How important is connecting with others to you? Can you remember how important this was to you when you were an adolescent?
I can remember having friends mostly grouped around the different sports I played at school, so sometimes they were seasonal groups. From those years, I have my closest friend with whom I am still in touch. We connect from time to time via Skype and will happily chat for an hour about our news, how we are pursuing our dreams, working on a new project and so on. We are able to be totally honest with one another and have lots of humorous moments too!
Not that long ago I was reminded of how important connection is for young people who are having to deal with peer pressure at different levels each and every day.I was watching school sport one Saturday morning.
“I need to give my watch to my mum, can someone come with me?” I overheard a young teenage girl saying. The students were in an Indoor Sports Centre and her mum was sitting less than 100 metres from her, yet she had to have some company when she left her team mates for a couple of minutes.
The power of connection!
There will be reams and reams of research showing how important adolescents feel it is to connect with one another. My own research over many years suggested that one of the key points about adolescents is that they would like to be cared for and loved. It is the unconditional love that will allow them to move out of their comfort zones, risk failure, yet grow as a result of the experience, develop resiliency and be better prepared to face the unknown challenges of an equally unknown future.
A spirit of belonging makes adolescents feel happy and adds to their social and emotional wellbeing.
Education psychologist, Sue Roffey, highlights the positive consequences in communities where there are positive peer relationships:
“When many in a community feel positively connected with each other, this can lead to a level of social capital in which trust and reciprocity predominate and there is a greater chance of supporting each other to attain shared goals. The focus on ‘we’ rather than ‘me’ is in everyone’s interest.”
As mentors of these young people – and as teachers, coaches and parents – we must always ensure that these young people feel safe and secure. When this is the case, meaningful and effective communication occurs.
Adolescents should be encouraged to appreciate that they are more likely to become the best they can be when clear rules or boundaries (some of which can be negotiated) are in place. This is so important, most especially, when working with teenage boys. While they might protest, inwardly most boys appreciate knowing where they stand, although consistency, too, is important to them, along with respect.
When they step over these boundaries, there will be reasonable and fair consequences most of the time (we hope!). Thus they start learning, as their brain is still developing, that the choices they make always have a consequence of some sort.
Thinking about the digital footprint and about relationships, reminds me of a conversation I once had with a student. Grace (not her real name) just wanted to talk about how best to prepare for her final year at school. Indeed, I sensed she simply wanted to talk to someone who would not judge her in any way and, as we began talking and sharing – building that connection – she visibly relaxed and shared some of her fears.
“Are you a perfectionist?” I asked.
She nodded and smiled nervously, then shed a couple of tears.
I smiled. “You have no hope of ever being a perfectionist,” I responded. “So, let’s explore options.”
We talked about different strategies to try out on her journey chasing her dreams, the importance of exercise and having nine hours sleep every night so the brain can capture key knowledge gained during the day, and a whole lot more.
Grace shared a relationship issue she was dealing with and had no-one she felt comfortable talking to about it. I simply listened, acknowledged and shared and watched her relaxing more and more, even breaking into a smile a couple of times.
It was a strange time in many ways, as Grace was seen as a success story at the school, yet she was clearly lacking in confidence in quite a few areas. However, she had had the courage to come and chat to an adult she did not really know and ask for help.
She asked if she could continue to meet with me and, during the next few months, we would meet and look at her schedule, focus on ensuring she was leading a healthy and balanced lifestyle and assess how she was performing in relation to the goals she had set. Most important, though to me, were the two significant and memorable statements she shared with me during those months, though at different times.
“I leave my mobile phone in another room at night so I am not distracted by it.”
“I have had nine hours sleep almost every night and I can see the difference it has made.”
Grace achieved excellent academic results at the end of her final year at school and went on to study at University feeling well prepared for her tertiary studies.
I read somewhere quite some time ago that one of the biggest, most common complaints adolescents have of adults is the failure of the latter to LISTEN! My conversations with Grace reminded me of the importance of this key communication skill and making the other person feel special while they were sharing their journey with me.
I have a feeling that Grace might be a trailblazer one day … but what she reminded me of during that conversation, as did the young girl wanting company while she took her watch to her mum, is the power of positive relationships – connection – and how important these relationships are not just in adolescent lives, but in all of our lives.
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.