What can you remember about your childhood? What were the fun activities you were involved in? How did you keep yourself occupied? Who were your friends? Any special friends? What made these friendships so special?
I remember we climbed trees, created our own games indoors and outdoors, rode our bicycles, without helmets, to the local Park where we played on the variety of playground equipment available – jungle gyms, seesaws, swings, roundabouts – and caught tadpoles in the stream running through the Park, all without any adult supervision.
We walked or rode to school without adult supervision and caught public transport, even in the evenings, without adult supervision. We jumped into a teacher’s car or another parent’s car if we were going to a sports match without any need of permission slips signed by our parents.
We listened to the Top 20 hits of the week on a Sunday night from Radio Lourenco Marques (I was raised in Cape Town) on a transistor radio; we watched the international sports teams practising and mingled with them before and after matches, with no security guards evident; we listened to the radio, as we did not have Television – Kit Grayson Rides the Range or something like that was daily special at about 5.00 pm; Pick-a-Box, a Quiz Show; Squad Cars, a Detective program; Mark Saxon or something similar ……. yes, those were the days and how different from life today. The rare Computers were massive machines in large office areas with punch cards …. and so I could go on.
These thoughts occurred after I read an interesting Blog by Occupational Therapist, Victoria Prooday, The silent tragedy affecting today’s children, which has been read by over 20 million people since it was published.
Some alarming statistics
Victoria expresses concern about the alarming statistics released by researchers during the early years of this Century. For example, 1 in 5 children with mental health problems; a 43% increase in ADHD; a 37% increase in teen depression and a 200% increase in suicide rates in kids between 10 and 14 years old.
An article in The Australian newspaper a while ago quoted Michael Carr-Gregg, a leading Australian Psychologist, pointing out that one in every seven students in primary school and one in four in secondary schools had endured mental health issues, while youth suicide in Australia was at its worst in 10 years. “This is a generation that is really struggling: I’ve never seen anything like it, ” Michael said. “It speaks to me of a lack of resilience. The bottom line is that I don’t think we are preparing even the little kids or the biggest kids for adversity.”
Where are our parents?
Both Victoria and Michael express concerns about questionable parenting practices and I have seen more and more Drone parenting (yes, it’s that bad!) in recent years. Clearly we could be raising a generation that might struggle a great deal in the years ahead, all the more so if 50% of the current jobs will no longer exist, as some researchers are suggesting. If we don’t encourage our children to be creative and innovative, to climb trees and even fall out of them at times, to fail while trying something new, to verbally fight their own battles, what can we expect?
There are ongoing issues around teenagers not having sufficient sleep, having poor diets, not exercising enough, if at all, spending too much time being negatively impacted by social media instead of ‘talking’ to their friends and there are more anxiety issues, just to mention a few examples. Bullying in a variety of forms rears its ugly head – cyber bullying an ongoing issue – and parents, teachers and students need a better understanding of how to approach bullying and so-called bullying issues.
The power of mentoring
This is where promoting the Spirit of Mentoring can play such a critical role in the life of adolescents, as those teenagers (and young adults) communicate with significant adults in their lives who might not be parents. It has led me to work on developing a free App for adolescents and anyone interacting with them, containing a Daily Message of Inspiration which will guide them on a journey to become positive and motivated global citizens, the daily messages linked to the outcomes of much of the recent brain research.
At the same time I developed 260 Mentoring Minutes Podcasts, FREE 2 to 3 minute podcasts containing heaps and heaps of information to encourage anyone mentoring, coaching or parenting teenagers.
Why am I sharing all this?
While there are justifiable concerns about the protection and bubble-wrapping of our our young people, it is not difficult to change the narrative and develop strategies that will be self-empowering for our youth on their journey through one of the most confusing times of their lives.
As a mentor, I can simply ask some questions, listen to the answers and make some suggestions before we collaboratively develop strategies to live lives that might positively impact our community, my mentees working out their goals, taking ownership of them and inviting me to join them on the journey for a season or two – for as long as that young person wishes me to take on that encouraging and supportive role.
Tips for positive discussions with Teenagers
Here are a few thoughts from my book, The Spirit of Mentoring – a manual for adult volunteers. They are simply examples of possible ways to create positive discussions with a view to assisting your mentee to live a healthy and balanced life. I have added a few thoughts and deducted some sentences from the original.
- How have you been doing in your schoolwork during the past three months? Compare your results. What are your strong and weak subjects? What subjects do you enjoy? Why? What subjects don’t you enjoy? Why not? What can we do to improve things for you?
- So you think your schoolwork isn’t great and you want to leave school? Have you thought about the importance of gaining the best education you possibly can to help your long-term career prospects? Let’s share some ideas to do with this.
- How much homework or extra study do you have? How are you handling it? Are there any ways I can support you or are there any resources you need?
- How much sleep do you get at night? When do you concentrate best in class, at work or during your training (as applicable)?
- How important are your friendships? Are you friends having a positive or negative influence on your life?
- Do you feel at times your life is an emotional roller-coaster out of control? That is normal at your age! Would you like me to share what adolescent brain research is suggesting to put you at ease?
- Let’s look at the way you spend your time each week. I’ll share how I manage my time if you would like me to.
- What career or careers are you interested in? Let’s spend part of the mentoring journey exploring some of these options and see how much information you can find out about these careers. What subjects do you need to study for this career? Where you can further your studies? What are the opportunities for a job in this area? Maybe I can introduce you to friends who are in a career that you are interested in finding out more about. What are the options?
- What really interests you? What are you good at?
- Do you have a part-time job? What is it like? How many hours each week are you working? What do you like or not like about it? Are you saving any money? Should we discuss how to budget?
- If you were applying for a part-time job you might need a CV or Resume. Would you like me to help you draw up a CV/Resume?
- Your examinations start in three weeks. Let’s draw up a realistic revision schedule together.
- Are you eating a regular breakfast? What are you having? And lunch?
- How much time are you spending on social media each day/night? Would you like me to share some tips about the responsible use of social media?
- How much exercise are you having each week?
- Are you using a diary? I am happy to show you my diary and we can explore ways of managing your time better so you will end up having more free time.
- Are there any particular sports you enjoy? Tell me about them. Have you been to any matches? Would you like to try out a sport?
- Are you a member of your local library? When did you last go there? Would you like me to go with you? Perhaps we could check out what’s in the library on possible careers for you or your interests. If you want to join, perhaps I could help.
- Imagine you have only two years left on Earth. What do you want to achieve by the end of that time so that people will appreciate the difference you have tried to make? (This often leads to the discovery of a young person’s passion.)
Sowing the seeds of the Spirit of Mentoring will have the power to speak messages of HOPE and possibility into the lives of our young people. If we can create partnerships with parents and teachers, as well as employers (where relevant), we shall raise a generation of resilient young people ready to face the challenges of the 21st Century and to create all those new jobs we do not even know about yet!
Perhaps there is no more important time than today to invest time in the lives of our youth.
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 Facebook 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. About 45 blogs have been converted to short video clips, all of which are linked to encouraging youth to reach their potential. These are available on YouTube https://www.youtube.