How the spirit of mentoring can inspire youth

How are you responding to the concerns of youth whose lives have been turned upside down by the pandemic?

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in our local newspaper titled: Covid generation’s dark hole in the soul. The article briefly described the experiences of six young people during the 2020 pandemic. They were in their final year of school working towards careers requiring further study after school. A number of lessons for educators and parents could be learnt from the experiences of these young people.

However, first let’s reflect on some of their thoughts shared with journalist Simon Collins.

Changing attitudes and lack of motivation

Ellie: “I used to be quite an optimist … I have become more pessimistic about things … I don’t look at it like bad things are going to happen, but you have to think good things can happen, but bad things might happen, and you just have to take it and go with it. … My grades did slip a bit … I was just failing to get things done, I couldn’t finish things in time. It was just such a huge loss of motivation.” Ellie had to change university courses as her results were not good enough to follow her first career of choice prior to the pandemic.

Nabaa kept having to develop new routines as the lockdowns kicked in. “The motivation kind of went.   At the end of the day, it was like, “I’ll do my work tomorrow, no-one is really looking.” She fell behind and never really caught up. “Once Covid hit, it was just thinking about, are you going to keep your job if another lockdown happens, are you going to get money in for your family, all that stuff. We’ll get through it, but there’s a lot of uncertainty around it.”

Disconnected with poor management of time

Kevin experienced challenging family issues during the covid season, which resulted in him spending time with another family. ” … internet isn’t very reliable, so I really struggled to engage with online classes. Lots of classes, like calculus, it’s really difficult to teach over the internet.” There were also questions about the teachers’ technological competence. Kevin also had to change career pathways.

Georgia-Rae also experienced issues learning calculus online. Her family had four members trying to do some Zoom classes at once: “So it was all over the place. You didn’t know whether you were going to make it into a call or not. My motivation slipped a lot. I was trying to find a way to just pass instead of trying to get higher grades.” Georgia-Rea changed direction with her career path.

Raman’s parents continued working out of the home, so she had the house to herself. “It was really strange. I became unmotivated and left everything till the last minute.” Raman was however able to study and focus during Zoom classes.

Anna-Maria: “I was someone who didn’t listen in class that much, so working online helped me learn by myself.  … I didn’t really wake up to calls in the morning. I wasn’t used to waking up early. It was hard. … When lockdown finished I just wanted to hang out with my friends. I didn’t think of catching up.” Anna-Maria also changed career plans, and felt better prepared for university from these lockdown experiences. “I’m thinking seriously about my time management.”

Reflections

I have little doubt that many, many students would echo similar experiences. Others had no access to wi-fi or Zoom classes, or laptops, or had any other way to communicate with their school. During a time when they were already confused, these experiences would have added to the confusion, and probably created more anxiety.

Hindsight is a wonderful word, yet, as I read these stories, two points struck me. Firstly, we must never forget that every student has their own story. We can respect them and empathize as best as we can with the information available to us. When they return to school after a time of adversity, each student is probably in a different headspace. Be prepared to set aside time to allow students to settle back into their community where they feel safe and secure and not judged. Secondly, there is a desperate need for schools to train and coach the students with key life skills to cope with situations like a lockdown – in other words, students need to know how to bounce back from adversity – be resilient – and develop the intrinsic motivation which helps them cope with most life challenges.

Messages of HOPE

We do not have to seek complex solutions to every day challenges, though there is enough adolescent brain and other research to guide us as we encourage youth to reach their potential. Think HOPE:

Health and wellbeing

Organization

Perseverance

Envision

Health and wellbeing: Focus on a healthy diet, at least nine hours sleep every night, regular exercise, and time with family and friends. The time with friends during a lockdown might involve using technology (a phone or Zoom conversation, SMS, Skype), though the important thing is not to allow technology to distract the young person from their academic studies. This is why self-discipline is important. Develop a hobby or hobbies, preferably away from computers, mobile phones and other technology gadgets.

Organization: Spend time working on the effective management of time with the young person. As you do this, the young person puts some structure into their daily lives and this enhances intrinsic motivation. When they understand there is a level of accountability required, there is a greater chance that they will stay focused.

Perseverance: Appreciate that most people will find an extended lockdown, for example, difficult. They need to be able to communicate with people they trust who check in with them regularly, who have a sense of humor and great empathy. Encourage youth to appreciate how asking for help and support is a strength and not a weakness. As they discover a management of time plan that works for them, they learn how to add variety to their day to avoid boredom, feelings of loneliness, and ways to work through the times when they wish to quit.

Envision: Revisit the young person’s goals and dreams. Work with them to develop weekly realistic, achievable, measurable and specific goals. This allows the significant adult in their lives the great opportunity to become the voice of encouragement and the voice of HOPE.

This framework is not difficult to implement, though the young person must choose the best way forward under the guidance of a caring, empathetic significant adult who will not accept a second-best or half-hearted effort. This is the adult who is able to speak to the potential of a young person struggling to make headway. That consistent and caring voice becomes life-changing during challenging times.

I have also suggested many times that high or secondary schools should introduce an effective Vertical Tutoring System in their schools. When this is enacted, the older students can mentor the younger students through the challenging times. Life skills become part of the discussion and pastoral care program of an effective holistic education journey. During a difficult time, such as a pandemic, never underestimate how older students can positively impact the lives of the younger students in a tutor group, for example. What will happen is that older students motivate the younger students and vice versa – an effective way to build positive, caring communities.

Messages of HOPE transform whole communities.