Robin's Mentoring Matters Blog

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

15 practical ways to encourage and support teenagers 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) Have you worked with young people from high-risk environments or from families that are not functioning too well? Having been an educator for 40 years and been actively involved in youth mentoring programs, I have come across young people who had been physically and/or emotionally abused and was often in awe of their resiliency as they worked through life’s challenges. Yesterday I was researching for a book I am writing to encourage teachers and was reminded of the major challenges facing these educators when working with students from disadvantaged and/or high risk environments where there might be poverty, abuse, bullying and trauma. These students will probably experience different levels of toxic stress, depending on their personal experiences, which can disrupt development and cause learning problems. Their possible antisocial behavior can lead to social failure, which may produce a depressed mood. Rejection from peers, family or extended family problems and academic difficulties contribute to the onset of depression among boys in particular. Parenting behavior contributes significantly to a young person’s self-esteem. Non-compliance and anti-social behavior are related to low self-esteem. 15 practical ways to support and encourage teenagers from high-risk environments Volunteer adults working with young people must always remember that they cannot and should not try and fix families or rescue teenagers. The task will be tough and challenging, requiring...

Teenagers and high anxiety – what is going on?

While I was walking along the beach this morning, I was mindful of the different shapes and sizes of footprints of others who had gone ahead of me. I reflected on the fact that the choices we make will heavily impact our footprints on the sands of time. I recalled walking around the school a while ago and stumbling into a conversation between two final year students. “I only had four hours sleep,” said an animated Jess, “and this is my fourth cup of coffee!” “Make sure you have nine hours sleep a night throughout the next week,” I interjected. “Your brain needs time to consolidate your learning and to discard what you don’t need to remember.” “You won’t be able to remember anything if you don’t get your sleep,” level-headed Rory added. “I have so much to learn!” Jess, looking startled at my suggestion, said. “How have you done through the Semester?” I asked. “Have you been working consistently?” Jess nodded. “Then you will be fine,” I reassured her,” but you need your sleep!” Jess was clearly on a caffeine high at the time, a bubbly personality, yet unable to hide the anxiety. I wondered if she was being placed under pressure to perform by her parents or by her peers. “At least you have a good sense of humor,” I smiled. “Sense of humor?” Jess looked puzzled and smiled. “That is not going to help me pass my exam.” As I listened to comments like those, I began to appreciate more and more how important it is for parents, students and teachers to work together to ensure...

8 Tips to develop meaningful mentoring relationships with Teenagers

When you were a teenager, did you ever come across an adult who crushed your dreams? How did you react? Fortunately, all the people who nurtured me as a young person encouraged me to chase my dreams. I shall forever be grateful to so many or that. “Cindy wanted to be a Paramedic, but I crushed her dream and told her to do nursing,” Cindy’s mum shared with me. “And now Gemma wants to go into law or something like that and  I am trying to get her to do nursing. I crushed Cindy’s dream and now I am crushing Gemma’s dream. You know, I think she could be a great teacher!” I found it challenging to have this conversation with Cindy and Gemma’s mum. “Never crush a dream,” I said. “No wonder Gemma is not sure what she wants to do with her life.” Anyone working with young people will have heard many stories like this. What we should be doing is encouraging these teenagers to chase their dreams. The dreams will reveal a passion and, once that passion is identified, it is so much easier for teenagers to set realistic and achievable goals and feel that their lives have purpose and meaning. This underlines the importance of sowing the seeds of the Spirit of Mentoring when we are working with young people especially, although there are some common threads that will cross all mentoring relationships. 8 Tips to develop meaningful relationships with Teenagers My research over the years has led me to put together these 8 tips to develop meaningful relationships with teenagers journeying through the adolescent...

