Can you remember the relationships you had when you were an adolescent? Did you belong to a small clique or did you have a wide circle of friends? Do you think more deeply about what meaningful relationships are all about? Will you place your relationships at the front and center of your journey through the COVID -19 pandemic?
We are living in ‘unprecedented times’. I hear this phrase every day at the moment, We move into a time of lock down. It will be tough, but I am fortunate, as I can still do my beautiful daily beach walk, and am now forced to finish my new mentoring book to meet the publisher’s end of April deadline. I won’t be able to link up with my daughter and her family and the grandchildren to enjoy lots of laughs. And, while writing this book – converting my 260 free podcasts into 312 daily messages – I have reflected on all the people who have impacted my life through expressing the spirit of mentoring. I have written tributes to some of these people in the new book.
As I played plenty of sport in my youth, I tended to hang out with some of my team members in the different teams in which I participated, which led to a wider circle of superficial friendships, though I had one or two closer friends who remained friends for many years. My experiences also reminded me of a conversation I had with 16-year-old Gabby who was working through relationship issues.
Gabby was keen to do well at school and was genuinely striving to fulfill her potential.. She had concerns about how she was handling the different pressures in her life, and approached me to have a discussion about all this.
Negative peer pressure
I had noticed that she was mixing with students whose behavior bordered on being antisocial, yet was not quite in that category. She was aware that she could be ‘labelled’ along with that crowd. They were all great students, simply in different places on their adolescent journey, which led to inconsistent behavior which Gabby admitted she struggled with. The negative peer pressure was beginning to impact her academic studies. She felt she was becoming easily distracted and beginning to underachieve.
So, our conversation moved to consider how to hang out with positive friends, as this dynamic often results in these young people pushing each other to greater heights and friendly rivalry. There is so much research these days which states that, other than parents, one’s peer relationships are the most important relationships in an adolescent’s life.
Gabby and I chatted about the importance of having different peer groups. Adolescents are renowned for having fall-outs with friends, and it’s a natural part of their adolescent journey. Girls, in particular, struggle more with relationship breakdowns than boys as a general rule – girls have also told me this! It becomes important to have a sense of belonging to different groups so one can move around between these groups when relationships become strained. When I shared with Gabby, I used the example above of how I moved around with different peer groups depending on which sport I played. In hindsight, I was probably quite fortunate with regard to peer relationships during those confusing adolescent years.
Positive peers and COVID -19
Positive peers seem to be more responsible, and community-minded young people most of the time, less concerned with the instant gratification and entitlement way of life with which many youth struggle.
I have reflected more about the qualities of positive peers and offer some suggestions which a mentor can discuss with a mentee, or within families, a significant topic when working with young people:
During these challenging times, as we adapt to the COVID -19 virus and the impact on our families and the global community, our relationships are critically important. We live each day with the same people in a confined area, and some families will be facing different challenges. Will employees have to be made redundant? Will the business survive, close or have to be scaled down? Will I still have a job in one month’s time? How will my education be affected? What if a member of the family dies as a result of catching the virus? How will we co-habit in this home? Have we enough food? How will the bills be paid? Many, many questions. Youth are impacted by parental responses and behavior.
Teenagers, in particular, are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives. They want to be listened to. They want people to care for them. There is a selfishness which they will work through, but they are vulnerable and often moody – this is normal.
13 positive peers tips
During the next couple of months, Gabby and I chatted about her life, her dreams and how to find meaning and purpose. I shared the following points in different ways, and at different times to encourage her to move forward positively, and continue the development of resiliency and a positive growth mindset. Come to think of it, all these points are just as relevant for my adult life as they are for a teenager’s. I might make some minor adaptations, but the principles remain.
Persistence – try hard; don’t give up; don’t get distracted; check work when completed, and do not be afraid to ask for help.
Organisation – plan and prioritize; set achievable and measurable goals; manage time effectively.
Self-confidence – “I can do it!”; I have gifts and talents and will succeed in some areas; I am capable and competent in certain areas. “I matter!”
Independent – willing to stand up for something I believe in; prepared to try new things/ways/methods/move out of my comfort zone.
Tolerance – acknowledge we are all human and make mistakes; try to be non-judgmental, and respectful of others.
Integrity – be honest with myself, about myself; respectful of myself and others; truthful; trustworthy.
Visualization – learn to paint a picture of myself doing/achieving my dreams/goals; see myself succeed; use positive action words; write my long-term goal or dream in the present tense, as though I have already achieved it. Never lose my sense of humor!
Experiment – take calculated, non life-threatening risks; have an open mind; give something a go!
Problem-solving – consider different responses to life situations, and relationship issues.; think about the consequences of my actions on others.
Effort – realize that the harder I try the more successful I’ll be; my attitude determines my altitude!
Empathy – walk in someone else’s shoes; try to understand how others feel; reflect on the consequences of my actions and choices ‘I’ make..
Rules – accept the importance of boundaries in my life; rules are there for a positive purpose; create a happier more supportive world; make a positive difference where I can.
Structure – live a balanced lifestyle, including nine hours sleep a night; participate in school, sport, cultural social activities; value my family; never forget, that life must be FUN!, so I must not take myself too seriously.
These are some examples of the qualities POSITIVE PEERS can work hard to develop, especially with the support of parents and mentors.
COVID -19 – face reality
COVID -19 provides each of us with an opportunity to reflect on how we are travelling in our lives. We have the chance to pause, revisit the choices we make, and the goals we have set. We can reassess our dreams and, most important, the relationships that really matter to us.
Fortunately, most of us can keep in touch with valued peers and family through social media platforms. Will your messages and communication on these platforms reflect the thirteen qualities of positive peers?
Talk about these qualities around the table at home. Chat to a mentee on the phone, by email, SMS or whatever means of communication are available while this virus is eradicated. Your mentee will appreciate more regular messages, especially if they live in a high-risk environment, or in cramped housing situations. You show that you care for their wellbeing. This is such a good time to talk about a variety of topics – you have a captive audience.
What of Gabby? After about three or four months she thanked me for all our discussions. She had made some adjustments to her friendships, balanced her lifestyle better and continued to finish the final eighteen months of her school career superbly.
Your words matter
I have always been inspired by these words allegedly shared by Rena, an ex-gang member: “When I discovered that people cared about me – that they believed in my potential as a leader, that they wanted me to succeed – that changed my life. Having someone over your shoulder telling you that you are powerful and that even you can make a difference in your community is compelling.”
How about you? What qualities did you observe in your peer groups – many of these? 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.