When you were a teenager how did you bounce back from adversity? What form did this adversity take – rejection by friends? A family bereavement? Challenging family circumstances? Living in a high-risk environment? Failing an exam? Omitted from a team?
The COVID-19 lockdown has helped me to focus on my new mentoring book due out later in the year with over 1000 tips, strategies and discussion topics to encourage anyone working with young people. I have had plenty of time to reflect on my own teenage years and how I dealt with cancer, the loss of my mother, changing family circumstances, peer relationships and all the challenges every teenager faces as they seek meaning and purpose in their lives.
And, each time I reflect, I am drawn back to ten key life lessons which I have shared with hundreds of young people, especially those I have mentored. In almost every case I have observed extraordinary positive life journeys being developed before my eyes, as these young people embraced most, if not all the life lessons over a period of time.
A unique time
No teenager is likely to have experienced anything like COVID-19 in their lifetime, an event that will change how our global community thinks and operates.
Already we are told that the creative, innovative and entrepreneurial spirit will be rewarded in the coming months and years as the global economy recovers from this pandemic. We have so many wonderfully creative young people whose creativity is often squashed by narrow-thinking, dull, exam driven education systems. Time to free them up and encourage them to soar!
Well-known Australian psychologist Andrew Fuller has written one of the best definitions of resilience I have come across: “The ability to bungee jump through life. It’s not that you avoid the pitfalls and difficult times, but when they do happen you have skills to get out of it. It is as if you have an elasticized rope around your middle that helps you bounce back.”
Parents, teachers, mentors, indeed anyone working with youth can focus on their strengths, name them and explore ways these young people can use their strengths to develop resiliency. No matter what life throws at them, they will be prepared to bounce back.
10 life lessons to bounce back
When our young people build their lives on strong foundations they develop key qualities and skills, and identify strengths to help them bounce back from setbacks.
There are ten life lessons – a checklist, if you like, to share with teenagers. When a teenager embraces most of these, with the non-judgmental encouragement and support of at least one significant adult, you will observe the development of a positive growth mindset and resiliency.
1. Relationships: focus on surrounding yourself with positive friends, preferably a couple of groups of friends so you can move between groups. Your friends will have similar interests and you will move forward in a spirit of friendly rivalry.
2. Exercise: create a regular exercise program and stick to it. A brisk thirty minute walk every second day would be a great start if this is an area in which you struggle. A developing brain needs a healthy and balanced life style, so also watch your diet.
3. Sleep: nine hours sleep every night and remove the digital distractions from your sleeping area. Your brain needs this uninterrupted time to sift through all that you have learnt that day, store what is important and discard the rest.
4. Interest or hobby: Find an interest or hobby that you enjoy and keep developing it. This is not about sitting in front of any type of screen as an excuse. You need to remove yourself from becoming an unhealthy “screen addict”. The exception will be the person genuinely interested in an IT career, a game developer, or someone interested in something that might require some screen time. Then, when you have your exercise, leave any technological devices at home and enjoy the exercise.
5. Learning: It has become increasingly hard to develop a career without sound academic foundations. This is a reality. So, give your academic subjects priority and ask someone you trust to help you develop a study schedule that works for you and an effective management of time plan. The effort will be rewarded.
6. I am unique. Never forget that there is no-one with your gifts, talents and your personality on this planet. Know that you have a specific purpose, so do your best to be yourself at all times. Remember, too, not to take yourself too seriously and to develop a great sense of humor – life is fun!
7. Exit: One of the most important daily habits to develop is to take time out for reflection. Start with ten minutes every day. No technology. No distractions. In your safe space. Time to think about your day and how you are doing, all the highs and lows, where you might need help and support … “Have I done my best today?” – a great question to ask yourself.
8. Network: Seek at least three trustworthy adults other than your parents. Listen to their stories. Share your fears, hopes, goals and dreams. They become your non-judgmental cheerleaders so you know that you will never walk alone.
9. Choose your own goals. Make these goals specific, measurable, intentional, limited (within a certain time frame), extending (so they stretch you a little), and realistic. Every goal must be achievable. Share your goals with someone you trust. Your goal will reflect your effort and this is more important than the attainment of the actual goal, as you develop intrinsic motivation.
10. Youth activities. Join a youth group, or a faith group, or a cultural group. This will keep you connected to positive peers and helpful adult role models who might become your wise guides. This is also a great time to explore spirituality in a safe and secure environment, as you seek a deeper understanding of the meaning and purpose of life.
So many countries are experiencing lockdowns. This is a wonderful opportunity for parents to sit around a table with their teenage children and consider each of these ten points to develop RESILIENCY.
It is a great opportunity also for parents to talk about their teenage years and lessons learnt from their experiences and choices. Your children will be listening to every word shared no matter what you might think.
Focus on sowing messages of hope and remind them that, as they develop resiliency, they are equipping themselves with key skills and competencies to bounce back from adversity. If you want more information, I have written two user-friendly books, one for teenagers and one for parents, teachers and mentors. Both books are loaded with helpful tips and words of encouragement – special offers for people living in New Zealand.
Finally, share with your teenage children this superb truth from Mark Twain: “Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living; the world owes you nothing; it was here first.”
Turn COVID-19 into a life-changing experience for youth – change the narrative to one of hope built on strong foundations.
Ready to jump? Make sure you have the elasticized belt around you – you have to bounce back!
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.