A MOTIVATIONAL, INSPIRATIONAL TEEN BOOK EVERY PARENT, YOUTH WORKER AND TEACHER SHOULD READ
Australia, 2017. Teacher, sports coach, former school principal and authorRobin Cox’s latest publication by Essential Resources, Letter 2 a Teen – Becoming the Best I can be, is the culmination of 13 years research and 30 years practical experience coaching, tutoring and mentoring over 1,000 teenagers. Since 1999 he has been involved in developing youth mentoring programs in New Zealand andAustralia and over 1000 volunteer adult mentors have attended his Youth Empowerment Seminars mentor training program, accredited by TAFE New South Wales in 2007. As he is so passionate about encouraging teenagers to reach their undoubted potential, he self-published this book, “so I can almost give it away,” he says. “While I was researching youth issues, draft copies of Letter 2 a Teen were being critiqued by present and former school principals, teachers, social and youth workers, psychologists, parents and teenagers as I sought to craft this user-friendly, practical guide to encourage teenagers to reach their potential. Their comments and contributions were significant.”
Robin has promoted the spirit of mentoring in five published books, workshops and seminars for teachers and, in his position as Career Transition Manager with the Schools Industry Partnership, serving 41 high schools in the Blue Mountains, Penrith and Hawkesbury regions of Outer Western Sydney, he delivered career presentations to Year 9 to 12 students and gave talks on ‘Generation Y2Z’ to parents and teachers.
In 2009 Robin was appointed an Associate Head (Executive Director of Faith and Community) at St Paul’s School in Brisbane, Australia, a co-educational School from PP-12 of about 1400 students, a position he held until his retirement at the end of March 2017. During this time Robin introduced Peer Mentoring, Peer Support and Life Skills programs, whilst also assisting with the development of Student Leaders, Coaching and Mentoring teachers and writing a parenting Blog. Letter 2 A Teen, first published in 2008, was updated towards the end of 2016
Why Letter 2 a Teen?
“From my personal experiences in a variety of education, community and sporting settings, I have seen many teenagers drifting through school without direction and support, falling through the cracks and simply not realizing their potential,” Robin says. “On a weekly, if not daily basis, the global media communicates how the problems of teenage binge drinking, drug abuse, antisocial behaviour and inappropriate sexual behaviour are negatively impacting the lives of families and communities. More teenagers are growing up in a single parent family which raises other challenges. Having miraculously survived cancer as a nine-year old, but carrying the scars through my teenage years, as well as my mother dying when I was 10, I have some understanding of what many young people experience when the going gets tough.
“I was also actively working in the field of youth mentoring. After six to 12 months the formally structured program comes to an end,” Robin explains. “I coached and mentored many teenagers and then we went in different directions. I would have liked to have left them with a resource to which they could refer as they continued on life’s journey. I also have two kids, now adults. What encouraging words could I write in a letter to them as they journeyed through adolescence to adulthood? A letter has a more personal touch to it, doesn’t it?”
Conscious of the fact that most teenagers live in a virtual world of instant gratification, seldom taking time out to reflect, Robin wanted to write something that any teenager could pick up, flick through, find words of encouragement and feel challenged and inspired by. He regards the book as a self-empowering journey, containing many tips, ideas and illustrations and communicates a strong message that we have some control over our destiny through the choices we make. “One choice involves building a web of support around ourselves and identifying different cheerleaders and non-judgmental mentors we can turn to at different times.”
Be a dreamer
Robin encourages teenagers to go after their dreams, yet understands that most do not have a clue how to begin this journey. “When they become goal getters and start achieving these goals, their self-confidence and self-esteem increases. They learn that it’s okay to fail if they are giving something their best shot and the importance of taking positive lessons from all their life experiences.” In a user-friendly way, he gives teenagers invaluable tips about how to approach people for encouragement and assistance as they explore career interests, how to communicate effectively with others, write a resume, develop a portfolio, approach a job interview with confidence, handle stress and build quality relationships with positive friends and family.
