This article is a reflection of the state of teenager's minds between ages 15 and 19 in Uganda. The teenagers were given free range to ask a visiting psychologist any questions they would like the guest to answer. The following is an analysis and reflection of the teenager's questions. This enquiry took place in a Catholic school for boarders and day students in Uganda about 100 students took part aged from 15 to 19 years old, in their normal careers class, in which different guests come to discuss their work and history. This helps the students have some insight into differing work for their own future study and employment. On this occasion the guest was myself. I introduced what psychologists do in various fields and how I personally was attracted to the work initially. Many students put up their hands to ask questions and in the second half hour many wrote them out and passed them to the front for me to read and explain. Unfortunately I could not answer so many questions and had to give very brief answers and demonstrated models of psychological thought on the blackboard. At the end of the period many opted to stay for extra time rather than go for their evening meal – so an additional half hour of talk was given until I closed the session to allow them to eat. Uganda is a poor country run on tribal democracy with inert corruption and relationships for favour. Unemployment is high and the future for many students is not bright. The catholic school is run on religious grounds with strict segregation of the sexes outside the class. The school has a good academic reputation with many students going on to university places. The system is based on the British A level curriculum. Uganda has a past history of rampant HIV infections and although the government report a downturn this maybe more to do with less getting infected over-all as so many are infected already. Students are aware of AIDs and STD's but have little understanding of the risks over-all. Early sexual experimentation is the norm despite the religious strictures of the regime.
While many of the students asked about my work as a psychologist many were in fact about sexual matters, relationships and intrusive thoughts that prevent them from normal study. Some asked about cases in therapy – normal interest in what goes on behind closed doors. Below is a list of the written questions asked but not the oral ones? I have left the grammar as it was, rather than corrections as this gives a better flavour of the mind-set of the writer. I changed some where the meaning was not clear. If it was obviously a male or female, I have ended the line with an F or M, where it was not obvious then N for neutral.
How can I help my friend who flirts with her male friends – F
What is the best age difference in marriage – N
Since we are in school it's not good to have attraction to the opposite sex – N
How can one control his or her feelings – N
I would like to know the meaning of Guten Natch and Frenuty – N
Is it a crime for people our age to fall in love? Am asking this because here in Uganda parents discourage it rudely wit even punishment. – N
Just want to ask as a dealer in the Mind thought how would I deal with a thought that is so intense and causes a headache, it is terrible – help me out – N
What causes heart attacks when one is excited, annoyed and stressed and what does it mean when he/she blinks one eye? – N
I'm very reserved person what can I do to least share some of me secrets with my close pals, please help me – M
What can you do to fight a huge crush – F
How can I stop over thinking instead of reading I'm taken up by thoughts – N
I have a problem and it is that I may have a crush on a girl and one I make manifestations to her, like I really love her, the next day I after she has told me she loves me too, I feel I have totally lost interest in her and I feel she does not have any impact on my life. – M
We have an obsession with gadgets like tablets, beats' laptops, we are really dying what can we do? – N
Is that if you are to be a psychologist you have to particularly go through the medical school – N
We are going to have a leaver's party next term and I am looking for a party date. Some girl has applied what should I do accept or not, help me – M
Aren't people afraid of you? Many people do not want to find out that someone knows what they thinking – N
Please tell me how to relationships in school – N
How can you know that somebody really loves you? In case one has a boy or girl friend and really that person tells you he / she loves you how can you know or trust that person – F
I have a problem I am so sensitive in that someone can tell me something small but I change it into something big please I need your advice,
Can you help me interpret these words – lust, affection and love -M
Thank you for your service, how can I deal with a teacher who nags me always, especially a teacher of the opposite sex? – F
Do assassins fall in love with women or with killing? – M
If you love someone you can't easily get to yourself and to the worse she does not love you, what to do? – M
How does it feel to keep secrets as a psychologist because some of them are really outrageous? Doesn't it overwhelm you aren't you stressed out by this – F
I have a problem I see always many girls all very beautiful and I feel like falling in love with all of them. What can I do? – M
Is it bad to falling love at school if you can really manage to balance both books and love? – F
I would like to be a computer engineer in the future but am scared about getting employment in the future as per now most of the students in my country is offering perm It what should I do? – M
How can one improve reasoning – M
Can you explain how you can read someone's mind because I think you people are liars because what I know is that it is only God who can read minds so please if you are liars tell us? – N
How can I fight over thinking about things that are not real, could it be a phobia – N
How does it feel to be a psychologist – N
I have accepted and I want you to tell me exactly what I am thinking now – Africans believe after a prove – M
How can one control anger? – N
How do you or how are we supposed to deal with many thoughts when the thoughts come your way because we are always affected in out academics – N
Thanks for your presence here – in fact I really have a big problem, I am short tempered girl in that even though someone does something small I just react right away of which I am almost losing all my friends – please help me out – how can I stop this – F
How would you control or avoid relationships like when the girl is more interested in you than you are interested in her. It's hard to tell her straight forward that I don't need you – M
Many of us have teachers we hate in school like we do not feel comfortable when they are around what should we do to avoid this – N
I have a problem of too much obsession on gadgets like tablets, beats; laptops and many hand held things like play station and Nintendo. Other gadgets hand held they take me a lot – what can I do – M
I was raped but up to now I still recall that day. What should I do to forget because right now my life is miserable? – F
As you can see many of the questions can be seen as typical teenager concerns in any country. Some highlight immediate concerns and are very much here and now thinking. Very few asked about the future or what it might be like to be an adult working in the world there concerns are immediate. The last question about a rape victim caused some concern as the questions were anonymous and therefore we could not identify the girl in question. Most questions were read out loud to the other students and then the psychologist gave the best brief answer he could to satisfy each one. Time did not allow all to be addressed and the rape question was not read out or answered publicly.
