“If they fail, we fail together, so it’s our problem not their problem and one we can solve together – children should not feel left alone with failure?” (Jennifer Fox Eades)
Can you remember, as an adolescent, how you dealt with self-doubt or friendship issues? What did you do to feel you belonged? Or, did you never feel you belonged to a peer group? Why was that? Were you able to turn to anyone you trusted to guide you through that challenging time? How did things work out?
I remember building a wall around myself for a while, not wanting to communicate, except at a superficial level, with my peers, even my family, faking illness because I didn’t want to go to school, trying unsuccessfully to be ‘cool’ so I could join a peer group and have that important sense of belonging that all adolescents crave, occasionally wishing I was someone else and not liking myself. There was no internet in those days. I wonder how I would have responded if I could have done some browsing?
When psychologists and neuroscientists describe the adolescent years as confusing, I can easily identify with that word from my own adolescent experiences and, of course, having been a teacher for so many years and mentored hundreds and hundreds of adolescents in that place of confusion, observing the highs and lows of their journeys through adolescence to adulthood, I probably have many stories to share.
16-year old Brittany (not her real name) shared with me issues she was having with her best friend. Brittany was confused and also said she was finding all the gossip and friendship issues draining. Brittany and I shared some strategies she could use to help her through those challenges, most especially understanding that, when approached with an open and positive mind, it is possible to look at conflict as having a positive value. When handled constructively, conflict can help us to:
- learn new problems
- build better and more durable relationships
- learn more about ourselves and others, including the style of behavior we follow when dealing with conflicts.
Brittany, just as I experienced as an adolescent, was also wanting to belong and that led to a discussion about creating a number of circles of friends so that she could move around, rather than become isolated if she had a setback with someone in a particular circle and found herself on the outside.
The impact of Social Media
And all this had me thinking about young people and the impact that social media, indeed, the online world might have on that adolescent who struggles to fit in anywhere.
Baroness Susan Greenfield is a British scientist, writer, broadcaster and speaker. She shares thoughts about what we shall be seeing in adolescents, as they explore Social Media and the Internet: “… an all too human mind-set amplified in all its frailty and vulnerability, craving attention as a unique individual and, at the same time, paradoxically, needing desperately to belong and to be embraced within a collective identity and mind-set.”
Possible signs of internet addiction?
The CRC Health Group is the largest provider of specialized mental and behavioral health care in the USA. They talk about Internet addiction and list a number of behavioral and physiological indicators that ‘might’ suggest an adolescent has an internet addiction:
- most non school hours are spent on the computer playing video games
- falling asleep in school
- falling behind with assessments and assignments
- worsening grades/test/exam results
- lying about computer or video game use
- choosing to use computer or play video games rather than see friends
- dropping out of other social groups such as Clubs, sports or youth groups
- being irritable when not playing a video game or not on the Computer
- carpal tunnel syndrome – joint pain in fingers, hands and wrists – from repetitive motions that come with excessive keyboard use
- forgoing food in order to remain online
- neglecting personal hygiene and grooming in order to remain online
- headaches, back pain and neck pain
- dry eyes and vision problems
Of course, we are looking for persistent issues such as a student falling asleep in class. It might be because he or she worked most of the night on a project or some other family related matter. However, if there is a pattern of the student sleeping in class more regularly, that should raise alarm bells and lead to a discussion with the student about his or her wellbeing.
15-year old Sarah (not her real name) seemed to be developing anxiety issues and, from all accounts, displayed signs of disengaging from some activities she had been involved in on a regular basis. Self-image? Sense of belonging issues? Internet issues? I don’t yet fully know her story, yet she was in all probability just a normal adolescent also confronting a time of confusion in her life. But what if Sarah had no-one to talk to, or didn’t feel she had anyone she could trust to share these deeper feelings? She might easily retreat to the online world, join questionable chat rooms and so on. Her anxiety levels ‘might’ also increase and this would probably negatively impact her academic studies.
It’s at times like these, when one is aware of a student possibly becoming drawn into the world of online addiction or withdrawing from their social group, as examples, when that non-judgmental wise adult guide on the side has such an important role to play in the adolescent’s life.
The Spirit of Mentoring
If an adult can have a conversation with the adolescent, listening, showing empathy and being non-judgmental, the young person ‘might’ hesitantly, at first, allow that adult into their lives. No matter what occurs, rest assured that the young person WILL BE LISTENING, even if every facial gesture, the body language, tone of voice and lack of eye contact might suggest otherwise, seize the opportunity and start sowing the seeds underpinning the Spirit of Mentoring:
- chat about the student’s WELL-BEING, looking after themselves physically by following a healthy diet and doing their best to have nine hours sleep EVERY night;
- share with them how they can undertake a self-empowering journey and take control of their lives, by setting personal GOALS and working towards achieving them one small step at a time. Initially encourage the student to set set fairly simple goals that you suspect the student will easily achieve. Once he or she has tasted success they will start stepping up and set more challenging goals that will take them out of their comfort zones;
- focus on what they want with regard to their RELATIONSHIPS and help them to develop strategies to develop meaningful relationships, a process that will take time. Encourage the young person to take time away from the Internet and Social Media and engage in DISCUSSIONS about their feelings, challenging issues they are dealing with and so on with someone who will listen to them, someone they are prepared to trust – a relative (grandparents are often brilliant in this area), a positive peer, a teacher, a coach, a mentor.
Hopefully, you will be one of the people the young person trusts and embark on a journey with them for as long as is necessary.
This is what I did with Brittany. Her stress levels and anxiety levels decreased as a result of the communication we had; the fact that she knew I am not sitting in judgement on her and was encouraging her to be the ‘real’ Brittany. She and her friend agreed to disagree on their issue and the friendship got back on track over a period of time.
Have you any stories to share about working with young people, especially those caught up for too many hours on the Internet?
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 Facebook 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. About 45 blogs have been converted to short video clips, all of which are linked to encouraging youth to reach their potential. These are available on YouTube https://www.youtube.