Do you remember when you felt overwhelmed as a teenager? Walled in? Unable to see your way into the future? Frustrated? Angry? Confused? A little lost? Maybe one of those days you just wanted to walk out of the home? Maybe you did walk out!
That’s what Wendy (not her real name) did when she was about 15 or 16. This is her true story.I met Wendy, then in her early 20s, when I was running a mentoring program some years ago. Anyone interested in being considered as a volunteer adult mentor, having completed a fairly basic application form, met with me. This was an opportunity for me to see whether or not the person was suitable for moving alongside a confused, vulnerable adolescent for about nine months or longer as a volunteer mentor. It also gave the potential mentor, who would have completed a 21-hour mentor training program by the time we met, to hear more about the program and decide whether or not they really wanted to make this important commitment and investment in the life of a young person.
Wendy took me to a large shopping centre and we sat down for a chat. However, after a few minutes Wendy, looking uncomfortable, asked if we could rather go back to her home to talk. While she was sharing some of her story a little later, it became clear to me why she wanted to speak privately.
When Wendy was in her early teens her mother died suddenly. Wendy had no father with whom she could form any relationship, as he had departed her life a number of years earlier and it sounded as though he had been aggressive and abusive. She wanted nothing to do with him, so she ended up staying with her aunt (her mother’s sister).
Wendy attended school and did competently academically, but she went through a time of immense grief after her mother died. Her aunt did not know how to cope with this and Wendy began to feel more and more alone, angry and frustrated. The relationship with her aunt broke down. Wendy left the house and drifted on the streets where she became a prostitute and was drawn into the world of alcohol abuse and drugs. She was simply surviving and became a cold, uncaring person until she was involved in a horrific car accident that left her in hospital for quite some time.
During that time of recovery Wendy had a chance to reflect on her life journey thus far. She made the courageous decision to change her ways. She knew that she was a considerably better person than she had become in the streets of the City and made a decision to turn her life around – and, with some Counselling support, that’s what she did.
Two or three years after that accident Wendy decided to look into the possibility of becoming a mentor to a drifting adolescent. As she had lived in that highly confusing space for quite some time, she felt that she could empathise with other young people who might be battling and, as a result of her experiences, encourage them to walk down different pathways and make some positive choices with her encouragement and support.
By the time I met Wendy she was close to completing a course to become a Landscaper and was looking forward to the career that lay ahead of her. She was settled with a partner in a comfortable home and clearly (from what she shared) had benefitted from the Mentor Training. The training is designed as an experiential journey.
She had plenty of questions, which she was unafraid to ask. I don’t think any of the other volunteer mentors who had attended the training knew her story – nothing wrong with that.
More recently Tina (not her real name) was sharing with me her frustrations about life at home and the apparent unwillingness of her parents to treat her as a responsible adolescent. Tina was flapping the independent wings, a normal teenager, yet her parents seemed reluctant to let her go by cutting those apron strings. They were worse than ‘helicopter’ parents, more like ‘drone’ parents, almost controlling her life and her choices.
Fortunately Tina asked for help rather than making an emotional decision which she might have regretted. We discussed strategies which would allow Tina to move forward positively and for her to stay focused on her short and long-term goals. I also focused on identifying and naming her strengths so she could become more resilient. Our agreed strategy was to equip Tina with the necessary skills so she would be able to attend University away from home for a while. This she eventually was able to do.
Two totally different stories, yet both have the same message: young people trying to find their way in life, feeling misunderstood and alone, in need of a significant adult to enter their lives and be their non-judgmental cheerleader for a while. Wendy was unable to find such a person – possibly because she had no idea how to do so – while Tina did find someone.
I often wonder how Wendy is doing and what her journey might have been like had she had that non-judgmental volunteer adult cheerleader in her life during those dark, lonely and grieving times; someone to empathise with her, feel her anger, comfort her through a time of deep sorrow and just keep her focused on that adolescent journey, helping her set some achievable goals so she could keep on keeping on. A beautiful young woman with gifts and talents which I hope the world is now benefitting from as she quietly becomes an encouragement to others.
Sow messages of HOPE, of what life might be when mentoring young people.
Yes, the Spirit of Mentoring is life-changing, of that I have no doubt whatsoever.
Do you have a story to share? How did someone sow messages of HOPE in your life?
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 (where you are able to join a closed mentoring group) or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website Robin’s free Mentoring Matters daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.