Home life for at-risk youth is far from inspired. Growing up without direction or mentorship, these troubled teens walk a path toward failure paved in low-self esteem.
But with support and encouragement, the seemingly unmotivated become optimistically resilient. Studies show the untapped potential of at-risk youth, stating that one-third of high-risk children will beat the odds and lead healthy, productive lives. As a leader, counselor, and mentor, you have what it takes to change a student's family tree for generations to come.
Misunderstood Not Unmotivated
Weary to foster relationships along their journey, this wayward group turns to resistance as a natural coping mechanism. They come off as defensive, careless, and self-righteous, causing frustration for those willing to help. But giving up is not an option. At-risk youth are all too familiar with quitters, in turn making them further resistant to authority and guidance. Keep in mind that trust needs to evolve naturally. Something as simple as knowing their names, interests, and backgrounds goes a long way.
Practice persistence no matter how much push-back you get. Allow students to realize you're not going anywhere. By fostering respect and trust, students will feel an ease of tension in having a trusted source they can turn to.
To assist with finding common ground, welcome reinforcements. Invite guest speakers into your school, class, or organization as often as possible. Community members who have turned their lives around, teens who have overcome tragic life experiences and risen above expectations, and even an ex-high school dropout who can speak to the benefits of staying in school would be great. By showing them multiple success stories in their own community, you will increase their level of hope and provide them with additional role models.
Reduce Anxiety Without Sacrificing Expectations
Motivation deficits often imply fear of failure and inadequacy. What appears as lazy and detached reflects a certain level of discomfort and perhaps anxiety over seemingly insurmountable pressures and expectations. Rather than using problem solving skills to work through unfavorable situations, at-risk students retaliate by shutting down, procrastinating or simply avoiding situations all together. Ultimately, students feel so overwhelmed and doomed for failure that giving up is deemed the least intimidating option. When an at-risk teen shows signs of educational disconnect, hands-on interaction is imperative.
Implement a true open door policy. This means beyond 8 to 5, by appointment availability. Make yourself as available as possible to discuss problems and, more importantly, implement solutions. Teaching students that it's normal to find difficulty in some areas helps reduce the sense of pressure and allows them to focus on achieving improvement rather than fearing failure.
Continue setting attainable expectations and raise the bar by tracking success. Achieving milestones encourages forward action especially with matters of high difficulty. Sharing the ongoing progress with the student increases self-esteem by allowing them to visually see their improvements.
Led to believe they lack the competency and ability to succeed, at-risk youth are prone to educational disengagement. Re-engage them by showing the payoff of completing their education.
Growing up in homes where education is not encouraged, adolescents are taught schooling is insignificant and unattainable. Students that struggle to engage in classroom activities and assignments need to understand the purpose behind each lesson. Be sure students see how the content relates to them and the world around them. For example, gainful employment and job retention are often tremendous motivators. When they see a direct pathway between school and a better life, they are presented with an attainable goal and motivation to keep learning.
Some students may find traditional forms of learning an impediment on their interests and ultimately, of little value to their lives. Suggest resources that better suit their skills, learning habits, and schedule. High school completion programs help students engage in flexible, self-paced programs that better fit their daily needs. Featuring career-focused courses rather than standardized lectures, students are presented with a clearer vision of their untapped potential.
Always remember, it's your job to be the guiding light that leads students. Set goals, issue rewards, and never give up.
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Photo Source: http://www.goodwill.org/blog/volunteer/make-mentoring-month-every-month-through-goodguides/