14 practical ways you can encourage and support teenagers from high risk environments

14 practical ways you can encourage and support teenagers from high risk environments

“Kids don’t need independence, they need interdependence. People are homeless because they have no functioning human relationships in their lives. Who in this society can live independently? All human beings want to belong somewhere.” (Pat O’Brien – founder of You Gotta Believe Program for older foster teens in New York)

Have you worked with young people from high-risk environments or from families that are not functioning too well?

Having been an educator for 40 years and been actively involved in youth mentoring programs, I have come across young people who had been physically and/or emotionally abused and was often in awe of their resiliency as they worked through life’s challenges.

Yesterday I was researching for a book I am writing to encourage teachers and was reminded of the major challenges facing these educators when working with students from disadvantaged and/or high risk environments where there might be poverty, abuse, bullying and trauma. These students will probably experience different levels of toxic stress, depending on their personal experiences, which can disrupt development and cause learning problems. Their possible antisocial behavior can lead to social failure, which may produce a depressed mood. Rejection from peers, family or extended family problems and academic difficulties contribute to the onset of depression among boys in particular.

Parenting behavior contributes significantly to a young person’s self-esteem. Non-compliance and anti-social behavior are related to low self-esteem.

14 practical ways to support and encourage teenagers from high-risk environments

Volunteer adults working with young people must always remember that they cannot and should not try and fix families or rescue teenagers. The task will be tough and challenging, requiring persistence and perseverance.

Some practical ways to support and encourage teenagers living in high-risk communities might include any of the following:

  1. Advocate some form of ongoing education or skills training, perhaps even undertaking some tutoring and/or computer-based instruction to facilitate learning.
  2. Assist those wanting to further their education, who often feel overwhelmed by the range of choices of subjects and courses and by the task of balancing their studies with social activities, sport and work.
  3. Advocate work experience and work ethics training so that the young person can build work histories and a sense of themselves as workers, as well as earn a living wage.
  4. Arrange and/or run group activities and workshops to promote a positive peer culture and to help young people develop life skills.
  5. Help to set up financial incentives (linked to the specific program you might be working with, where relevant), which might include access to financial assistance if needed to help these young people learn how to save, plan and believe in their future.
  6. Provide intensive emotional support and practical guidance at every step of the way in each young person’s transition time, and have fun together.
  7. Take on a variety of supportive roles during each young person’s transition time. For example, you may need to be a coach, Cheerleader, surrogate parent, advocate, teacher, friend and/or mentor who ‘hangs in’ there with the young person, never giving up on him or her no matter how far they have strayed – indeed, the time when a young person strays is the time when the help of significant adults is most needed.
  8. Promote development activities to learn more about health, alcohol and drug abuse, sexual activities, family planning, arts, career and education planning. Encourage young people to become involved in community service activities aimed at improving conditions in their communities.
  9. Provide a consistent, reinforcing environment for mentoring and encouraging young people.
  10. Provide a clear structure and boundaries or limits with well-specified consequences  that can be delivered in a teaching- or coaching-oriented way.
  11. Closely supervise the young person’s whereabouts (where applicable).
  12. Involve young people in planning for their support and activities.
  13. Sensitively and empathetically discourage young people from associating with peers who have problems (especially conduct-related problems) and help these young people develop the skills that will; assist them in relationships with positive peers.
  14. Encourage young people to believe in themselves, identifying resilient qualities and appreciating that it is possible for them to control their own futures.

Do you have any further tips top share with others from your experiences working with young people living in high-risk environments?

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.