How many times have you been in a formal or informal mentoring relationship with a younger person and wanted to give up on them? Have you actually walked away from a mentoring relationship, as you felt you had given your all?
It would be a very normal and human thing to do.
However, if you are mentoring an adolescent, who is journeying through the most confusing time of his or her life, the Golden Rule should be: NEVER Quit!I think back over the years to the many, many students I have either formally or informally mentored, the multiple times I have wanted to quit and never did. I recall deliberately putting some distance between myself and Graeme (not his real name) and him coming to find me to speak to me. I had thought he was not interested in communicating with me any longer, so tested the waters without saying anything. And that experience reminded me that these young people are listening to everything we say and, even if they are unable to verbally express it, they know that they have a non-judgmental Cheerleader in their lives.
I made a similar decision with Sandy (not her real name), thinking that she was in a good headspace and I could quietly slip further into the background. She, too, approached me and said it had been a while since we had chatted and could we make a time to catch up?
If I thought hard enough, there would probably be more similar stories.
So, I never quit on these students, simply eased back and waited to see what would happen. If nothing had happened, I would have called each for a chat, simply to bring to an end a formal relationship, whilst letting the students know I would always be available if they wanted to catch up.
It’s important that adolescents never feel someone is quitting on them, most especially in a formal mentoring relationship, as the mentor might be the ‘only’ significant adult in their lives.
As the decision-making area of the brain, the Pre-Frontal Cortex, is still developing during the adolescent years, one must never be afraid of repetition when having discussions. Some neuroscience research is at pains to remind us how important it is to repeat things over a period of time, as this will build value into the development of the brain.
I thought it might be helpful to capture a few points under some individual headings to show how mentors, who are mentoring adolescents, can sow the spirit of mentoring seeds in general discussions, being unafraid of repetition. This is what establishing a self-empowering experience for the mentee, while building resilience, is all about.
Enhancing the relationship between mentees and their parents:
- carry out household chores efficiently;
- be honest;
- tell your parents what’s happening in your life;
- do all your school work without having to be reminded;
- take responsibility for the choices you make in life;
- be accountable for your actions;
- think before you act (make choices).
Enhancing the mentees experience of school life/academic studies:
- Get to know a teacher or Counsellor or at least one other adult who seems interested in your wellbeing;
- get connected to your school by joining a team, club, community or cultural group – or some aspect of the extracurricular program;
- speak respectfully to authority figures;
- involve your parents in your school life as much as possible;
- choose positive friends who motivate you to achieve your potential, support you to make good choices and model responsible behavior.
Enhancing the mentor’s relationship with the mentee – tips for mentors:
- be observant;
- be prepared to make a fool of yourself;
- never lose your sense of humor;
- fire those creative spirits;
- affirm one another;
- listen with empathy for the unexpressed feelings.
Enhancing the emotional connection between the mentor and the mentee:
- give your mentee your full attention;
- make eye contact (as culturally appropriate) and hold it for a few seconds at a time;
- be relaxed and not rushed – this is your mentee’s time;
- express your feelings: smile, laugh out loud, feel the disappointment, anger, sadness – let it show in your tone of voice, facial expressions and body language;
- identify strengths and name them;
- tell your mentee when you are feeling pleased, encouraged, excited, disappointed, sad for them, always showing plenty of empathy.
Clinical Professor and well-known author, Daniel J. Siegel, writes: “When we have supportive relationships, we are not only happier, we are healthier and live longer … numerous studies support this idea that the more we help others, the healthier and happier we ourselves become.”
During the past couple of months I have been working on developing a free app for adolescents with a daily message of encouragement so that every student will know that someone cares for them as they read the short message each day. Simple, easy to understand daily messages such as:
- I am responsible for my thoughts, my choices and my actions.
- Your life journey is about becoming who you want to be with the support of people you trust and respect.
- I can envision or picture new horizons and possibilities which will probably involve moving out of my comfort zone.
- You can genuinely respect the viewpoints and opinions of others without putting them down if you disagree.
- You can choose to step back and count to 20 SLOWLY when you are angry with someone – and you’ll avoid a fight or hurting someone or saying something you might regret later.
I came across a new tool a couple of weeks ago and decided to experiment by creating a short two minute video clip about this app and inviting feedback. I did a brief promotion on my Facebook author’s page and have received 62 likes, the majority from adolescents. That’s encouraging. Please check out the clip. If you like it, simply click on the ‘Like’ button and feel free to make a comment. Most important, if you could pass on the link to other teenagers and ask them to respond that would be great, as I am going to have to find sponsors to bring this project to fruition. I am consulting as widely as I possibly can.
My thinking is that I want to be able to encourage those adolescents going through a time of self-doubt, possibly becoming loners. The daily message will speak encouraging words into their lives and, hopefully, will motivate them to seek mentors, positive friends, explore opportunities and so much more on a journey to becoming the best they can be. By sharing these words, I shall never be quitting on any young people who choose to receive the free app.
Any ideas to encourage me not to quit! 🙂
About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in Australia and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook or on Instagram or contact him through his YES! website