she travelled America, Africa and Asia as a training facilitator. Caroline combined her newly acquired coaching tools, and experience of working with young people, to develop a very exciting initiative.

“There was almost a sense of relief from the young women taking part as they realised the space created was safe, truthful and non judgmental.” 

My move to County Clare in 2016 coincided with Clare Youth Service embarking on a very exciting new project that would provide me with the opportunity to use coaching tools in a group work setting with young women.  I was fortunate enough to take up a specific purpose contract with Clare Youth Service and began working on designing a programme and toolkit for youth workers that is now called The Youth Identity Project. This new project was identified through a group of young people who make up Younger Voices, a sub group of the Board of Directors of Clare Youth Service.  The group meet regularly to advocate for young people and discuss relevant issues and concerns.  A recurring theme in their meetings for quite some time has been the growing pressure on girls and young women arising from social and print media – pressure to behave and dress in a certain manner, to look a certain way, to judge and be judged on the choices they make.   Out of their discussions came the idea to design a programme to create a space for girls and young women to take time out and think about who they want to be, make informed choices and be clear and confident in their sense of self.

The target group for the programme is young women ages 16-17 years old and when designing the programme I met regularly with Younger Voices, young women ages 16-17 accessing Clare Youth Service and Youth Workers from across the County.

When researching the programme young women talked about the constant bombardment of messages through advertising, social media, tv, films, magazines that present the idea of a ‘perfect woman’ that they should strive to be.  The pressure they feel to try to achieve and conform to this unrealistic ideal in order to ‘fit in’ results in young women often acting or behaving in a way that is not true to themselves.  We also discussed the constantly evolving nature of advertising and how it adopts new platforms and technologies, (such as social media) to target young women.   With this in mind we decided to ground the sessions in the topics that are universally identified as the foundations of identity, in the hope that upon completion of the programme young women are better equipped to cope with the evolving pressures they are facing.   The topics we identified are regularly covered in life coaching sessions – for example self esteem, values, self-belief and self-care.   I began to design the programme using life coaching tools and techniques and adapting them to a group work setting.  The programme uses powerful questions from coaching to encourage group discussion, reflection, learning and growth.   A range of facilitation styles are utilised to keep the group engaged at all times and sessions include the use of art, games, group challenges, problem solving and debates.

The draft programme was piloted with some fantastic young women in 3 groups at youth centres in Lisdoonvarna, Ennis and Ennistymon.  With the support from Jean O’Keefe (Youth Work Manager) and Margaret Slattery (CEO) we have created a programme and user friendly resource pack for youth workers which is non-judgemental, accessible and, most importantly, relevant for girls and young women.    As well as the three pilot groups I have also facilitated the final programme with groups in Tuamgraney and another group in Ennis.  The groups varied in size from 6 to 11 group members and when the young women committed to the programme during the first session attendance levels for the following weeks were excellent.

The successful design of the Youth Identity Project Toolkit was celebrated at its official launch in January 2018. The toolkit contains a step-by-step guide on how to facilitate the 8 sessions and is fully equipped with all the handouts and resources required to deliver the programme.

I have no doubt that one to one coaching can be very impactful and effective for young people, however I feel young people are desperate to have honest, face to face conversations with each other and this is what this programme allows young women to do.   One of the young women who participated in the programme explained it from her point of view saying – “I’ve known everyone in this group for 15 years and this is the first time we are having conversations about real and important stuff.”  There was almost a sense of relief from the young women taking part as they realised the space created was safe, truthful and non judgmental.  Each week I noticed the young women taking part became more open and confident to share their true unique selves.

The sessions are as follows:

1:  Introduction and Identity

Through fun and engaging ice breakers and games group members get to know each other and begin to explore the meaning of identity and what defines a persons identity.

Similar to the contract created between coach and client, the group make their own contract that sets out what they need from each other in order for the group sessions to take place in a safe, trusting and supportive environment.

