Thursday, February 15, 2007


UNICEF says ‘Britain’s children are the unhappiest in the West. What a shameful and sad indictment this is.

I’ve watched them fall asleep in classroom environments. I have seen them head in hand muttering under their breath. I have observed their yawning and sighs of frustration and I have listened to (and been part of) the discussions about their lack of motivation and respect. I have heard comments such as ‘It’s a waste of time trying to teach them anything’, or ‘I don’t know why I bother, they don’t listen. On occasions I too have joined the ranks of facilitators and teachers that have despaired of ever getting young people in my lessons / sessions to participate.

Yet so many of today’s young people are apprehensive and at times openly hostile about traditional classroom settings and learning. Their memories are often of personal failure and control by adults unwilling to listen, support or encourage them in their journey. Why is this? We all start life with a love to learn, a desire that overrides our inhibitions; we take risks and want to try everything. We have a natural curiosity to explore new things, we want to experience all; we are naturally motivated to learn.

Being told several times that ‘you are a failure and won’t amount to much’ and other such negative messages is a contributory factor, it creates the self fulfilling prophecy we hear so much about. Individuals rapidly develop low self-esteem and sense of self-worth. This does more harm to a developing young person than anything I know.

Lacking confidence and personal belief they are often struggling with issues surrounding family and identity. They worry about ‘fitting in’ and meeting the ‘acceptable’ criteria that will ensure they are one of the ‘in crowd’. Issues surrounding sexuality, relationships and money are high in the order of personal stress. When recognising what is going on for them socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually, it is not surprising that many do not view learning and conforming as pivotal to their existence.

Despite knowing that these problems exist, how easy it is for adults to blame and label them as difficult, unmotivated and lacking determination, commitment and respect. Yet, as we all too often see, poor and inappropriate role modelling by many adults in our society exacerbates the confusion.

One is left asking whether or not it is the young people who are unwilling to learn, or whether adults simply fail to understand. As teenagers, many adults were themselves given and have subsequently accepted the label of ‘failure’. They too struggle to cope and escape personnel feelings of inadequacy.

Young people are no different. They simply want to be treated like human beings, be respected and feel as if they matter; while they are happy to be challenged, they don’t want to be ridiculed or made to feel inferior or ashamed.

As Educators / Mentors / Teachers / Facilitators / Coaches / Parents we need to inflame their enthusiasm, find their passion and be interested in them as people. We need to listen to them, hear them, give them the opportunity to have their questions answered and talk with them, not at them. These are all important elements of developing reparative relationships that are built on trust, congruence, respect and empathy. This way we can nurture and maintain motivation, but there is one essential ingredient –

'To be motivated ourselves'

“Give a person an idea and you enrich their life. Teach a person how to learn and they can enrich their own lives" – Author Unknown

Theresa Owens
Director of Training
Life Change UK