Never Underestimate the Resilience of a Teenager

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Image: Little Britain, BBC

Teenagers get a bad rep. Daily media reports are littered with stories of stealing, assaults, stabbings, underage pregnancy, a genuine lack of respect for the rest of human society and their intimidating presence when hanging on street corners in groups, smoking, drinking and being raucous has earned them the title of ‘chavs’ here in the UK. Parodies of these are immensely popular in comedy sketch shows such as ‘Vicki Pollard’ in Little Britain and ‘Lauren’ in The Catherine Tate Show.

After nearly ten years of working with teenagers, these reports annoy me. Of course, there are bad eggs in every element of society, but I have been privileged to work with thousands of wonderful young people who are fantastic role models with supportive families and I genuinely enjoy witnessing their development during their education. They work hard, offer intelligent conversation, have ambition and make me laugh. I’m proud of them. Despite the demands and the pressures of teaching, it’s an extremely rewarding aspect of the profession.

However, there are some students who aren’t as lucky. There was one particular student who stood out for me today, to the point where I felt a little emotional. To protect his identity, I’m going to call him X.

X is an older student and in his short lifetime he has experienced more than most, with very little family support and guidance. Obviously, I have to refrain from giving details, but after hearing his story when I first began teaching him I was left with a feeling of anger at the way he has been treated. I shouldn’t be judgemental – I don’t have children of my own and therefore couldn’t possibly understand how difficult it is, but in my career I have witnessed several examples of parents that simply shouldn’t have been allowed to reproduce.

X has such parents. Lots of children in his situation would act out. Lots would have an anger management problems, get into the wrong crowd, start to get into trouble with the law and essentially would give up. Not X. X arrives on time, has a good attendance record, is polite, respectful, hard-working and friendly. While he struggles with some of his work, he tries really hard and genuinely wants to do well. He turns up, on his own, to parents evenings. He participates in lots of extra-curricular activities. He associates with lovely friends and has a brilliant relationship with his teachers. He’s one of the most resilient teenagers I have ever met.

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Image: brightside

Today the students were in the process of finalising some of the last pieces of their coursework for a project they have been working on all term. They’re all excited about the impending holidays and have spent a lot of time discussing what they expect to receive for Christmas. Their work is certainly not a priority. X looked tired and I asked him if he was ok. His response?

“I’m fine, just tired. I was up late last night doing my coursework because I want to get a good grade. If I email this work to you, can you let me know what I need to do to improve before Christmas so I can do the work over the holidays and get above my target grade.”

If I was allowed to hug him, I would have done. What an amazing kid.

20 thoughts on “Never Underestimate the Resilience of a Teenager

  1. You are the difference in his life. You are the stability and the one who recognizes him for being him. That makes a huge difference in anyone. I once had someone tell me, if only one person believes in you, you can do anything. I guess, as children say, Tag, you’re it! Well done you! DAF

  2. People are afraid of the unknown. I think most of the people generalizing teens don’t remember what it was like to be on themselves and certainly don’t have dealings with them very often. Most of them are pretty fine little human beings. Being a teen is really, in my opinion, the hardest phase of life, so they need to be cut a little slack and given more support. They have a lot going on in their lives all at once. This X sounds like a great kid. I wish that I could hug him too now.

  3. Yes, there are some amazing teenagers out there. When I had a student that was acting out, I looked at his home life. It’s unbelievable what some of these kids are putting up with…alcoholic parents, abusive parents, not enough food. I had a student who was a top football player, whose parents were separated, who was trying to keep up his grades while also babysitting with his younger brother at night and not having enough money for lunch every day. At times, I paid for his lunches. I also alerted the coaches who also saw to it that he had the money to pay for food. He graduated and went on to college, but he had a hard row to hoe . Teachers need to do what you do….listen and encourage.

  4. What a brilliant post. I get annoyed with the generalisations made about teenagers, particularly in the media as what I observed in my children and their peers illustrated that the majority of them are nothing like they are portrayed. What a lovely sounding kid, I’m sure you caring makes a difference to what sounds like a sad life.

  5. Oh my kats!

    You are so sweet to pay tribute to “X”-
    He sounds wonderful and I have no doubt that he will overcome all these awful things and succeed in whatever he puts his paws to!

    Over here in America we have a few creatures like him… But we need a lot more! You can tell “X” that
    hairballexpress (Shrimp) wishes him the best and is proud of him!

  6. It’s sad when parents won’t take part of their children’s lives. Sounds like this kid has a good head on his shoulders despite the disadvantage of having uninterested parents.

  7. You are a very important person in your pupils’ lives and thank goodness you are there for them. I had an English teacher when I was in my teens who instilled in me a passion for writing. I wrote the usual teenage poetry and throughout the years kept diaries off and on. It took a long time for me to take my writing to another level, because I let work and family commitment distract me, but in 2012 I wrote my first book and I’m on my fourth now. I wish I could find my English teacher to thank her but I fear she may have passed away as I am in my late fifties now. I just wanted you to know what a difference a caring and concerned teacher can make, seeds planted in a young mind and heart can sprout many years later and enrich that person’s life.

      • Sorry it took so long to reply, I was organizing a book launch. Yes I am an Irish author. I think I am the only Irish one called Jean Reinhardt. When you google my name Django Reinhardt, the musician comes up too, I’m in good company even if I have to fight for space with him on google, lol.

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