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.

Drone parents or empowering Mentors for our adolescents?

Thinking again about how different life is today from when I was a child. What can you remember about your childhood? I remember we climbed trees, created our own games indoors and outdoors, rode our bicycles, without helmets, to the local Park where we played on the variety of playground equipment available – Jungle Jims, seesaws, swings, roundabouts – caught tadpoles in the stream running through the Park, all without any adult supervision. We walked or rode to school without adult supervision and caught public transport, even in the evenings, without adult supervision. We jumped into a teacher’s car or another parent’s car if we were going to a sports match without any need of permission slips signed by our parents; we listened to the Top 20 hits of the week on a Sunday night from Radio Lourenco Marques (I was raised in Cape Town); we watched the international sports folk practising and mingled with them after and before matches, with no security guards evident; we listened to the radio, as we did not have Television – Kit Grayson Rides the Range or something like that; Squad Cars; Pick-a-Box, a Quiz Show; Squad Cars, a Detective program; Mark Saxon and Sir Gay Gromuko or something similar …….  yes, those were the days and how different from life today. The rare Computers were massive machines in large office areas with punch cards …. and so I could go on. These thoughts occurred after I read an interesting Blog by Occupational Therapist, Victoria Prooday, The silent tragedy affecting today’s children, which has been read by over 10 million people during the...

How peer pressure changes lives

“All successful people have a goal. No-one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be or do.”  (Norman Vincent Peale (1898 – 1993)) Over the years I have done a lot of work in High or Secondary Schools, attended by 13 to 19-year old students. One of the greatest issues I confront each time is the effect of peer pressure on the lives of these students. It’s seen in the negative attitude to ‘anything’ that is said. It’s seen in the way students, who want to ask questions, who want to get involved in an activity, who want to answer questions etc., remain silent for fear of what their peers might say. It’s supposedly not ‘cool’ to try too hard. Sometimes there are deeper reasons that complicate things even more, as will be evident in the four stories I’ll share in this Blog. I heard the story about Rachel (not her real name), who did really well at Primary School. However, when she moved to High or Senior School she only just passed her exams – 50%, 51%, those types of marks. When challenged, she admitted that she did not want to lose her friends, so she was just doing enough to get through. And, having been an enthusiastic class participant, she also retreated into herself so she did not stand out amongst her peers. Rachel’s story will be familiar to most readers, I am sure. In Letter 2 a Teen, which I wrote as a genuine letter to any teenager trying to find their way during one of the most...

Patience and Perseverance the way to achieve!

“Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.” (anonymous) I love this quote, as it resonates with me and my life journey to date, as I think about all those who have coached, mentored and encouraged me along the different paths I have travelled. There have been times when I have been impatient at the lack of progress with an idea or because other people simply can’t catch the vision, while at other times I have wondered what would have happened had I persevered. How many times can you remember quitting and, as you reflected at a later date, regretted doing so? Three stories from the past week have shown what perseverance, even patience can mean as individuals strive to achieve different goals. The picture that heads my blog today is of Australian swimmer Emily Seebohm, aged 25, winning the World 200 meters Backstroke at the World Championships in Budapest. From the high standards she had set for herself, she failed abysmally at the Rio Olympic Games and came close to quitting the sport. She was suffering from health issues and, once these were sorted, decided to persevere. Having been swimming for Australia for 11 years, few would have begrudged her deciding to retire, as she had won so many medals already. However, she clearly felt she had more to achieve and  so began the long, lonely slog of training and training and training! Her patience with herself and her perseverance, together with the critical support of key people in her...