Promoting Developmental Assets
Robin acknowledges the pioneering work of the Search Institute in Minneapolis and the work they have done promoting the building of assets in the lives of young people when we interact with them so they will grow up to lead healthy, positive and productive lives. “It’s all about creating the best nurturing environment for our young people,” Robin explains. “The asset approach focuses on nurturing positive, supportive and meaningful relationships, promotes positive values, stresses the importance of boundaries, constructive use of time, a commitment to learning, social competencies and having a positive view of oneself, never accepting anything but the best effort. All these assets have been woven into the different sections of this book, hence the importance of the choices teenagers will make along the self-empowering journey I referred to earlier.”
Wise and empathetic parents
Robin points out that the majority of teenagers look first to their parents and then to their peers for guidance and support. Parents are encouraged to appreciate their crucial role in nurturing their children through these roller-coaster adolescent years and not abrogate their responsibilities. “Parents can appreciate the importance of negotiating and enforcing boundaries, expressing unconditional love and care, showing their children they are valued and helping them discover the meaning and purpose of their lives. Effective parenting will significantly assist teenagers to develop social and employability skills and communities will be transformed. Parents who think parenting teenagers is too hard must read this book!”
The book has a laminated cover, comprises 60 A4 pages and covers topics such as self-esteem, resiliency, interpersonal relationships, goal getting, handling stress, writing a winning Resume (CV), producing a winning Portfolio, thinking, feeling and behaving like a ‘winner’, knowing at the end of each day I have given my all and done my best!
In the mid 1990s the first version of Letter 2 a Teen was published under the title On the Wings of an Eagle – a young person’s guide to successful living, which also included a booklet of Tasks related to the different topics covered.This book became the resource book for young people (Years 9 – 12) attending multicultural Life Skills seminars and workshops in Southern Africa. Approximately 5,000 copies of the book were distributed to students from a variety of socio-economic areas. In 1999 approximately 1000 Year 11 and 12 New Zealand students participated in similar workshops and received a copy of the book at the end of each seminar. A few months after the seminars, students completed an evaluation sheet about the book. Their comments inspired the rewrite and, after further reviews etc. by a variety of people, Letter 2 a Teen was published.
A selection of the students’ comments follows:
“Where goals are concerned, I have learnt to set them and reach them and to appreciate how important they are.”
“I have often turned back to the book. It has helped me and a lot of friends that I gave it to read.”
“I have changed positively in that I now work at a company as a result of a task we did on how to apply for a job. I have learnt to express my weaknesses as well as my strengths.”
“I have turned back to the book many times and, honestly, it has helped me a lot in that I have come to accept myself for who I am and am no more intimidated by friends.”
“I gave the book to one of my friends and it has helped him tremendously in that he has developed a positive self-image. He really had a low self-esteem, but this book has helped him.”
“I immediately read the book after the symposium and occasionally refer to it for answers or help.”
“My outlook on life has been more positive. My goals have been more realistic and attainable. My positive strengths have become more than my weaker ones. I have become self-confident and better able to deal with people and peers.”
“I have turned back regularly to the book and it did help. I gave it to some friends to read and they said it was a great book and that they would start setting goals; having a positive outlook on life.”
“By reading the book I realised that nobody is a loser. When doing something a person shouldn’t quit. Everybody is what he/she wants to be.”
“I have become more confident and I see myself as a leader now. I have gone as far as making things happen instead of watching them happen ….”
“A couple of times I have turned back to the book for guidance because sometimes I found myself lacking self-motivation. By reading and working through tasks I was able to reach out and succeed with my goals.”
“The book has helped me see things in a broader perspective. This helps me to understand my problems and work out how to solve them.”
“I’ve changed positively. I’ve learnt how to manage my time while studying. My attitude towards life has changed as well.”
“I recently wrote my exams and turned towards the book to help me prepare for the exam. It helped with managing my time.”
Comments and Reviews
Letter 2 a Teen – Becoming the Best I can Be has taken 13 years to write and has been written with input from teachers, teenagers, parents, psychologists, school principals, youth workers, social workers. If you want to understand how to motivate today’s teenagers and future generations, you will find many tips and ideas in this user-friendly book. A great read for parents and those working with young people. Most important, it’s a book for teenagers.
