Robin's Blog 4 Parents, Teachers and Mentors

Tips, ideas, thoughts and opinions to motivate and inspire all who guide young people as they journey through adolescence to adulthood.

Adolescents share truths about the impact mentors had on their lives

I often ask adults the question: when you were a teenager, who, other than your parents and friends, had a significant or POSITIVE influence on your life? Sometimes, sadly, people were living in homes that were not functioning too well for a variety of reasons, so positive parental influence might have been lacking. No matter what the situation, so many young people will talk about a teacher or a Coach, a person who cared about them and believed in them. The world mourns the death of many innocent lives and the injuries others have sustained as a result of the bomb blast in Manchester earlier this week, though we must never forget the tens of thousands, maybe millions of young people living in poverty or traumatized by war or some other traumatic event in their lives.  It has spurred me to action. For many years I have been thinking of a way to inspire young people to become the best they can be, the quiet ones who retreat into their shell, who perhaps lack confidence, who need to be reminded that they can take charge of their lives and being shown how to do this. I am working on developing an App, which will have to be free, with an inspiring message each day; not a well known quote, but something more personal, which links to common themes linked to adolescent development and resiliency and which I have written from my experiences working with young people for over 40 years – can’t hide my age! I actually began this project about 15 years ago and there have been a number of rewrites! I have...

Guiding adolescents away from Internet addiction to become the best they can be

“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? 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. 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 Annie (not her real name) shared with me issues she was having with her best friend. Annie was confused and also said she was finding all the gossip and friendship issues draining.Annie and I shared some strategies she could use to help her through the issues, 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...

18 Rules on using Social Media to discuss with your adolescent mentee

Neither a computer nor a mobile phone can take the place of a person – build meaningful relationships face to face. How many adolescents do you know who have ended up in trouble because their online behavior has been inappropriate? I heard of yet another case the other day. A teenager lent her phone to another boy who discovered an inappropriate photograph of the girl and forwarded it on to a friend of his, who then passed it around. It had a sad ending, as the school expelled the students involved, not a decision I would support in most cases, as schools and families should see themselves as people tasked with educating young people on how to use technology responsibly. This is but one of way too many stories that I have heard and so I decided to do a bit of research about the responsible use of technology, specifically computers and mobile phones.One of the things I have learnt over the years is that many young people are not as technologically savvy as we think they are. Indeed, many are fairly ignorant of some fairly basic common sense behaviors one should follow when using technology. It is also worth remembering that the adolescent brain is at a key point of development and the Pre-Frontal Cortex, the Chief Executive area of the brain, where planning and decision-making occurs, is still maturing and will continue to do so until the mid-20s. Thus, adolescents tend to react more emotionally to issues going on in their lives than adults would and that partly explains why one witnesses hurtful, emotional outbursts on social media....

15 Practical ways to support mentees 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) Were you abused as a young person? Do you know someone who was abused as a young person? Having been an educator for 40 years, I did cross paths with some young people who had been physically and/or emotionally abused as children and was often in awe of their resiliency as they worked through life challenges. At the moment I am reading a deeply disturbing true story by Carrie Bailee, born and raised in Canada and the trauma she underwent as a child and even as a young adult.Flying On Broken Wings is not for the faint-hearted, as Carrie shares the raw brutality of her experiences mostly at the hands of her father. Yet what has struck me as I have been reading this book is how Carrie found mentors to guide her through much of her adolescent life after she had finally run away from home, eventually ending up at the home of a single mum with experience working with troubled teens, many of whom were children off the streets. Tami responded to Carrie’s emotional and psychological needs. Carrie writes: “Tami and I had many conversations during the five years I would float in and out of her life. She would always go to great lengths to assure me that she loved me unconditionally and, no matter what I...

How effective Mentoring sows the seeds of HOPE

“When it comes down to it, we all just want to be loved.” (John Yellin (14)) What is it that tugs at your heart strings and wants you to interact with adolescents? This is a question I have been asking myself during the past week as I collate my research on the adolescent brain and interact with a couple of adolescents who have asked me to mentor them. There are days when I wish I had a magic wand and could connect with every young person who just wants to feel loved and cared for, reach out to them and encourage them to become the best they can be. It’s this passion that is deeply rooted in my heart and soul that led me to become a teacher, sports coach, set up youth mentoring programs, peer mentoring programs, train student leaders and run Life Skills workshops for adolescents. During the past week I have experienced four different moments that have pulled at my heart strings and reminded me of the massive global need for mentoring programs. I follow a fairly self-disciplined daily routine these days. I wake up and, enjoying a cup of tea, do my Quiet Time before heading off on a 6km old man’s jog along the sea front, a good opportunity to reflect and enjoy the beauty of the sunrise. After a shower I head off to the local News Agent to purchase the daily newspaper. I am a newspaper addict, not wanting the electronic version, rather the hard copy tabloid, which, I am sure is better for my aging eyes. Last week, while returning from the News...