Mentoring Billy

“I’m  ….. uh ….. in trouble again!” That unmistakably negative 15 year old voice in my ear as I drove across the Auckland Harbour Bridge to my North Shore home. Monday evening. Could the day really get any worse?  I had lost two potentially major business deals and now Billy. “What’s the trouble, Billy?” I asked, desperately trying to remember some mentor training tips. Disapprove of the behaviour, but love the child. “It’s that peach-head Mr Squires. Says I cheated in the Maths test, but I didn’t, Tony, I swear …….” “I believe you, Billy.” “No-one else does!” A hint of anxiety in his voice. A short silence. “My dad’s going to murder me when he hears I’m internally suspended.” I pictured a terrified Billy, shoulders drooped, looking up to his dad, a brute of a man, owner of a building construction company,  hesitatingly breaking this news. Would this be the last straw in an already fragile relationship? “Where are you, Billy?” “The Mall.” “Okay, meet me at the Food Court in 15 minutes.” “What’s the point? This whole program sucks. My friends were right …… I’ll always be a loser! Stuff school!” “Hey, Billy, meet me …….. please?!” Did he detect my concern or the feeling of irritability, the result of a tough day in the office? Both probably. Billy didn’t miss much. “Uh … huh.” Negotiating the traffic, telephoning Nicky to tell her I’d be late home, brain racing with thoughts of how to salvage the situation ……. mentor training tips competing for traffic focus. Get the facts. Don’t jump to any conclusions or assumptions. Believe in...

Boys will be Boys! – let’s not label them

Can you remember the teacher who brought out the best work or kept you most interested and motivated in school and schoolwork? This is a great question to ask your mentee or any adolescent you are working with and the response will provide you with insights into how this young person is developing as a unique individual. When I was 8 years old my class teacher had a significant impact on my life. Miss Wolfe was tough, thorough, kind and compassionate and set clear boundaries. She was not interested in a second-rate effort and expected all her students to do their best. I did well academically in those days and learnt, at this young age, how to study and prepare for Tests, whilst also having plenty of fun in the classroom. Miss Wolfe had a beautiful Alsatian dog, Alannah, which she occasionally brought to School – yes, this was allowed in those days! We all loved Alannah. There were other teachers during my Primary or Junior School years that kept me interested in school work, but Miss Wolfe was special. When I underwent Cancer operations, even though I had moved up the School, Miss Wolfe monitored my progress, wrote me a letter wishing me a speedy recovery and kindly gave me a book of animals which I kept for about 50 years! Miss Wolfe’s attitude, care and compassion, had a significant impact on my decision to become a teacher myself.During my last couple of years of schooling Dave Hiscock, my History teacher, had a significant impact on my education journey. Dave’s teaching methods were far ahead of his time. We...

A Cherokee Legend and the Spirit of Mentoring

How well do you value the experiences of others? I recall, as an adolescent, sitting with a variety of significant adults in my life and listening to them sharing their words of wisdom, though it was listening to their true stories of the highs and lows of their lives that had the most impact on me. Recently I read a wonderful book by Neal C Lemery  J.D., Mentoring Boys to Men – Climbing Their Own Mountains, which I would highly recommend to anyone working with young boys especially. Neal captures stories of young people he has worked with and, through his experiential life journey, we gain further insights into the meaning of the Spirit of Mentoring. He shared a well-known Cherokee Legend.“An old Cherokee was teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. “The other is good. He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you and inside every person, too.” The grandson thought about his words for a minute, then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.” How important it is for the mentor to role model all those qualities of the good wolf in his or her relationship with their mentee and that’s why it is equally important for mentors to live a balanced...

NEVER Quit on Your Mentee!

How many times have you been in a formal or informal mentoring relationship with a younger person and wanted to give up on them? Have you actually walked away from a mentoring relationship, as you felt you had given your all? It would be a very normal and human thing to do. However, if you are mentoring an adolescent, who is journeying through the most confusing time of his or her life, the Golden Rule should be: NEVER Quit!I think back over the years to the many, many students I have either formally  or informally mentored, the multiple times I have wanted to quit and never did. I recall deliberately putting some distance between myself and Graeme (not his real name) and him coming to find me to speak to me. I had thought he was not interested in communicating with me any longer, so tested the waters without saying anything. And that experience reminded me that these young people are listening to everything we say and, even if they are unable to verbally express it, they know that they have a non-judgmental Cheerleader in their lives. I made a similar decision with Sandy (not her real name), thinking that she was in a good headspace and I could quietly slip further into the background. She, too, approached me and said it had been a while since we had chatted and could we make a time to catch up? If I thought hard enough, there would probably be more similar stories. So, I never quit on these students, simply eased back and waited to see what would happen. If nothing...

