How you can encourage a teenager who wants to drop out

How you can encourage a teenager who wants to drop out

Were there any times in your youth when you felt like dropping out of school? Personal issues clouded your judgment, perhaps? Or you felt that you had no-one to turn to? Or you feared leaving school because you had no idea what career to follow?

We have no idea what lies around the corner later today, tomorrow, next week, next month or next year. It is unknown territory especially for our youth who are continually hearing that many of today’s jobs will disappear, yet no-one knows what the future job market will hold.

The storm clouds of confusion are threatening and never seem to move along. 

Over the years I have spent time with young people who have been struggling with issues like these for a variety of reasons. Some have wanted to give up completely and leave school, believing that they can find a job and that is all that is important.

There will be a story behind these feelings, as there always is and, if you are in a mentoring role, you will probably be able to discern what is going on as you and your mentee establish a trusting and meaningful relationship. Be patient, as this might take some time.

So often young people need encouragement to share what is on their mind knowing that they will not be judged. Often they need reassurance that their current state of confusion is experienced by an overwhelming number of teenagers at a variety of times during the adolescent journey.

There are occasions when they might need a reality check before they make a decision, such as dropping out of school, which they might regret for many years.

Truancy often points to bigger issues going on in a young person’s life. Each instance of truancy will be different. Never be afraid to ask for assistance from someone more experienced if you are feeling the issues are more complex and you are not comfortable trying to work through them alone.

Helpful topics to discuss with young people

Once your mentee is more relaxed communicating with you and starts sharing at a deeper level, you can chat about the social and economic costs of dropping out of school, work or further training (as applicable).

You can, with the permission of your mentee, take on the role of Devil’s Advocate which will allow you to force your mentee to think seriously about any choices with potentially serious long-term consequences.

Discuss all the long-term options for your mentee. What options will remain open if he or she leaves school before being ready to do so? Or, if he or she terminates a job without adequate notice? Or, gives up a training course without completing it?

A 7 Step Strategy

You might find this 7 Step Strategy helpful in shaping any discussions:

  1. Stop. Think about the problem. Discuss it.
  2. What are some possible choices?
  3. Choose ONE of these options.
  4. Write it down. This is often a great opportunity to launch into a goal setting strategy.
  5. Put it into action within an agreed, sensible given time.
  6. Arrange a time for follow-up together to assess how things are progressing.
  7. At the follow-up, discuss how the chosen option worked. Celebrate the small victories as they are achieved.

The key is to see yourself as the non-judgmental Cheerleader who will never quit on your mentee. Some days this might seem hard yet, if you persevere, you might suddenly experience your mentee’s ‘aha!’ moment when he or she seems to see a way forward. The storm clouds have gone and the sun is shining again. This could lead to new thinking, a desire for more personal and realistic goals and the beginning of a whole new life journey.

That moment might be today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Small steps with an abundance of encouragement as you both look positively into the unknown future and create life changing moments. 

This is the Spirit of Mentoring.

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.