How to show teenagers that quitting is a choice

How to show teenagers that quitting is a choice

How many times did you quit as a teenager? What were the reasons for that choice?

I have spent time in recent weeks thinking of times when I might have quit on something, especially as a teenager, and regretted it.

I was an active sportsman and I distinctly remember quitting on trying to achieve a top place in a 1500 meter race during our School Athletics Day. I did not want to train and represent the School in another big Athletics meet.

I was playing two other sports at the time and did not feel I could manage another. Funny, though, how I remember this so vividly over 40 years later. When I am out jogging in the morning, I replay those moments. Even though I could justify my decision, there is definitely a regret that I did not push myself to the limit in that race.

I quit on school work from time to time. This was often because I either found the work boring or could not see the relevance of studying a particular subject and, therefore, was unmotivated to learn. Then I became a teacher and could share many stories with young people, from my personal experiences, how NOT to behave.

What has all this to do with the spirit of mentoring?

Well, I guess I was making choices at a young age, some of which were poor and others did not matter too much.

With my academic studies I sometimes have regrets that I never actually pushed myself, so I have no idea how competent I really am. In my first year at University, I had an amazing History teacher, who was also a Professor (in her 70s) and my Tutor. I gained a distinction at the end of that year. It was the only time in my academic career I ever gained a distinction. Interesting!

Dr Caroline Leaf, a communication pathologist and audiologist, who has worked in the area of cognitive neuroscience since 1985 and who has carried out pioneering work on neuroplasticity – whereby changes in thinking actually change the brain and can impact behavioral change – wrote a great book, Switch on Your Brain – The Key to PEAK HAPPINESS, THINKING and Health.

In the Prologue she writes: “The great news is that we are wired for love, which means our mental circuitry is wired only for the positive, and we have a natural optimism bias wired into us. Our default mode is one of being designed to make good choices. So our bad choices and reactions were wired in by our choices, and therefore can be wired out. Our brain is neuroplastic – it can change and regrow. In addition, God has built in the operating principle of neurogenesis – new nerve cells are birthed daily for our mental benefit…”

The spirit of mentoring is about reaching out to every young person and being their non-judgmental cheerleader. It is about sitting down and listening, listening, listening. What are your priorities? How can I help you? How can I support you?

It is about shaping these responses into a story that might involve the young person choosing to set goals, sharing them with you and being accountable to you to deliver on them. As the cheerleader, you will encourage, guide, shape and refine as and when necessary.

It is the unconditional love and care that is going to make the difference.

When I was a teenager I had some great sport coaches. One of them in particular believed in me and quietly encouraged me. He could see the potential I had which I was not seeing. He gave me opportunities to grow as a player and team member, quietly encouraging me over and over again. I spent extra hours practicing and, when I wanted to quit, I remembered all the positive encouragement he had offered me. I pushed on through the tough times and eventually gained higher honors.

When a young person has a mentor alongside him or her who quietly encourages, cheers from the sidelines, catches the young person doing good, looks for strengths and names them, that young person is unlikely to become a quitter.

The spirit of mentoring is taking ownership of the thinking Caroline Leaf shares above with messages of HOPE.

Well known actress, Audrey Hepburn, shared these wonderful words which echo so many powerful spirit of mentoring tips:

“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed: never throw out anyone. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands: one for helping yourself and the other for helping others.”

The key message about not quitting? If you are working with young people and listening to them, NEVER QUIT on them. That is also their consistent message to mentors which I have heard time and time again during mentor program reviews. Embrace it. Believe it.

Did someone you know ever quit on you? Or have you ever quit on someone and regretted the decision afterwards? Maybe you have a story about quitting and not quitting to share with a young person trying to find their way, trying to distinguish the wood from the trees? You could be the game-changer in that young person’s life when you connect with him or her with your heart.

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 New Zealand 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 Minutes daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.