Aged 9 – 2 years to live: 10 Life Tips from a Cancer Survivor

Do you know anyone who has been struck down with Cancer? Anyone who might be on that journey at the moment? A young person needing encouragement? I was struck down with cancer at the age of nine and underwent some radiation treatment (2.5 times the adult dose), followed by significant major surgery during the next couple of years and then again when I was 18. My parents were told that I probably had two years to live and, during these two years, my mother died suddenly. Thankfully, I survived the Cancer and now, 50 years later, reflecting on my life journey to date, I happily share 10 Life Tips that I have learnt, through trial and error, highs and lows, over the years and which helped me through challenging adolescent years as I came to terms with my disfigurement and responded to it. I share these experiences with teenagers I mentor, encouraging them to keep on keeping on through the confusing adolescent years, especially when the odds are stacked against them. Following these key tips has taught me the importance of living a positive life journey filled with HOPE, experiencing unconditional love and care from those closest to me, whilst also feeling valued and, ultimately, leading a life of meaning and purpose with a strong sense of serving others. Renowned Basketball Coach, John Wooden, defined success as, “peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” It’s a great message to share with all who are trying to find...

Life can be like a Cross Country run for adolescents – guide them!

“First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.” (Epictetus) “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, they make them.”  (George Bernard Shaw) Read through those two quotes a couple of times and think about your response to them. There is a strong message here about the way we choose our future pathways. In many discussions I have had with teenagers over the years, there have always been students who will make excuses for not reaching their potential, especially when they do something wrong and are found out. Some of the more popular comments would be: • “It’s my parents’ fault. they’re always fighting. Life at home sucks!” • Or maybe a parent has an addiction of some sort which makes life at home tough to cope with. • Or they want to keep their circle of friends. These friends keep breaking rules, but being with those friends is more important than reaching their potential? Negative peer pressure tends to lead to negative behavior. We drag ourselves down. Why? • “It’s the teacher’s fault. He/she doesn’t like me!” • Or, one of the classic comments: “I didn’t think about the consequences of my actions.” (Brain research tells us that this can be a genuine situation, as the Pre-Frontal Cortex, the Chief Executive area of the brain, where decision-making is taking place, is still developing until the mid-20s) Do...

10 Ways Youth Mentoring Can Inspire Young People – a true story

Can you remember times during your adolescent years when life seemed to be particularly hard; you jumped one hurdle and then something else occurred and knocked you down; up you got again and something else happened? Small rocks to stumble over, bigger rocks to obstruct your pathway.  How did you respond? Thinking about this led me to some work I did a while ago looking at how youth mentoring programs help young people coming from a high risk environment, reminding me of a check-list, if you like, that would be invaluable to anyone mentoring such a young person. As I thought some more, I was reminded of the years I spent informally mentoring Walter (not his real name), a teenager from a high risk, volatile environment in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid. I learnt so much about life from many interactions with Walter – an amazing young man. Walter arrived at the School where I was teaching at the time and was placed in the Boarding House of which I was the Housemaster. Walter’s mother was a domestic servant and he was, in his own words: “.. a young man from the townships who could not even speak English. I was scared but excited. I had to prove myself. Here were the white boys who had privileged positions all their lives. Their primary education was preparing them to be the bosses, whilst mine was to serve their interests. Here I had to compete with them on the same footing. I can tell you it was not easy.” There were approximately 60 to 70 boys, aged between 12 and 18 in each...