I often ask the question: when you were a teenager, who, other than your parents and friends, had a significant influence on your life?
Sometimes, sadly, people were living in homes that were not functioning too well for a variety of reasons, so positive parental influence might have been lacking. No matter what the situation, most young people will talk about a teacher or a coach, a person who cared about them, believed in them. and was often a cheerleader during a confusing time of one’s life.
A colleague died earlier this week. We taught together for eight years, shared many life and teaching experiences and enjoyed many laughs. Many of his former students have left tributes thanking him for the different ways he touched their lives. Words and phrases like, ‘inspiring’, ‘approachable’, ‘friendly’,’great teacher’, ‘caring’ and ‘great sense of humor’ are littered throughout the tributes. Clearly one dedicated teacher has impacted many more lives than he probably even realized.
How often do we actually pause to hear from young people? What do they think? How are they feeling?
Ways to encourage teenagers
The world mourns the death of so many innocent lives and the injuries others have sustained as a result of bomb blasts and shootings in different parts of the world in recent times, though we must never forget the tens of thousands, maybe millions of young people living in poverty or traumatized by war or child abuse or some other traumatic event in their lives.
For many years I have been thinking of a way to inspire and positively impact the lives of young people, encouraging them to use their God-given talents to fulfill their potential – the quiet ones who retreat into their shell, who perhaps lack confidence, who need to be reminded that they can take charge of their lives and being shown how to do this. I have completed an App, which will have to be free, with an inspiring phrase for each day which I have written from my experiences working with young people for over 40 years – can’t hide my age! I actually began this project about 17 years ago! I have written the 365 messages to inspire and am now on a journey to action my dream. I simply need someone to help finance this app and that has proven to be incredibly difficult to find, even though the youth who have received the daily words of encouragement as part of a trial run, have all valued them.
Positively impact a young life
What continued to inspire and motivate me, were a number of quotes from 14 and 15 year-old students who participated in the GR8 Mates school-based mentoring program a while ago. Most of these students were showing signs of disconnecting from school before they joined the program, many of them in single parent families and from low socio-economic, often high risk environments.
All the mentors were thoroughly trained and received weekly encouragement and guidance when they were actively involved in the mentoring journey. The focus of the six to nine month mentoring relationship – a pity we did not have more time – was on connecting, sharing ideas about goals and setting some, looking at possible career options and researching information on careers that interested the mentee. Where possible, the mentor took the mentee to visit a company or organization of interest to that young person from a career perspective.
Build meaningful relationships
As I read through the quotes below, I was again struck by the importance of RELATIONSHIPS in these young people’s lives, FACE TO FACE RELATIONSHIPS, not online communication.
With the development of the digital footprint, it is easy for us to forget that the most meaningful relationships are developed around three key words: RESPECT, SINCERITY (AUTHENTICITY) and EMPATHY, qualities that are shouting out to me when I read these quotes.
“[My mentor] has helped me through good times and bad and has helped me cope. She has also helped me with what my goal is in life and things I need to do to achieve becoming a teacher…[the program] has heaps of different aspects and it is brilliant …it is perfect the way it is.”
“[My mentor] gave me a lot of confidence. He told me about my self-worth and my values. I was extremely lucky to get him as a mentor. I liked that I had someone to talk to whenever I needed to, through email and face to face. I realized throughout the journey my career goals and opportunities.”
“My mentor has helped me analyse myself and the careers I’m interested in and helped me to find better time managing skills. I liked having someone to talk to about life in general, and having someone who can relate to certain things has been helpful and fun.”
“She has really helped me with managing my time. She has also been a great help with finding information about my career and how to achieve it. I enjoyed the whole thing.”
“She has helped me find what I’d like to do when I’m older and set a goal, as well as helping me find work experience at good places 🙂”
“Because I am 100% sure about where I’m going in life and have gained many valuable skills that will help me achieve my goals… gained a friend.”
“It was just good to be able to talk to someone about anything.”
“He has helped sort through my life and make right decisions when it comes to work related things. Very awesome person. Really been good with him.”
“[She] helped me gain self-confidence, realize what I wanted to do in the future, how I was going to get there and has helped me achieve my goals.”
“She told me things I just wanted to hear.”
“Helped find the jobs I like …talking about jobs…”
“I now understand what I want to do in life…I enjoyed it all.”
“She has opened my mind to the opportunities and still has more I’d love to learn from her. She took me to a Career Psychologist showing me what I am best at. She has helped open my mind 🙂 …it is a good program.”
“[She] has helped me become more confident in myself and I hope that I have made a positive impact on her life as well. I wish her all the best …talking about each other’s lives, resolving issues and having a good laugh. I liked everything. I think it was a great idea. Thank you for allowing me to have this experience.”
“Helped me with job opportunities eg, work experience.”
“She has helped me write my Resume. She organized work experience. Good rapport.”
“[She] has helped me with a lot of things…having someone to talk to.”
“He has been there if I needed to talk …make it last longer.”
“[She] has taught me to control my anger and shown me the importance of a good career.”
I remember that one of these mentors went through personal difficulties a few years after this mentoring relationship began. On Facebook the mentee, by then a young adult, posted a comment to the effect that, just as her mentor had been there for her during her confusing adolescent years, now she would be there to support her mentor.
The seeds of the Spirit of Mentoring had been successfully sown during these relationships. I have a new book coming out early next year which looks at sowing the seeds of mentoring from a faith perspective.
Have you remembered who, other than your parents, made a significant and POSITIVE impact on your life when you were a teenager?
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.