3 Key Tips for encouraging teenagers to use time wisely

How many times do you stop each week and wonder where time has disappeared to? Or mope about saying, “I don’t have enough time,” or “I am too busy!” or words to that effect? Jason once told me that one of his problems was that he did not finish his assessments on time. This was partly because he worked better in subjects he enjoyed rather than those he either found irrelevant or boring and partly because he clearly needed guidance with regard to organizing his schedule and managing his time more effectively. Our conversation ended up exploring hours of sleep (minimum of nine hours every night are needed), his personal goals and a breakdown of how he travels through each and every day of the week. I stressed to him, by way of encouragement, that he needed a schedule that allowed him social time to be with his peers or time simply to relax – very important in the life of a teenager. Promoting the spirit of mentoring involves guiding young people on how to plan their days and weeks, as well as encouraging them to identify different qualities of time and to adapt their behavior to suit each one. 3 Key Tips for encouraging teenagers to use time wisely Jason and I looked at the following three qualities of time: 1. During peak performance hours the brain is functioning at maximum level. Teenagers can focus on the academic areas that require a high level of concentration. For example, they might revise for a test or exam, or work through a tough problem-solving task. 2. Certain times are creative....

How to show teenagers that quitting is a choice

How many times did you quit as a teenager? What were the reasons for that choice? I have spent time in recent weeks thinking of times when I might have quit on something, especially as a teenager, and regretted it. I was an active sportsman and I distinctly remember quitting on trying to achieve a top place in a 1500 meter race during our School Athletics Day. I did not want to train and represent the School in another big Athletics meet. I was playing two other sports at the time and did not feel I could manage another. Funny, though, how I remember this so vividly over 40 years later. When I am out jogging in the morning, I replay those moments. Even though I could justify my decision, there is definitely a regret that I did not push myself to the limit in that race. I quit on school work from time to time. This was often because I either found the work boring or could not see the relevance of studying a particular subject and, therefore, was unmotivated to learn. Then I became a teacher and could share many stories with young people, from my personal experiences, how NOT to behave. What has all this to do with the spirit of mentoring? Well, I guess I was making choices at a young age, some of which were poor and others did not matter too much. With my academic studies I sometimes have regrets that I never actually pushed myself, so I have no idea how competent I really am. In my first year at University, I...

A Teenager’s 6 Lessons to become the best she could be

How many times, as a teenager, did you feel alone and battling the world? Angie (16) was battling with a serious personal issue. She was a boarder at the school. One afternoon she popped in to see me in my office. Students knew that, if my door was open, they could feel free to come in and chat. I was the School Principal at the time. Angie started talking in fairly general ways about school, life, her favorite subjects, things she enjoyed doing and so on. I listened with interest. After a while she shared that she was not looking forward to returning home during the school holidays. Her father was disabled as a result of a work accident. He had been left crippled and was confined to a wheelchair. Angie said that he was abusive towards her and had a violent temper. From the way she talked, the abuse was verbal and nothing else – still, tough for a teenager, whose brain is still developing and prone to emotional outbursts, to contend with. We talked about the different options open to Angie, one of which was to apply for a United World College Scholarship. This was a Scholarship that would cover her education and boarding for the final two years of her education journey.  She would study for the International Baccalaureate. If successful, she would be able to approach almost any university for entrance to further study. Winning such a scholarship would reduce the time she would have to spend at home and that meant less time possibly being abused by her father. During the following week I...

6 Tips for Teenagers to overcome adversity

What was your worst school experience as a teenager and how did you overcome it? Colin (16), only average both academically and as a sportsman, made one crucial error when he was caught in possession of marijuana and was asked to leave the school. His world began to fall apart, but he responded to support and encouragement from his sports coach, as well as his parents, enrolled at another school closer to home and performed successfully in all aspects of school life, vowing never to experiment with drugs again. Peer pressure had been Colin’s downfall. However, this was not an easy time for Colin, as he had to come to terms with a choice he had made. He had to learn how his choice determined his future. 6 Tips for Teenagers to overcome adversity Reflecting on Colin’s journey, I recall six key decisions Colin made that helped him bounce back from adversity. At first Colin did not want to engage with anyone. He was embarrassed to speak to me (the sports coach) as he felt he had let both the team and me down. He felt he had been treated unfairly, as he had never been in trouble at school before. Then he agreed to talk. Colin chose to speak to me. I listened as he described what had happened. Decisions had been taken by school authorities and there was nothing I could do about this. Colin reluctantly understood this. We were honest with each other. Colin then had to decide what the way ahead would look like. He explored his options. A part of him wanted to give up...

