Posted: 18 November 2015

I remember those days

Shakira Martin is Vice President (Further Education) at the National Union of Students. With a difficult childhood and troubled teenage years, Shakira knows first-hand the challenges facing our nation’s teenagers. As a single mother, further education has helped her break the cycle of deprivation, be a role model to her children and develop the confidence to stand for this national role.

Now in a position to help young people with experiences like her access education and increase their opportunities in life, Shakira is backing the debate around whether or not we are failing the nation's teenagers.

My experience of being a teenager

I remember what it was like being a misunderstood teenager. I was full of anger about things I had experienced and I didn’t know where to channel it. I ended up punching walls to get it out. Hurting myself seemed easier than dealing with the pain of talking about what was on my mind. A broken home and drug abuse was  to blame for a lot of my reckless behaviour and why I felt like I was going insane.

I was never an academic type. I knew I wanted more than what I had seen around me but I didn’t believe that I could achieve GCSEs. When I was leaving school I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted money but instead of doing anything about it I hung around the streets and caused trouble.

Between the ages of 16 and 18 I enrolled on a number of different courses and didn’t complete many of them. I often blamed it on things like the cold weather and the distance to travel. I wasn’t motivated, I lacked self-confidence and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do.

When it all changed

I quickly wised up when I became a mother and became legally responsible for my actions and two children. I realised that I needed to educate myself and go back to college.

Further education gave me 10 years’ worth of chances to turn things around and helped me overcome my past experiences. I now know first-hand the power of education to transform lives – in my case, mine and the lives of my two beautiful girls.

My advice for teens

Looking back, I would say use your teenage years wisely. Messing up and making mistakes is all part of gaining maturity, creating your unique story and overcoming difficulties.

Teens in Crisis? debate

It is great that so many young people are coming to the Annual Edward Rudolf Debate 2015 and I hope everyone who can attend makes the most of it. It is set to showcase an impressive line-up of expert panellists and there are sure to be a dynamic mix of views on the challenging question: Are we failing our nation’s teenagers?

I am urging you to get involved in tackling the most difficult issues facing teenagers by tuning into the live stream online on Thursday 19 November from 6pm at childrenssociety.org.uk/debate or sending a question for the exciting panel of young people and adult experts using #SeriouslyAwkward in your Twitter post.

 
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