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 did some more research on this and gave Angie the Application forms which needed to be completed and signed by a parent. I stressed to Angie that it was important her parents supported this application.
Angie soon told me that her mother was fully supportive (I never asked about her father) and the forms were duly submitted. A while later Angie heard that she had been awarded a scholarship to complete her education in another country and this she did, moving to her new school at the end of that particular year.
When Angie decided to apply for the Scholarship, she knew that she would need to show that she was a genuine all-rounder. She did well academically, though she was under-performing. She had a great singing voice and participated in school choral performances and in the school musical production that year. She worked hard to improve her social skills, as she had a tendency to annoy her peers by occasionally making insensitive comments. Angie went through some challenging months ….
6 Lessons to become the best Angie could be
Looking back, what life lessons can be taken from Angie’s experience?
- Angie arrived at a point in her life when she needed to talk to someone she respected about her situation and express her feelings. She had the courage and chose to be vulnerable and share something that was difficult to talk about and was clearly a painful part of her life.
- Angie was receiving subsidized education as her family had little money. In the discussion we had, she came to see that there were opportunities for her, though hard work and consistent effort would be needed to take advantage of any such opportunities. There were no short cuts available.
- Angie could have given up, accepted her lot in life and stayed at the school. However, when she saw the opportunity to advance, to travel and to obtain an excellent education in another country, she moved right out of her comfort zone and went after it. Her perseverance was rewarded.
- Angie was an opinionated young woman. She learnt how to follow her idealism and to talk with greater empathy to her peers and family members.
- Angie had a warm, beautiful smile and a wonderful sense of humor. She genuinely cared about other people. She learnt how to reach out to others in need and she gave of herself to support people less privileged than herself.
- Angie changed her attitude towards life, towards school, towards her family and towards her peers and reaped the rewards.
I have no idea where Angie is now, though I hope she is living a happy and fulfilling life. Her defining moment was probably having the courage to trust me with her feelings about life at home. She would pop into my office, maybe once a fortnight, just to chat. She taught me plenty and, hopefully, our interactions gave her the confidence to step out and chase her dreams.
Therein lies the message for volunteer adult mentors to share with their mentees and for teachers to share with students: the importance of sharing our feelings, our dreams and our ideals with an adult or adults we trust. There is always a risk when we do this. As we discover that the person we choose to speak to is non-judgmental and doesn’t want to offer advice every second minute of the conversation, we shall soon discover who to trust with the deeper issues we carry around with us.
How did you end up overcoming those feelings of loneliness? Perhaps you have a story to share with young people and others who are journeying with young people?
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 Minutes daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.