Celebrate the power of mentoring relationships

Can you think of just one teacher that positively impacted your life? That’s a question I asked myself while my teaching career was coming to a close and I entered retirement. I ended up reflecting on my whole education journey as a child through to becoming a young adult and was amazed at what I came up with. While I was a child recovering from Cancer, I am sure that resulted in some teachers being sympathetic and kind towards me. Of course I appreciated their support, but that’s not really what I was considering. Which teachers shaped me, molded me, refined me, disciplined me, coached me, mentored me and nurtured me?From my entry to Pre-primary School to finishing my school days, I could think of at least 15 teachers who positively impacted my life. Quite amazing, really! Sometimes it might have been a sport coach for six months, a class teacher for a year, another coach for a year or two, a subject teacher for a couple of years, the equivalent of a House Tutor for about three or four years, so many people to whom I am indebted for becoming the person I am today. Indeed, I was also fortunate that I was able to attend a Pre-School and then attended the same School for my Junior and Senior Schooling experience. My key point, though, is that we all have opportunities to find a teacher who can mentor and encourage us, no matter what the situation might be. That word RELATIONSHIPS is a key to how we develop as young people. In a November 2002 study, Finding Out What Matters...

13 Key Qualities of Positive Peer Relationships

Can you remember the relationships you had when you were an adolescent? Did you belong to a small clique or did you have a wide circle of friends? As I played plenty of sport, I tended to hang out with some of those in the different teams I  participated in and this tended to lead to a wide circle which was great, though I had one or two closer friends who remained friends for many years. Emily (not her real name) and I were chatting about friendships the other day. Emily, almost 16, is keen to do well at School and is genuinely striving to be the best she can be. She had concerns about how she was handling the different pressures in her life and approached me to have a discussion about all this. I have noticed that she hangs around at times with students whose behavior borders on being ant-social, yet is not quite in that category and she is aware that she could be ‘labelled’ along with that crowd.  They are all great students, simply in different places on their adolescent journey and this leads to inconsistent behavior which Emily admits she struggles with. So, our conversation moved to looking at the importance of hanging out with positive friends.There is so much research these days that tells us over and over again that, other than parents, one’s peer relationships are the most important relationships to adolescents. Emily and I chatted about the importance of having different peer groups. Adolescents are renowned for having fall-outs with friends and it’s a natural part of their journey through adolescence. Thus it’s...

Mentoring is like a jigsaw puzzle

When last did you complete a jigsaw puzzle? Or do you prefer Crossword puzzles or Sudoku and those types of mind games? I completed a jigsaw puzzle this morning. It took me about three days, though I was doing it at various times of the day and night, as I don’t enjoy becoming too intense about it. I particularly enjoy the 1000 piece Wasgij puzzles, where one doesn’t know the final picture and has to use one’s imagination, creativity and develop strategies to work out the best way forward. In many ways this activity reminded me of some of the the challenges of a mentoring journey. Let me explain, though only after we consider how completing puzzles might be benefitting the brain.Some years ago I started doing jigsaw puzzles, as a friend of mine suggested they were a great way of keeping the brain sharp, especially as one aged. Dr Shen-Li Lee, author of Brainchild: Secrets to unlocking your child’s potential, and author of a parenting website figure 8.net, shared some research she undertook about jigsaw puzzles and the positive impact on the brain. From her research, which she states can’t be scientifically proven, she collated what she had found about the benefits of solving jigsaw puzzles: enhances visual perception hones coordination improves memory develops critical thinking increases dopamine production in the brain heightens creativity stimulates the whole brain It would be great if all these bullet points were proven to be scientifically true, as it would justify the hours I spend wrapped up in trying to solve the picture puzzle! There is a great mentoring tip in this information, though, namely encouraging your...

Reflections on retiring – a path well travelled

If you are not already retired, what would you do if you were retiring tomorrow? It’s an interesting question and one that I am facing. Tomorrow I retire after about 40 years as an educator, having the privilege to work alongside so many wonderful colleagues and students. Memories abound from my first teaching position in an Independent School in the bush of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where a war for power was being waged between the government of the day and the terrorists or freedom fighters, the name used dependent on one’s political persuasion; then back to teaching in South Africa, returning to the newly independent Zimbabwe for a few years, back to South Africa, emigrating to New Zealand and then moving to Australia where my full-time career ends tomorrow with the School closed because of the after effects of a cyclone that has swept through parts of Queensland. Not too many people will be able to claim that as a way to head into retirement 🙂 What have I learnt over the years?Teaching is about taking the gifts that God has blessed me with and investing in the lives of young people on their journey through adolescents to becoming responsible role models who will make a positive difference within the global community. It’s not about power, status, ego, hours I work or being beholden to any Union or other self-serving organization with little understanding of the holistic nature of education and what it means to encourage a young person to be the best he or she can be. It’s about being true to myself, warts and all, honoring God...

Creating meaningful relationships through constructive communication

If you did not grow up with social media, can you recall any difference between how you communicated with others then and how you communicate with others these days? “Sally (not her real name), you seem to spend a lot of time on your phone.” “Yes, I do.” “Are you addicted?” “Yes, sometimes I think I am.” “Well, I watched you at sport last weekend. You went along to watch the Sport, yet spent most of your time looking at your phone.” “I saw the Sport.” “Yes, right!” I had a conversation that went something like that with a student in her final year of school the other day. We continued along these lines: “Do you keep your phone in your bedroom overnight?” “Yes.” “Do you keep your phone on through the night?” “No, I turn it off at about 9.30 pm.” “And I am sure you have been on it on and off since 7.00?” I smiled. “Yes, you’re probably right.” Being addicted to social media appears to be an increasing issue emerging in the global world of adolescents and that’s probably a topic for another Blog. What this conversation did achieve was getting me to reflect on how much better we communicated when I was an adolescent and we didn’t have all the social media gadgets that don’t show body language, tone of voice and facial expressions, all key aspects of effective communication between two people. Constructive communication between a mentee and a mentor can radically improve their relationship, feedback being something that could become life-changing for some mentees. So, when communicating constructively, don’t forget the importance...