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 His leadership status was withdrawn.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 so after that email, Jack contacted me to ask for my comments on his new website which he was busily creating for his tourist business. We still communicate on occasions.
Looking back, what can we conclude from Jack’s experience?
- Jack was like so many teenagers good at sport whose paths crossed with mine. They are placed on a pedestal by their adoring fans – sadly, sometimes by adult coaches as well – and often lose a sense of reality. They almost seem to feel they are untouchable and can do what they like. Indeed, neuroscience research describes a phase of the adolescent life journey when they feel they are invincible and often fail to think before they act.
- Jack was swept up in this world. He became seriously influenced by peer pressure. He stopped reasoning, listening to constructive words of encouragement and probably did not realize that he was likely to find life becoming more and more difficult as the years went by if he chose that attitude.
- However, there clearly came a time when Jack did some soul-searching. He made some fresh choices, changed his attitude and started respecting people and the property of others.
- Jack, too, came to realize his potential, loves his children – an adoring father, in fact! – and his wife and is persevering with an exciting business venture.
- I sense, too, that, over the years, Jack also chose to keep working at his relationship building skills, is more tolerant of others, more respectful and probably has softened his heart.
Jack’s story is a reminder of the importance of building a web of positive and honest support around ourselves as we journey through our teenage years. By this I mean finding a few people who believe in you, are authentic and will be non-judgmental Cheerleaders, unafraid to use the sharp stick called ‘truth’ to sensitively tell you when they think you are overstepping the boundaries. As you come to respect them, you are more likely to listen to them and allow them to help you with any issues you might be having to deal with – you appreciate that you are no longer alone.
Never, never, never be afraid to ask for assistance, guidance, encouragement and support from someone older and wiser who you trust – a great life lesson.
“When I was a young man, I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. I didn’t want to be a failure, so I did ten times more work.” (George Bernard Shaw)
What did your teenage experience teach you?
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.