Sue Scott-Horne knows how teenagers tick and has put her years of experience as a professional and a mother of four into creating a new educational resources business aimed at tackling the causes of teenage violence and alienation.
Sue Scott-Horne knows how teenagers tick. A 59-year-old mother of four, she had worked for 25 years for a local education authority in London, starting as a youth worker and working her way up. She specialised in working with teenagers, working 12 years on the frontline, before being moved into management where she was commended for her commitment and innovative work.
In 2002, however, she broke her ankle and, due to complications, had to take early retirement. She found it difficult to adapt. “I sat on the sofa for three years and drifted,” she said. She had lots of hospital visits and says she still needs physiotherapy. In 2007, there were a series of murders of teenagers in London. Her son, the youngest of her four children, was 17. She felt she couldn’t sit and do nothing, given her experience of working with teenagers. “I started to scribble and am still scribbling,” she said.
The result is a series of educational resources, called Educational Games and Resources or EGAR for short. She had done a lot of work in the past working with the school curriculum so she knew how to adapt what she was doing to fit with it. “I had something I thought I could develop into a socially driven business,” she said.
She didn’t know how to convert it into a business, though. However, one day she read an article in the local paper about women in Islington who had been made redundant and had signed up for a new course at London Metropolitan University’s Centre for Micro Enterprise. “My confidence was zilch,” she said. “I was not even sure I could do it.” Even so, she signed up for a short course and started, with her tummy flipping when she walked into the lecture room full of 50 women for the first time.
“That first day changed my life,” she said. “It propelled me into something different.” She took the course day by day. She mentioned the game, which is based on discussion cards, to the director of her course as she said she knew nothing about financing it or protecting her designs. She was introduced to the British Association of Women Entrepreneurs and invited to be a member. She also contacted the British Library’s business and intellectual property centre.
She is passionate about women entrepreneurs, citing statistics showing 97% of patent applications are from men. Her educational resources are based on her understanding of teenagers and her belief in the power of talking. “Communication is the main thing we do as humans,” she says. The cards are designed to get teenagers talking. They detail different dilemmas, for instance, they ask what you look for in a friend. “The teenage years can be very challenging,” says Sue. “Almost overnight a child can change. Just as no-one can prepare you for having a baby, no-one can prepare you for the teen years. You blame yourself. The challenge is to get the young person to open up.”
The cards can be used by parents or professionals working with teenagers. “Parents are often at an extraordinary loss for how to deal with teenagers. They may seem to be grown up, but their emotional maturity is often five years behind their bodily development,” she says. “They have a lot of bravado and there is a lot of peer pressure. You need to break the group up. They can be completely different on their own.”
Many teenagers who go on to get involved in gangs or crime have had to drag themselves up in difficult circumstances, she says. “If they do not have any time spent on them it is during their adolescence when it will all start to go wrong.”
She says today’s problems have been many years in the making and are a result of social and political policies, such as cutting back on youth centres and family break-up. Modern technology has not helped. Teens are now completely plugged into play stations, tvs, mobiles and other equipment and don’t talk as much as they used to, says Sue.
The cards help them and their parents. There are guides for parents and the emphasis is on not pointing the finger and creating a non-judgmental environment. The cards can be used on a one to one basis or for group work in classes or workshops. Themes include bereavement and addiction. They might be asked, for instance, what they first associate with anger and this can form the basis for a wider discussion.
The cards have been well received by colleagues working with teenagers and EGAR has just found out that they are national finalists in the Archant awards for Best Use of Technology. Sue has also been working with Mothers Against Violence and has been invited to the House of Lords and the Ministry of Defence. She has also met the chair of the London Assembly.
The game has just been officially launched. Sue says she felt really under pressure before the launch and worried about launching in a credit crunch, but she had to ride with it. She had spent two to three years writing the cards and games and getting ready so she knew she had to go for it. Moreover, as she says, “because of the nature of what I have been doing with teenagers and young people I did not want to waste any time.”
It’s been a huge learning curve, but if the resources do what they are intended to, she knows it will be well worth it.