Have you ever felt totally helpless when you have tried to assist someone struggling with personal issues to move into a better head space?
What hope do I have in all reality working with sixteen-year-old Max (not his real name) when he comes from such a dysfunctional family? I know I cannot be a savior, nor a rescuer and my teaching, mentoring or coaching role is not about ‘fixing’ families or people.
I have found over the years that working with adolescents is considerably more challenging when the family is not functioning well.
I have seen what I call ‘drone parents’ getting in the way, protecting their children because they have their own agendas for their children, thus contributing to the emergence of a ‘powderpuff’ generation of young people who will struggle in an increasingly entrepreneurial, innovative world where one might have to risk failure to achieve dreams.
I have seen parents with their own mental health issues becoming a mixture of drone or helicopter parents. They hover and interfere, and much depends on their own mood swings with regard to how they react to situations involving their children.
Wearing my education and mentoring hats, as well as reflecting on years of experience working with young people, I can see the potential damage the parent’s suffocating love will cause, but I have to pull back, as I am unable to save a child, fix, or rescue a family.
Be a seed sower
So, all I do is try and sow lots of positive seeds of HOPE, trusting that one day the young person will remember the discussions, find a mentor and start putting into action some of their own ideas without fearing failure or trying to be perfect. While communicating with Max, we discussed:
- Goals – how to set goals; why goals can help one find meaning and purpose; why it is important to write the goals down and take ownership of them;
- Choices – the choices we make will define our future. Sometimes, due to circumstances, we might not be able to make the choice we would like. At this point we need to learn how we choose to adapt to a different life situation;
- How to develop meaningful relationships – we talked about positive and negative peer pressure, characteristics and values we appreciate in friends and so much more;
- Self-image and developing high self-esteem. I wove thoughts about these matters into all our conversations;
- Values – we shared thoughts on respect for oneself and others, integrity, tolerance, gratitude, compassion, empathy and other values relevant to the discussion at the time;
- Careers – we explored possible career pathways and explored Max’s passions in life.
Max was always full of enthusiasm and left my company to take up some of the challenges. Sadly, he lacked the determination to tackle the personal goals he set for himself. His mother always made excuses and Max, as a normal confused teenager, took advantage of that situation, even though he could not fully understand that he was falling further and further behind his peers.
Keep exploring options
Often I have seen how absent, or inadequate, or incompetent parenting has resulted in the adolescent’s antisocial behavior escalating. Brain research tells us that this can ultimately lead to delinquency and chronic criminal behavior.
Brain researchers also suggest that severe and chronic stress in an adolescent’s life can also be linked to physical and emotional abuse, though the good news is that deficits might not be permanent because of the plasticity of the brain.
Whenever I have worked with adolescents in these challenging situations, I have ALWAYS consulted people more experienced than I am with regard to mental health issues. I inevitably receive encouragement and some helpful tips to keep on keeping on.
It is important to keep reminding myself that a young person might enter my life for a season and I must do my level best to encourage them to become the best they can be, appreciating that the odds might be stacked against me because of domestic difficulties. However, just being present for the young person, sharing a thought or an idea might be a life-changing moment I only hear about one day, or maybe never hear about.
The teacher, coach or mentor is a seed sower who sows messages of hope and paints pictures of what might be in a non-judgmental, encouraging manner.
Have you ever had a similar experience you can share with others?
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 using their God-given talents. 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 2 and 4 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.