“When it comes down to it, we all just want to be loved.” (John Yellin (14))
What is it that tugs at your heart strings and wants you to interact with adolescents?
This is a question I have been asking myself during the past week as I collate my research on the adolescent brain and interact with a couple of adolescents who have asked me to mentor them.
There are days when I wish I had a magic wand and could connect with every young person who just wants to feel loved and cared for, reach out to them and encourage them to become the best they can be. It’s this passion that is deeply rooted in my heart and soul that led me to become a teacher, sports coach, set up youth mentoring programs, peer mentoring programs, train student leaders and run Life Skills workshops for adolescents.
During the past week I have experienced four different moments that have pulled at my heart strings and reminded me of the massive global need for mentoring programs.
I follow a fairly self-disciplined daily routine these days.
I wake up and, enjoying a cup of tea, do my Quiet Time before heading off on a 6km old man’s jog along the sea front, a good opportunity to reflect and enjoy the beauty of the sunrise. After a shower I head off to the local News Agent to purchase the daily newspaper. I am a newspaper addict, not wanting the electronic version, rather the hard copy tabloid, which, I am sure is better for my aging eyes.
Last week, while returning from the News Agent, I passed a couple of bus shelters where young students were awaiting the bus to transport them to school. Some were listening to music, others on their mobile phones, others standing quietly, leaning against the bus shelter waiting for the bus.
I wanted to stop the car and ask each student what their story was. “How are you feeling today? What are your hopes and dreams? How can I help you?”
Of course, I did not do this, though I could tell from the body language of one or two students, they probably could do with some encouragement. Then again, it was relatively early in the morning for most of them and I wondered how many had had the all-important nine hours sleep.
In Australia a popular TV show on at the moment is The Voice, an opportunity for young and old to showcase their singing talents in the hope that they can progress through the show, gain coaching from experienced celebrities on the way and eventually be The 2017 Australian Voice. What tugs at my heart strings, though, are the stories some of the contestants share, how they have had to overcome obstacles, tough times, families not functioning too well, bullying and so on. How so many would have benefitted from that significant adult non-judgmental Cheerleader in their lives.
Another story making headlines at the moment is about a family tragedy in Queensland. During the 2011 floods a mum and her teenage son were trapped in their car as the floodwater rose. While a younger son was rescued, the mum and teenage son were washed away and drowned. Questions are being asked about the investigation into the incident, the failure of emergency personnel to be notfied of what was going on when the mum called for help and much more. The surviving young son, now an adolescent, has dropped out of school and, according to his still grieving and angry dad, seems to have no purpose in life. All I want to do is offer to mentor this young man and take him to a place where he sees HOPE in the future, identifies some dreams and chases them.
My fourth moment was reading a page of the Be Mentor youth mentoring program on LinkedIn, which began by pointing out that “15 million children woke up today without a caring adult in their lives. Their environments are that of violence, gangs, drugs and educational deficiencies, Children of incarcerated parents typically go to jail. Dependents of welfare recipients typically become dependent on government subsistence. Youth who are substance abusers often die before contributing to society. And teenage parents have fewer options for success.”
In my world this is saying that more than twice the population of New Zealand or over half the population of Australia have no caring person in their lives. A staggering statistic and I feel so helpless at not being able to do anything to be a global mentor to all of them.
So, I come down to earth again and remember Ella (not her real name), who has asked me to mentor her. She is dealing with some challenges at the moment, yet is a courageous young woman who will work through the challenges. Last week we exchanged mobile numbers. We have agreed that, if she is having a tough day, she can SMS me and simply say something like, “I’m struggling today.” I’ll SMS her back with a word of encouragement. If she has a spectacularly celebratory moment, she’ll SMS me as well. My role? The non-judgmental Cheerleader, sowing messages of encouragement and HOPE so she will keep on keeping on and become the best she can be.
There are many ways to encourage our mentees, thus enhancing our relationships with them and, in a way, responding to John Yellin’s comment above that young people just want to be loved. These might include:
- caring for mentees unconditionally;
- laughing a lot and having heaps of fun;
- celebrating birthdays;
- creating a safe and secure environment, where the mentee feels a sense of belonging;
- always turning up for meetings;
- doing your best not to quit;
- listening to EVERY word;
- celebrating the successes of your mentee, no matter how small it might appear to be (it could be massive in the mentee’s life);
- believing in your mentee and letting him or her know it; identifying their resilient qualities/strength and promoting them;
- being open-minded and flexible;
- exploring new options and opportunities together;
- respecting, valuing and acknowledging their suggestions;
- teaching and coaching them that it’s okay to make mistakes, while encouraging them to learn from the experience;
- teaching and coaching them how to work through difficulties;
- standing alongside them no matter what!
- inspiring and sharing a sense of curiosity and creativity;
- always being available.
A few years ago, Dr Emmy Werner, Research Professor of Human Development at the University of California, a global expert in the area of resiliency, shared some of the work she and others had undertaken following about 700 people on Kauai (Hawaii) over a 30 year period. Many of the children were growing up in high risk areas of poverty where there was drug and alcohol abuse and many other complex issues. Yet the overwhelming majority of them ended up gaining a sound education and entering careers that allowed them to lead positive and stable lives. What was significant in the development of these resilient young people, in addition to their competence in basic reading skills, which Werner stated was a critical factor in their personal development, was that most of them had gone into their communities and found an adult mentor who became their non-judgmental Cheerleader and guided them through their adolescent years on the journey to becoming adults.
Werner concluded her time of sharing by saying, “We’ve learned from them (the young people) that competence and confidence and caring can flourish, even under adverse circumstances. If children encounter persons who provide them with a secure basis for the development of trust, autonomy, initiative, and competence they can successfully overcome the odds. That success brings hope, realistic hope. And that is a gift each of us can share….. The rediscovery of the healing powers of hope may be the most precious harvest you can glean in the work you do – for yourself and for the youngsters whose lives you touch.”
So, what I must do in my interactions with Ella and others is continue to sow messages of encouragement and HOPE!
How will you interact with your mentee or other young people who cross paths with you? What messages of HOPE will you sow?
About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organiser, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in Australia and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can join him on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook or contact him through his YES! website