15 practical ways to encourage and support teenagers from high risk environments

15 practical ways to encourage and support teenagers from high risk environments

“Kids don’t need independence, they need interdependence. People are homeless because they have no functioning human relationships in their lives. Who in this society can live independently? All human beings want to belong somewhere.” (Pat O’Brien – founder of You Gotta Believe Program for older foster teens in New York) Have you worked with young people from high-risk environments or from families that are not functioning too well? Having been an educator for 40 years and been actively involved in youth mentoring programs, I have come across young people who had been physically and/or emotionally abused and was often in awe of their resiliency as they worked through life’s challenges. Yesterday I was researching for a book I am writing to encourage teachers and was reminded of the major challenges facing these educators when working with students from disadvantaged and/or high risk environments where there might be poverty, abuse, bullying and trauma. These students will probably experience different levels of toxic stress, depending on their personal experiences, which can disrupt development and cause learning problems. Their possible antisocial behavior can lead to social failure, which may produce a depressed mood. Rejection from peers, family or extended family problems and academic difficulties contribute to the onset of depression among boys in particular. Parenting behavior contributes significantly to a young person’s self-esteem. Non-compliance and anti-social behavior are related to low self-esteem. 15 practical ways to support and encourage teenagers from high-risk environments Volunteer adults working with young people must always remember that they cannot and should not try and fix families or rescue teenagers. The task will be tough and challenging, requiring...
Teenagers and high anxiety – what is going on?

Teenagers and high anxiety – what is going on?

While I was walking along the beach this morning, I was mindful of the different shapes and sizes of footprints of others who had gone ahead of me. I reflected on the fact that the choices we make will heavily impact our footprints on the sands of time. I recalled walking around the school a while ago and stumbling into a conversation between two final year students. “I only had four hours sleep,” said an animated Jess, “and this is my fourth cup of coffee!” “Make sure you have nine hours sleep a night throughout the next week,” I interjected. “Your brain needs time to consolidate your learning and to discard what you don’t need to remember.” “You won’t be able to remember anything if you don’t get your sleep,” level-headed Rory added. “I have so much to learn!” Jess, looking startled at my suggestion, said. “How have you done through the Semester?” I asked. “Have you been working consistently?” Jess nodded. “Then you will be fine,” I reassured her,” but you need your sleep!” Jess was clearly on a caffeine high at the time, a bubbly personality, yet unable to hide the anxiety. I wondered if she was being placed under pressure to perform by her parents or by her peers. “At least you have a good sense of humor,” I smiled. “Sense of humor?” Jess looked puzzled and smiled. “That is not going to help me pass my exam.” As I listened to comments like those, I began to appreciate more and more how important it is for parents, students and teachers to work together to ensure...
8 Tips to develop meaningful mentoring relationships with Teenagers

8 Tips to develop meaningful mentoring relationships with Teenagers

When you were a teenager, did you ever come across an adult who crushed your dreams? How did you react? Fortunately, all the people who nurtured me as a young person encouraged me to chase my dreams. I shall forever be grateful to so many or that. “Cindy wanted to be a Paramedic, but I crushed her dream and told her to do nursing,” Cindy’s mum shared with me. “And now Gemma wants to go into law or something like that and  I am trying to get her to do nursing. I crushed Cindy’s dream and now I am crushing Gemma’s dream. You know, I think she could be a great teacher!” I found it challenging to have this conversation with Cindy and Gemma’s mum. “Never crush a dream,” I said. “No wonder Gemma is not sure what she wants to do with her life.” Anyone working with young people will have heard many stories like this. What we should be doing is encouraging these teenagers to chase their dreams. The dreams will reveal a passion and, once that passion is identified, it is so much easier for teenagers to set realistic and achievable goals and feel that their lives have purpose and meaning. This underlines the importance of sowing the seeds of the Spirit of Mentoring when we are working with young people especially, although there are some common threads that will cross all mentoring relationships. 8 Tips to develop meaningful relationships with Teenagers My research over the years has led me to put together these 8 tips to develop meaningful relationships with teenagers journeying through the adolescent...
3 Key Tips for encouraging teenagers to use time wisely

3 Key Tips for encouraging teenagers to use time wisely

How many times do you stop each week and wonder where time has disappeared to? Or mope about saying, “I don’t have enough time,” or “I am too busy!” or words to that effect? Jason once told me that one of his problems was that he did not finish his assessments on time. This was partly because he worked better in subjects he enjoyed rather than those he either found irrelevant or boring and partly because he clearly needed guidance with regard to organizing his schedule and managing his time more effectively. Our conversation ended up exploring hours of sleep (minimum of nine hours every night are needed), his personal goals and a breakdown of how he travels through each and every day of the week. I stressed to him, by way of encouragement, that he needed a schedule that allowed him social time to be with his peers or time simply to relax – very important in the life of a teenager. Promoting the spirit of mentoring involves guiding young people on how to plan their days and weeks, as well as encouraging them to identify different qualities of time and to adapt their behavior to suit each one. 3 Key Tips for encouraging teenagers to use time wisely Jason and I looked at the following three qualities of time: 1. During peak performance hours the brain is functioning at maximum level. Teenagers can focus on the academic areas that require a high level of concentration. For example, they might revise for a test or exam, or work through a tough problem-solving task. 2. Certain times are creative....
How to show teenagers that quitting is a choice

How to show teenagers that quitting is a choice

How many times did you quit as a teenager? What were the reasons for that choice? I have spent time in recent weeks thinking of times when I might have quit on something, especially as a teenager, and regretted it. I was an active sportsman and I distinctly remember quitting on trying to achieve a top place in a 1500 meter race during our School Athletics Day. I did not want to train and represent the School in another big Athletics meet. I was playing two other sports at the time and did not feel I could manage another. Funny, though, how I remember this so vividly over 40 years later. When I am out jogging in the morning, I replay those moments. Even though I could justify my decision, there is definitely a regret that I did not push myself to the limit in that race. I quit on school work from time to time. This was often because I either found the work boring or could not see the relevance of studying a particular subject and, therefore, was unmotivated to learn. Then I became a teacher and could share many stories with young people, from my personal experiences, how NOT to behave. What has all this to do with the spirit of mentoring? Well, I guess I was making choices at a young age, some of which were poor and others did not matter too much. With my academic studies I sometimes have regrets that I never actually pushed myself, so I have no idea how competent I really am. In my first year at University, I...