From teenage rebel to achiever – your choices matter

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. Perhaps she saw some of her friends enjoying positive family relationships, something she did not experience as her parents were divorced. Sometimes this can lead to a period of confusion, anger, frustration and antisocial behavior tendencies.
  • Jess was like most teenagers. She believed she was okay, had the answers and no adults could ever understand how she was feeling.
  • Jess came close to hitting rock bottom before she woke up and realized that she needed some assistance. When she found that assistance, she discovered that she was not being judged, there was someone listening respectfully to her, guiding her and willing to journey with her for a while.
  • Jess set achievable, though challenging goals and, as she started achieving them, she began to enjoy the journey through adolescence far more and achieved so much in so many areas of her life. 

Choices define our attitude

One of the keys for Jess was when she realized that the rebellious attitude she had chosen was getting her nowhere other than in continuous trouble. And that was not fun.

Even when she might have put on a brave, couldn’t-care-less attitude in front of her peers, she was unlikely to be loving the person she was looking at in the mirror each day.

Jess made a choice to make a change. The day she made that choice things started happening in her life. She knew she had an adult outside the family she could trust, someone who would walk every step of the way with her, someone who was talking to the potential she was not yet seeing.

Jess learnt that there are no short-cuts. Sometimes life is tough and, instead of running away, it’s best to face the challenges and risk trusting someone with more life experiences to move alongside her. This is a major decision for any teenager to make. It takes courage and there is risk involved. Jess made this choice and it worked for her.

Jess also found the joy involved in setting and chasing her goals. She extended her goals to life beyond the classroom and became involved in a variety of extracurricular activities – a self-empowering journey. As she did so, she started hanging out with positive peers, some of whom probably became lifelong friends.

Jess chose to change her attitude and she gutsed her way through the tough times, especially when she wanted to give up, finishing school as a resilient young woman ready to make a positive difference in her global community.

Jess is like most of us. If she could make the changes, so can we. 

Never be afraid to ask, ask, ask for some direction from someone you trust who might be older and wiser.

Do you have a story similar to that of Jess to share?

About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in New Zealand and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook (where you are able to join a closed mentoring group) or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website  Robin’s free Mentoring Matters daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.