Can you remember how you felt about yourself when you were aged 13 or 14? Did you have loads of self-confidence or many self-doubts? When you looked in the mirror did you feel lovable and capable or unsure of who you were, did not like the image before your eyes and had many confused thoughts? How did you respond to peer pressure?
A while ago I asked some young people, aged 13 and 14, to complete an anonymous questionnaire about how they view themselves. Their responses highlighted the importance of connecting with their school community, preferably having some non-judgmental adult cheerleaders to encourage them on their journey.
Empathize with teenagers
“I am not good with teamwork.” (male)
“I care about others and don’t like to see my friends hurt.” (female)
“I need to stand up for people more. But I am positive and I want to make the world a better place.” (male)
“I am not scared to stand up and tell people what’s right.” (female)
“I see that I have lots of friends and feel safe in that community. I stand up for what’s right even though there are consequences.” (male)
“I see that I am headstrong and stand up for what is right. I also care about people and want to make a positive difference in the world. I could improve in knowing when I need help or not.” (female)
“I am more willing to help others more than myself. I am not very confident in myself.” (male)
“I am stubborn, but I know when to step down. I care about others and want to help them but don’t know how.” (female)
“I do want to stand up for others and I know that I am not perfect but I am very confident and I worry what other people will think of me.” (female)
“I will stay the way I am. It doesn’t matter who you are; if you treat me with respect, I will do the same for you. I think I can do things by myself; always try; if I fail then I will get help from people. Always try to be independent and stand up for yourself.” (male)
“My weaknesses are not standing up for what I believe in and what I think is important and what is wrong.” (female)
What research says about teenagers
I find it helpful to remind myself what teenagers value as they journey through their adolescent years. I have shared the following information before. It remains relevant as I continue to research adolescent issues.
This research suggested that deep down most young people would like the three experiences below, all of which are possible when significant adults move alongside them on their self-learning, self-discovery and self-empowerment journey.
1. Youth would like to be cared for (loved)
- They need to feel safe and secure.
- The more they are cared for, the more secure they feel.
- They need to be surrounded by people who care for, appreciate and accept them unconditionally.
- They need the positive influences of peers and adults to encourage them to do their best.
- They need to 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. When they step over these boundaries, there will be reasonable consequences.
2. Youth would like to be valued
- The more they are valued, the more positive self-worth they experience.
- They need to be encouraged to feel they have some control over things that happen to them. Empowering them will be proof that they are valued, respected, liked, and regarded as valuable resources.
- They need fun time to interact with peers and adults, which involves the development of social skills.
3. Youth would like to know that life has meaning and purpose
- Their lives have significance.
- The more they understand that there is a reason for their existence, the more significant they will feel.
- They need encouragement to explore opportunities within and outside of school and study to learn and develop new skills and interests.
- They are encouraged to acquire a commitment to learning: academic success and the long-term value of learning will enhance their self-worth as they discover their gifts and talents.
- They need to appreciate and understand how to make the tough decisions and choices, and how to cope with new situations.
- They need guidance to develop a positive view of the future.
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.