  1. Identity Crisis

This session is very interactive and involves the group playing a fun, large scale juggling game.  The items being juggled represent something group members feel are influencing their identity for example beauty products, advertising on social media, television, magazines, billboards, movies.   Also any influence from parents, peers and teachers.   With so many items to juggle the game typically ends in chaos with the items dropping everywhere symbolising how challenging it is for young women to cope with the many influences at play.  Group members debrief the game by discussing how they cope as individuals with the many influences, and how they manage to hear their own true voice that guides the choices they make.

  1. Balloons and Busters

This session supports group members to define and explore what self-esteem means to them.  Large cut outs of balloons are posted on walls around the room and group members write up on the balloons the answer to:

  • What makes me feel good about myself?

Large cut outs of arrows are then posted on the walls pointing towards the balloons symbolising the ‘busters’ and group members write responses on the arrows to:

  • What brings me down?

The discussion and sharing that follows this activity is very powerful with many group members sharing personal stories and opening up.   The session goes on to discuss how group members can best cope with the busters in order to maintain healthy self-esteem.

Similar to life coaching group members leave this session with a goal.  They are to follow a self-care plan they create, and report back the next week on how it went and if it made a difference.

  1. The Woman in the Mirror

This session encourages group members to reflect on how their self-beliefs are influencing their sense of confidence and identity.  Reflective activities and individual work on self-beliefs (similar to a one to one coaching session) are followed by a wider group discussion where group members share how they feel about themselves, and what self- beliefs are holding them back.   Group members are encouraged to create positive ‘I am ….’  affirmations.   The group also discuss the power of language and how the words that are often used to describe women, or statements and remarks made in reference to women can impact on their own confidence and identity.

  1. Picture Perfect

Clippings from magazines and social media aimed at young women and also the wider public are collaged together to create an image that reflects how women are represented in the media.   Group members discuss the collage, and how the way women are typically represented in the media can impact on their identity and self-esteem.

  1. Values

Group members explore the meaning of values and the facilitator supports them to get used to language used for values by sharing some examples.   This is followed by a discussion based on scenarios that are relevant to young women today demonstrating where values show up in people’s lives.   Similar to one to one coaching, the facilitator guides group members through an exercise that encourages them to name their top values and share with the wider group how they feel they are living those values.   After completing the programme many group members stated this was an eye opening session.  It was the first time they were given the opportunity to become aware of their values and how they link to their identity.

  1. Values and Relationships

This session uses the previous learning on values as a platform to discuss what values are important for group members in a healthy relationship.   Scenarios are used to prompt a discussion around the indicators of an unhealthy relationship, and group members then go on to state values that need to be honoured in their own healthy relationships.

8:  Self care and closure

This last session pulls together all the learning from previous sessions.  Group members create a collage of words and images that represent their identity along with a self-care plan.   They are also given the opportunity to share their learning’s and feedback on the programme.

The final reflection piece invites the group to explore the idea that the most important relationship they will have in their lives is the one they have with themselves.   Group members discuss the importance of nurturing their self-esteem, confidence, self-belief, self-care, and staying aware of their values and if they change as they grow older.

I believe this group work programme is a fantastic example of how life coaching can be adapted to a group work setting to benefit young people.  If anyone is interested in learning more, would like a resource pack, or training on the programme please do get in touch.

Finally, this project would not have been possible without the commitment and funding from an incredible group of women who are member of the Clare Ladies Cycling Club.  The Youth Service and the young women who participated in this project are indebted to them for their support.

Feedback from young women has been incredibly encouraging with comments including:

“Taking part in The Youth Identity Project has helped me understand things about myself and become more confident”

“Before the programme my appearance was the most important thing to me in terms of my identity, now it’s my values, beliefs, self-love, the stuff on the inside”

“It’s been very eye opening and anyone who is a girl should get the change to do it”

“There were things that were difficult to talk about but they were things we NEED to talk about and I’m glad we did”

“Made me realise things that impact/influence me that I hadn’t considered before”

“The programme was excellent because you were able to talk about real things instead of avoiding them”

Caroline Stott

Freelance Coach specialising in working with young people