The questions were analysed into groups, 40% asked about relationships mostly concerned with how to understand others feelings, 34% were cognitive emotional concerning internal feelings of the self such as anger, frustration and emotional conflict, 11% were about cognitive addictions such as computer use, social websites and game playing, 4% covered others, language etcetera and the remaining 11% were career questions such as how to find work, what is it like to be a psychologist etc.
Many students were concerned with love and friendship relationships as a cause of heart-ache interfering with study. They felt a lot of cognitive dissonance in the sense that their priority was study but, their hormones dragged them towards seeking a mate for company and pleasure. HIV is rampant in Uganda and many young people are born HIV positive and many catch it from early sexual experiences here (non-condom culture amongst men). Many of the men are promiscuous as adults in Uganda especially married men. As a social learning insight many young boys see older males engaged in risky sex and relationships outside the home and so the norm is set early that it is OK to be polygamous. The girls report more crushes but maybe seeking conformation of their own attractiveness and so engage in open flirting as a means to access boy's attention. The boys enjoy the chase but not the commitment later and so once a girl is showing long term interest they engage in self destructive behaviour in order to break up with the girl and start seeking another.
Cognitive Emotional (34%)
Many students asked questions about how to control their emotions, many girls reported suppressed anger, irritation at small things, while the boys were more concerned about future fear where they were uncertain about careers or how to be successful in a country as poor as Uganda. Intrusive thoughts were reported by both sexes where they felt obsessed by repeated fears and cares. This stopped them from concentrating at school and being easily distracted from working. I included here the one question of coping with a rape. This could not be answered in class, and I could not identify the girl in question. The school counsellor was informed in confidence to be vigilant to the girls needs should she come forward herself.
Cognitive Addictive (11%)
This percentage maybe under-estimated as many students do not see time spent on technology as an addiction but clearly some did. Many boys in particular fail in study as they are gaming most nights and distracted by mobile phone texting and replying. Psychologists used to fear the effect of television on study but modern mobile devices make TV look tame in comparison to interfering with study time. Some students clearly recognised they had a problem with not being able to choose to study over gaming or mobile usage. When you receive a message they felt compelled to answer straight away even if engaged in something more important. This can also be seen in adults that answer mobiles in the middle of conversations as if the phone takes priority over the person you are actually with. Good manners have suffered greatly in recent generations towards others.
Most of these questions covered jobs, training and future industries. There was doubt in many students' minds about opportunities for their future to work. Other questions were more directly concerned with my visit as a psychologist and their curiosity about what I do and if I could really read minds. It was interesting that many evoked God as all seeing and did not believe in Darwinism. As a scientist you have to tread carefully with religion as logic does not apply to faith. It is always an ethical dilemma to stick to your own principals without stepping on any sensitive toes.
These were the unexpected odd questions you always get such as what did these German words mean, what is psychiatry, why are teachers inhuman to students, do you believe in Hell? I answered most of these with a tinge of humour and good heart.
The exercise here was to look at the sort of questions teenagers ask from a select group from a Catholic school in Uganda and reflect on if they are universal concerns as in the USA or UK or that they are particular to black teenagers in Uganda. Modern teenagers can be said to have more communication avenues than past generations and more technology distractions than before. Many new applications on mobile phones allow search options within a 100 metres direction of anyone your age or interests who are also logged on. Many students lack face to face interactions but instead rely on text messages which allow more open and flirtatious interaction without the embarrassment of being there in person. The over-all obsession is definitely young love and relationships and this is taking as much as 40% of their activity over school work. Lack of maturity and insight to sexual matters have put Uganda clearly in the situation of early pregnancies, social sexual diseases and an increase in mental health problems in the future.