Scientific evidence clearly shows that developing life skills, such as intellectual autonomy, self-esteem, critical thinking and the ability to resist peer pressure is the most effective prevention of risky behaviours. It also improves performance at school and has a positive effect on the school climate. Moreover, it allows reducing social inequalities among students. This is why France is strongly committed to promoting life skills both at national and international level.
Listen First marks a change of paradigm in the prevention approach. We initiated this initiative in 2016, during the United Nations General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the World Drug Problem, together with UNODC, WHO, and the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs of Sweden. The main aim was to insist on the role of adults not just as the ones who deliver messages, but also the ones who are available. We wanted to insist on the importance that they make time for children and adolescents, on the importance of listening to them, to their fears and their difficulties as well as their successes and dreams. On the importance of being there for them, as the very first step to help them grow healthy and safe.
More than 30 countries and organizations from all continents adhered to the initiative, well beyond our expectations, and this means that the simple message of Listen First hits right.
The pandemic has changed our way of living in many ways. Besides the heavy health, social and economic impacts, the relations between people have changed. We keep distances, we wear masks, we have less occasions to stay together, external, social and cultural activities are very limited. Many young people cannot go to school and are therefore deprived of education but also from social life. And in this particular context, listening within the family is even more important. The current global situation creates uncertainty, anxiety, and distress and forces us to deal with our vulnerabilities.
On the other hand, many people spend less time commuting and therefore may have more time available, and we have access to an immense amount of information and knowledge through the internet. The challenges are how can we grow despite this situation, how can we cope individually and collectively, where can we find the purpose, how could we make full use of the time we may have gained?
Listening is the first step to establish contact with another person, to understand the other, especially nowadays that we often cannot see each other.
I really hope the messages and information provided by Listen First will spread further among health workers, parents, teachers, policymakers and people in general, to contribute to the development of life skills.
More broadly, in an era where we seem to have an opinion on everything and we tend to share it, I think Listen First may be an invitation to step back for a second, to breathe and simply pay more attention to others, to discover that in the end, what we have in common is much more than what differentiates us.
Made possible with the generous support of France.