When you understand a teenager’s brain, you become a miracle-maker!

When you understand a teenager’s brain, you become a miracle-maker!

Do you sometimes struggle to understand what is going on in the world of teenagers? Do you see a beautiful young person one day and then a monster the next? Do you tear your hair out at seemingly inexplicable mood swings? Do you throw up your hands in despair? Do you feel you are losing your relationship with a teenager? Welcome to the normal world of the teenager!  While I was researching adolescent behaviour and the latest adolescent brain research, I jotted down some key aspects of adolescent brain development. This knowledge significantly impacted HOW, when and why I communicated with teenagers from all walks of life as a parent, teacher, coach and mentor. We do well to pause from time to time and remember our own teenage experiences, how we felt at certain times, how we responded to situations, different people and so on as we journeyed through confusing times in search of meaning and purpose in our lives. A basic understanding of the teenage brain Due to the plasticity of the brain, it can be changed by experiences, a point that should always give HOPE to anyone working with young people. The frontal lobes make up 40% of the brain’s total volume. They are the seat of our ability to generate insight, judgment, abstraction, impulse control and planning. They are the source of self-awareness and our ability to assess dangers and risks, so we use this area of the brain to choose a course of action wisely. The frontal lobes are said to house the ‘Executive’ function of the human brain which only ceases developing in the...
10 Life Lessons from my Cancer journey to encourage you

10 Life Lessons from my Cancer journey to encourage you

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? Someone, especially a teenager, struggling to adapt to the results of suffering from Cancer or some other serious illness? 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 Lessons 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. Anyone who has suffered from Cancer or another life-threatening illness, will know the challenges one experiences overcoming times of adversity and enjoying success. Here’s what my life experiences have taught me:...
How you can empathize with teenagers

How you can empathize with teenagers

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...
5 Key qualities for you to be a Great Mentor of Teenagers

5 Key qualities for you to be a Great Mentor of Teenagers

Do you think young people, especially teenagers, need volunteer adult mentors to guide them through the challenging years of their adolescence? I was close to completing my daily morning walk a few hours ago and passed two groups of students on their way to school. The first group was about 13 years of age or so, a couple of boys trying to grab the attention of the girls, nothing unusual about that. The second group was a year or two older and this time two girls were trying to attract the attention of three or four boys. Listening to the banter going on between these young people, the impact that peer pressure was having on each of them, probably in different ways, underlined for me how important it is for young people to have non-judgmental trusted adult Cheerleaders in their lives. The value of connection What was clear from these two groups of students was that every one of them, without exception, valued a connection with peers, that sense of belonging. How that plays out during the day, weeks and months, I have no idea, though some relationships will probably be strengthened and others might become wobbly, even fall apart. Who do these young people turn to for encouragement, support and guidance, I wondered? The power of mentoring I was browsing the internet yesterday wondering if there are any organisations in New Zealand that run mentoring programs for School Principals and Senior Leaders in schools, as I thought that is something I could become involved in now that I am retired. I am still incredibly grateful for the former...
7 ways you can better understand and encourage today’s Teenagers

7 ways you can better understand and encourage today’s Teenagers

How do you ensure that teenagers grow up to be happy and positive young people? Given that their brains are developing until they are in their mid-20s, we know that there are mood swings, irritable moments, impulsive actions with no or little thought, explosive outbursts, sometimes an inability to focus or follow through on a task, overcome the temptations to use drugs, alcohol and engage in other antisocial behaviours and so on. Well-known author and educator, Sir Kenneth Robinson, makes this point: “How we think about the world around us can be deeply affected by the feelings within us, and how we feel may be critically shaped by our knowledge, perceptions and personal experiences. Our lives are formed by the constant interactions between these two worlds, each affecting how we see and act in the other.” Neuroscientist, Dr Francis Jensen, reminds us that the teenage brain is ‘a puzzle waiting completion’, so what can we do to better understand and encourage today’s Teenagers to become the best they can be? My research over the past 20 years continually reminds me that our young people want to FEEL: cared for (loved unconditionally); valued; that their lives have meaning and purpose. Consider these 7 Ways you can better understand and encourage today’s teenagers: Most of today’s teenagers learn best by doing things, reflecting on the experience and learning lessons from the activity which they can then apply to their daily lives and often they enjoy sharing their thinking and experiences in groups. We can help them make sense of what appears at times to be much confusion. Teenagers value and appreciate recognition...
8 positive life lessons for you from dying children

8 positive life lessons for you from dying children

What do you love most in life? This is the question South African paediatrician, Dr Alastair McAlpine, asked the terminally ill children he was caring for. Living in the 21st Century Digital Age, their answers might surprise you.None of the children wished that they had spent more  time online or watching TV. “Often kids even in very short lives can teach us so much,” Dr McAlpine shared. He looked around at local and global issues and was struck by so much depressing news. “It made me think of these amazing children I deal with who are facing real problems. If they could be positive and upbeat, I felt others should be.” 8 of the positive life lessons these children teach us include: be kind; read more books; spend time with family; crack jokes; go to the beach; hug your dog; tell that special person you love them; and eat ice cream. As I read this article one word came to mind: RELATIONSHIPS.  Relationships with family, people and animals – face to face relationships. That reminded me how important and powerful significant adults are in the lives of young people and most especially in the lives of teenagers as they face all the challenges and confusions life throws at them at a time when their bodies and brains are developing in extraordinary ways. After a six to nine month mentoring relationship with a trained volunteer adult mentor as part of the GR8 Mates school-based youth mentoring program, the importance of a new relationship was echoed in the following thanks from Tony (not his real name) to his mentor at the final...