Teens need role models
Troubled teenagers worldwide could benefit from lessons learned in Cannons Creek through a new book put out by two local teachers and youth workers.
Lloyd Martin and his Mana College teacher wife, Anthea Martin, spent three years writing Small Stories, but it contains three decades of distilled wisdom about what vulnerable teenagers need to thrive.
The book is being distributed in America, Australia and Britain, and will be used by Mr Martin to train youth workers in New Zealand, Australia and the Pacific.
Small Stories is a series of observational essays drawing on the Martins’ experience setting up Porirua Alternative School in the 1980s, and fostering needy children for 15 years, Mr Martin says. ‘‘It’s kind of a set of reflections about what we did then and what we do now, and how the community is changing.’’
Its core message is that young people need positive, healthy connections with adults in order to develop.
Young people have four basic developmental needs, Mr Martin says – the need to belong, to master skills, to be independent and responsible, and to act generously.
‘‘Kids seek to have those needs met through interactions with adults. When things break down they lose those developmental opportunities,’’ he says.
Without adult role models, teenagers look to their peer group for direction, which leads many into gangs.
‘‘ What happens to young boys when they don’t belong anywhere else?’’ Mr Martin says.
Porirua Alternative School was established in Cannons Creek in 1985 after the Martins watched countless young people drop out of the mainstream school system.
A more holistic approach combining school and youth work was needed, he says.
Schools and government agencies tend to treat troubled teenagers as a problem to be cured, whereas Mr Martin believes young people need ‘‘ care’’: adults to be there for them without judgment.
‘‘ The key idea of care is being present in another person’s situation. Just being there expresses something,’’ he says. ‘‘Rather than react to the problems [young people have], it’s better to respond to the need.’’
Being a positive role model as a teacher and youth worker at the alternative school led naturally to fostering, Mr Martin says. ‘‘The decision to be a youth worker is usually a decision to make your home and your fridge available to young people.’’
While he is passionate about alternative ways of teaching young people, Mr Martin says he has not been tempted to take on the government about its narrow view of education.
‘‘Writing is as political as I’m going to get.’’
Small Stories: Reflections on the practice of youth development is available at praxispacific.org/smallstories
Book learning: Porirua teacher and youth worker Lloyd Martin has distilled 30 years of experience with troubled teenagers into a book emphasising the importance of adult role models.