“It’s a small price to pay to save the life of a teenager.” – Parent of a teenager
“….you have done a great job with this exciting and compelling contribution to the field. Thanks for allowing me to review it. I feel honored. I love the section on goal setting. I thought it was the best …. I think your work is great.” – Dr Susan G. Weinberger, President, Mentor Consulting Group (USA)
“Last week I picked up a copy of your Letter 2 a Teen. It’s excellent, and I intend using it with a troubled young adult I will be mentoring….the content seems to be much of the stuff he bypassed in his adolesence. Thanks for providing such an excellent resource.” – John Cowan, Presenter, Parents Inc., New Zealand
“I think the book is great. It is easy to read, has really positive information for teenagers and the layout is very user friendly ….. it would certainly have some valuable ideas for teachers to use in class sessions especially community identity.” – Tertiary and Further Education teacher (TAFE, New South Wales)
“This appealing workbook serves as pep talk, mentor and diary, offering teens a tool for life planning. Drawings, graphics and attractive typestyles enliven each page. In a “self-empowering journey,” teens reflect on their dreams, relationships, strengths and talents, practicing affirmation and goal-setting exercises. Cox offers encouragement, along with accessible tips on effective communications, good habits and handling stress. Readers can complete worksheets about time management and “being positive,” prepare a résumé and portfolio, and discover their resiliencies.
Cox, R. (2008). Letter 2 a Teen, Becoming the best I can be. New Zealand: Essential Resources Educational Publishers Ltd. ISBN: 978-1-877440-57-1.
**Review prepared by Peer Resources Network member DeeAnne Vonde a teacher at Lord Beaverbrook High School, Calgary, Canada**
This book has been written specifically for teens. A coach could use one or two pages from each chapter as a starting point for a discussion with teens. Throughout the text teens are challenged to: be the best they can be, develop resiliency, learn new strategies for handling stress, and keep a positive attitude.
One of the best features of this book is that the reader can start with the information in any chapter. It’s not necessary to discuss each chapter beginning to end, cover to cover. I liked the emphasis in this book on helping teens build positive relationships with responsible adults, and then work towards setting realistic goals. The ideas on writing a resume, cover letter, and compiling a portfolio are all useful. For me, the challenge that the author presents to teens to be a positive role model for others is one of the key concepts in this readable book.
Cox brings valuable experience to this publication that could be used successfully in a group mentoring setting as well. Whether working one-on-one or with one mentor and a small group of mentees, this book provides topics for discussion relevant to teens. The ideas presented in the text are sound and certainly timely. The author encourages youth to focus on the positive, stay away from the negative, and step by step develop a personal plan to be the best they can be.
With over 15 years experience myself in working with at-risk teens, I have learned that while teens appreciate the opportunity to connect with a caring adult, that they don’t want the adult trying to use the current slang terms. Furthermore, I have learned that talks are certainly never forgotten months and years after they take place. So when North American readers see the term “guts through the tough times,” on page 39, this could provide a great opportunity for discussions on strategies for youth, in any culture, to navigate the challenges that life presents. Years later when teens hear phrases from other cultures, it will remind them of the impact an adult had on them when they were growing up.
Discussing drugs and alcohol usually finds everyone in the group with questions to ask and a desire for some straight answers. A mentor should be prepared with facts when exploring the information on alcohol presented on page 45. The information on this page could be a good starting point for an exchange of ideas on the use or misuse of alcohol in different jurisdictions. Teens could research and then debate the legal age for the use of alcohol, or create scenarios about how to respectfully ensure everyone’s safety when the use of alcohol occurs.
A common question for teens entering the job market is, “Who do I use for a reference on a resume when I have little or no work experience outside of my home? Do I include relatives as a reference or not?” Everyone seems to have an opinion on the appropriateness of listing a relative as a reference. Engaging in discussions with staff from a local employment agency could provide additional perspective on an answer to this question. Inviting someone from a local employment agency that works with youth could be a valuable additional compliment to the quality information in this book.
Peer Resources Network members working with teens and looking for some new strategies should consider using this valuable resource by taking information from one or more of the chapters or by working through the book chapter by chapter.
Robin Cox is a member of the Peer Resources Network and is an active contributor to ideas about mentoring on other mentoring lists, and is the author of several other works on mentoring youth. His diverse background and passion for mentoring is evident in this new release.