It is the responsibility of all of us to try to lift others up the hierarchy of needs, starting with our children and adolescents. Governments, parents and teachers have a crucial role in removing the obstacles to self actualization for our young people.
Starting with the physiological needs, it is tragic that in this day and age we cannot provide enough food and clean water for everyone in society. We actually can, but choose to distribute these most basic of human resources in less than equitable ways. If a child starts the day without a decent meal in the previous 24 hours, or are worried where the next meal is coming from, they are unlikely to learn much that day. This stops the path to genuine knowledge and wisdom before it has even begun.
Once the physiological needs are taken care of we must remove the obstacles to the sense of safety an individual feels. If the young person is bullied at school or a victim of domestic violence at home, they will not be able to develop a sense of belonging, a vital step to realizing their full potential. Governments, parents and teachers alike have to provide children with the security and belonging to both keep them from harm and give them the love that they need to grow as individuals.
Self-esteem needs are acquired when our young people have the opportunities to gain competence in something they enjoy, independence from family and friends, and finally genuine self-respect. We can provide these opportunities at home, school, sporting activities and recreational pursuits. We must be careful at this stage however, not to over-compensate by praising the individual to such an extent where it isn’t genuine and actually back-fires, causing the individual to not push themselves into anything challenging (Bronson & Merryman).
Young people cannot always identify with someone who has come to self-actualization. A parent or a teacher who lives in accordance with his or her core essence possesses an authentic strength which does not express the character of domination and power, but shows inner strength and compassion. Young people who are guided by a parent or a teacher with this authentic strength will be able to identify and connect with this strength. This will lead them to their own core essence.
Dutch educator Freerk Ykema suggests that if young people do not have a teacher who has reached self-actualization, it will be more difficult for them to find their way on their own. To some extent, this is why many adolescents seem to experience a lack of direction. If there is no contact with one’s own inner compass, everything in life seems unimportant or senseless. This explains the teenage move to high-risk behaviour, drugs and alcohol, negative social relationships, and suicide. These are all escape routes for a young person not on the path to realizing their own true potential.
Young people have their own dreams. They are searching for others who may point out the way to fulfil their dreams. They don’t need to be told “this is what you must do in life”. They need help in finding their own inner compass. Once they are in tune with their own inner compass, they WILL find their path. Others may not agree with their choices, but they will be THEIR choices.
This is where teachers become so vital in helping their students on the path to self-actualization. Most parents are so busy dealing with their own stuff, stuck somewhere in the middle levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, that they don’t have the ability to really help their own children with the higher order needs.
When a teacher can become self-actualized themselves, they are able to model the inner strength, emotional stability, pure morals, free from prejudices or fears, which can have a massive impact on the individual child or adolescent.
They may not always seem like they are learning anything, but the young person with a good and wise teacher will benefit from the relationship long after they have left school.