4 Life Tips to become the best you can be

I wonder if you ever hit the wall as a teenager and wanted to quit either school or a position you held in the school or a team or cultural group? Brad was in this situation. Brad was battling with his peers. He came from a different cultural and social background than most of his peers, though was strong academically and talented in a variety of areas, social and sporting. When he had had enough of the negative peer pressure and mocking, disillusionment set in. With less than six months until he completed his schooling, Brad was ready to give up a superb education because of the hypocrisy and racism he was being subjected to. He was a School Leader and wanted to step down from this role as well. Brad was a boarder and I was his Housemaster. We had a long discussion one Saturday night, exploring different ways he could approach the issues that were concerning him. I did a lot of listening and guiding of the conversation towards Brad suggesting some positive solutions. In the end, we agreed that Brad must be himself, continue working hard towards his academic goals – indeed, make academic achievement his number one priority. Once he was through with his schooling, the world of tertiary education would offer many alternatives. Brad made this choice and gained superb academic results. He went on to University, gained his Business Management Degree and soon found a top job in Human Resource Management. When I later became a School Principal, I invited Brad to come and talk to the senior students, to share his story...

Life lessons when you stumble and fall

How did you deal with a wobbly situation when you were a teenager? Jack (18) was a talented sportsman, revered by the younger students. He was a student leader and led with a rod of iron. He battled to understand the need to reason, talk through issues and negotiate when applying disciplinary procedures. Jack led more by fear than anything else. He did, however, work incredibly hard at his sport and deserved all the success he achieved in that area. Sadly, Jack failed to follow advice and encouragement offered on many occasions. He lost his temper once too often – during the last week of his school career – and destroyed school furniture. His leadership status was withdrawn. Jack battled to accept this. I actually wondered if I would ever see or hear from Jack again. Some 20 years later, I managed to link up with Jack, sending him a message via social media, and wondered if I would hear from him. Within 24 hours Jack had replied, saying how good it was to hear from me. We exchanged a few emails and I did say that I was surprised he wanted to communicate with me. After all, I had been the person responsible for withdrawing the leadership responsibilities of someone the students looked up to as a hero. Jack responded to my comments about this in an interesting way. He acknowledged that the incident had happened some years ago, yet he was by that time (when we were communicating) older and wiser. He was happily married and the proud father of a couple of kids. A day or...

From teenage rebel to achiever – your choices matter

I have been reflecting on the stories of students I have worked with in years gone by and wondered where they are today. This tends to happen when I receive an email out of the blue from a student who left school a while ago and wants to connect about a personal matter they were dealing with, as happened with Sue (not her real name) a few weeks ago. Jess (15) was above average academically, usually did well in exams, but was unmotivated. She was not a great sportswoman, though a talented musician with the world at her feet. However, her parents had divorced and she began to rebel against her mother’s discipline. Indeed, she became something of a rebellious spirit at school. She initially rejected some goal-setting ideas. However, when really on the slide, she decided to seek some assistance, looked at her strengths and weaknesses and set some challenging goals for herself. Jess went from strength to strength, gained academic distinctions in four of her six subjects, was appointed to a position of leadership in the school, joined the school choir and became secretary to a number of school Clubs. Furthermore, Jess worked hard at improving her communication with her mother. Life lessons from Jess’ experience Looking back, what can be concluded from Jess’ experience to encourage you in your journey with young people? Jess was a normal teenager journeying through the challenging adolescent years while the brain was still developing. She was gifted in a number of areas and was probably fortunate in that she coped with her academic studies. Jess, though, was not happy within....