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Youth Tlks - High School is over - what now? Print E-mail
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Written by By Thamar Jones   
Thursday, 08 June 2017 00:00

We squeezed into the small cafe, barely dodging the tiny raindrops as the unexpected downpour began. Inside was warm, muted, hushed; every bit a haven and a different world all together than the hot dusty streets being assaulted by the wet splatters from the sky. The aroma of cinnamon and spices competed with that of fresh java percolating in the back. I ordered a cup. Although I am hardly a coffee drinker, the scent alone was too tempting to pass up. Akeya, my baby cousin and I, were celebrating her greatest success of her 16 years on earth; she was graduating with distinguished honors from high school. Needless to say, I was very proud of her.

“So What’s next for Akeya”, I asked her, smiling broadly as we  found two very comfortable chairs at the back of the cozy cafe with our coffee and cinnamon buns.

She caught me off guard when she said, “I don’t know.”

With a sigh and despondence she adds, “I wish I could just find a job. Just something that makes good money”.

I was appalled, that these words were coming from her mouth. Now I understood all too well the fatigue that follows four grueling years of high school, especially four years at one of Belize’s most challenging secondary schools. But Akeya was no regular trooper. Akeya was no me. She was an achiever. She was an honoree, ranking third in her entire graduating class of 125 students. She had goals - and focus, that kept her motivated. Although 10 years her senior, I often envied her for it.

But she was human and she was fatigued, as so many young people are, who find themselves at this particular mile-stone. Maybe I should not have been so surprised.  I have been informally carrying out this research for ten years. Ever since my own high school graduation, I have sought to solve the mystery of the missing goals and shrunken ambitions of the high school student.

We graduate from primary school feeling like champions, feeling like we can be anything we want to be; doctors, actresses, English teachers, lawyers, business owners. We plan to obtain our Masters degree by the time we turn 23. We want to be the best in our ranks. They told us to reach for the stars because anything was possible.  We entered high school with big dreams, and we were ready to realize them.

But somewhere after our 13th demerit and our default C plusses, somewhere after our 150th Science project and our last disciplinary reprimand, we lost our fire. We tapped out, opting for the quickest easiest route to the nearest comfort zone.

I concluded that the struggle to maintain good grades and an active social life, along with the very real but temporary stresses of teenage life can cause a young person’s goals and dreams to suffer and shrink.

No. Akeya was not alone. I have experienced the very thing and have seen hundreds of others experience it too.  And schools like the one she was graduating from think that harsh discipline and extra homework are the most important aspects of molding an accomplished secondary graduate.

What then can we do as parents, educators, role models- to motivate our youths to strive to realize their fullest potential?

We can offer support in the form of guidance. We do not need to be a therapist to offer guidance to young people going  through difficult times. For a 13 year old, a quarrel with their best friend, a low test score, a demerit- tripping over their shoe lace- can be a very big deal. Teens will often allow what may seem like trivial matters to an adult, to consume them. When piled up,  it adds a crippling level of stress to their mental state. This contributes to a general burn out, over time leaving the teen struggling to even keep sight of their  big dreams and long term goals.  Having an outlet to air their problems out, a trusted adult to lend new perspective helps to relieve the stress thereby conserving their fuel for the real uphill battles to success.

Equally as important is to be a positive influence to young people. A substantial number of studies have shown us that humans learn through modeling others.  As these experiences accumulate through adolescence, teens decide what socially acceptable behavior is and what is not. They also learn strategies for achieving their goals. We often think of role models as people with outstanding qualities. The truth is that role models can have positive or negative impacts on children.  For example, many of us know teens who emulated the wrong role models – people who are detrimental to their lives.  You can be a good role model by displaying the attributes that you would most like to see emulated by others. Positive role models motivate others to stay on the right path even in the face of difficulty.

Another easy one, is to offer encouragement. As they plan for the future children in their teenage years need encouragement. We encourage others through affirming  words and actions. If you grow up listening to encouragements and positive criticism, chances are you will have a positive view of yourself and  your abilities. Encouragements simply turn us into great people. Words can make or destroy an individual. One educational therapist puts it this way, “The goal is to help youths feel competent and confident…”.

A hearty laugh from a vivacious patron at the pastry counter brought me back to the present.  Akeya avoided my eyes as she stared down into her plate fidgeting with her food. I felt a wave of compassion for her.

“What is it that you wanted to be when you graduated from primary school love?” The defeated look in her eyes was replaced by a small twinkle. She smiled as she recollected her dreams like a child collecting lost gem stones. “I wanted to be a child psychologist and social researcher.”  The twinkle grew.

“Well good. Belize needs that.” I encouraged.  “Now tell me more about that. Tell me what it is you dreamed before you were scared to dream”.