Do you ever wonder why a teenager you are trying to communicate with seems to be on another planet?
Most of us have probably asked ourselves that question from time to time. As teenagers journey through their adolescent years and their brains are still developing, they, too, are confused and trying to respond to so many questions they are asking themselves, examples of which might include: Who am I? Where am I going? What do others think of me?
Well, perhaps, it’s a good time to pause and allow a teenager to share her thoughts with you which may or may not help your relationships with these young people.I encourage young people to become the best they can be, so their goals and tasks are set by themselves. They then don’t have to compare themselves with anyone else and can simply measure how they are doing against those personal developmental goals. It’s a wonderful self-empowering journey.
Like the Kite surfer, many of whom develop their skills in the sea close to where I live, it’s all about practise, practise, practise and persevering so that, in the end,, as neuroscience educator Judy Willis, said, “practice makes permanent”, ie, in this case, the skills are embedded in the brain and so, when the Kite surfer is battling the ocean, he or she reacts instinctively to circumstances as they have trained their brain through practise.
As a mentor, parent, coach or teacher, whatever your role might be, the one non-negotiable requirement these days is the importance of face to face communication. There are plenty of reasons for this, most especially because of the challenges of young people spending plenty of time on digital devices, social media and so on, thus often struggling to interpret body language, understand facial gestures and lots more linked to face to face communication.
Within this context I was reminded of an article I read a number of years ago and have often referred to since.
When Jessica Manning was 16, she shared some thinking about how teenagers could be treated by adults. Her thoughts contain some great tips for volunteer adults of adolescent mentees to this day:
1. Responsibility: give us a chance to prove to you that we can be responsible.
2. Respect: treat us like you’d like to be treated.
3. Trust: don’t judge us just because we are teenagers … Not all of us are bad.
4. Give us a chance: to make mistakes, learn from experience and to explain our opinion or our side of the story.
5. Care: let us know you care.
6. Support: we need support; we need to be reassured we are doing the right thing.
7. Understanding: listen to what we have to say and understand that we have stresses and problems too. Although they may seem insignificant to you, they are big to us. Being a teenager is not easy: understand this.
8. Balance: don’t leave us totally alone. We need you to catch us if we fall.
9. Give us praise: when we do things that are good or make the right decisions.
10. Freedom: it may be hard but let us go. We have to leave our own footprints and make our own decisions and mistakes. Part of growing up is finding out who we are, what we value and what we need as a person. Only we alone can make that journey.
Source: Jessica Manning (aged 16 years), New Zealand Herald, 11 April 2001
Jessica shares some useful advice to those of us working with young people. Indeed, empathetic mentoring requires most of those qualities I have highlighted above.
By praising the effort, not the actual result, we are developing a more resilient young person motivated to push on, move out of their comfort zone and see how far they can be stretched because we are the constant in their lives, the non-judgmental Cheerleaders.
Indeed, an interesting conversation to have with your mentee might focus on the question: ‘What 5 tips would you give to anyone working with teenagers’?
About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, 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 see his short daily mentoring tips on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook (where you are able to join a closed mentoring group) or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website Robin’s free Mentoring Matters daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.