How often, when you are chatting to teenagers and trying to understand them do you reflect on your adolescent journey? Can you remember any high and low points of your teenage years? Can you remember the significant people who impacted you either positively or negatively?
Sometimes it helps our relationships with youth when we show empathy and try harder to understand how they might be feeling to help us understand why a seemingly crazy or irresponsible decision was made.
We know that the brain is developing in crucial ways until the mid-twenties. All the developing brain research should assist our relationship building skills with youth.
Psychologist David Walsh shared some thoughts about the key challenges facing adolescents and I have added another.
12 points every adult working with youth can remember
As we move alongside youth, encourage them to become happy and positive people – despite major mood swings, which is normal – and work hard to speak to the potential you can see in them and which they often cannot see. That is where your calm, reassuring presence is genuinely appreciated even if they do not communicate this to you – yet!
Adolescents have to:
- figure out how to get sufficient sleep – a minimum of nine hours every night is highly recommended;
- handle sexually maturing bodies that give rise to strong urges which they can learn how to manage;
- try and figure out and manage volatile and powerful emotions;
- fit into a complex social network;
- deal with immense peer pressure – both positive and negative;
- deal with wildly changing moods;
- decide how they are going to respond to the temptation of tobacco, alcohol and drugs;
- figure out what their values are going to be;
- renegotiate relationships with their parents;
- get through school or some other area of study;
- begin to plan their future;
- figure out how the digital age (especially social media) is going to positively or negatively impact their lives.
Youth with a strong personal identity
Young people with a strong sense of personal identity are likely to display:
- a sense of belonging and connection;
- a sense of feeling worthwhile;
- a sense of being able to contribute.
If any one of these characteristics is missing, youth could fail to develop or might lose self-esteem. Research suggests that students with low self-esteem can become anxious, bewildered, confused, defensive or depressed; abuse alcohol and drugs; experience interpersonal problems; display antisocial behavior issues or underachieve academically.
Keep reminding yourself that the brain can and does grow neurons. Most youth ‘survive’ and become positive, functional people. New neurons are highly correlated with memory, mood and learning – this process can be regulated by our everyday behaviors. Specifically it can be enhanced by exercise, lower levels of stress and good nutrition.
The ability of the adolescent brain to rewire and revamp itself because of its neuroplasticity is profound. Adolescence, therefore, is a time of great risk and amazing opportunity. As a positive person of influence alongside a young person, become the non-judgmental cheerleader they crave.
What concerns do you have about a young person?
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.