8 Tips to develop meaningful mentoring relationships with Teenagers

8 Tips to develop meaningful mentoring relationships with Teenagers

When you were a teenager, did you ever come across an adult who crushed your dreams? How did you react?

Fortunately, all the people who nurtured me as a young person encouraged me to chase my dreams. I shall forever be grateful to so many or that.

“Cindy wanted to be a Paramedic, but I crushed her dream and told her to do nursing,” Cindy’s mum shared with me. “And now Gemma wants to go into law or something like that and  I am trying to get her to do nursing. I crushed Cindy’s dream and now I am crushing Gemma’s dream. You know, I think she could be a great teacher!”

I found it challenging to have this conversation with Cindy and Gemma’s mum. “Never crush a dream,” I said. “No wonder Gemma is not sure what she wants to do with her life.”

Anyone working with young people will have heard many stories like this.

What we should be doing is encouraging these teenagers to chase their dreams. The dreams will reveal a passion and, once that passion is identified, it is so much easier for teenagers to set realistic and achievable goals and feel that their lives have purpose and meaning.

standing at the end of a long jetty looking out to sea at the sunrise, Honolulu, Hawaii

This underlines the importance of sowing the seeds of the Spirit of Mentoring when we are working with young people especially, although there are some common threads that will cross all mentoring relationships.

8 Tips to develop meaningful relationships with Teenagers

My research over the years has led me to put together these 8 tips to develop meaningful relationships with teenagers journeying through the adolescent years of challenge and confusion as their brains are developing. It is a useful check-list for a mentor reflecting on how the mentoring relationship is developing.

  1. Accept and appreciate your mentee as a young person, even though you may not accept his or her behavior. That involves offering unconditional love and care.
  2. Display empathy toward your mentee ie, place yourself in his or her shoes and think about how your mentee might be feeling about something you are discussing. Remember your teenage years?
  3. Respect your mentee for who he or she is and respect privacy. Mutual respect is likely to foster trust and confidence.
  4. Be prepared to lead in keeping the lines of communication open, especially during times of conflict.
  5. Show trust in your mentee. You need to work at establishing this trust. It is an important process on the way to establishing a two-way mentoring relationship.
  6. Be able and willing to reveal your own personality to your mentee without fear. Sometimes your openness will help empathy – your mentee will see that you have been there, done that and learned from the experience.
  7. Be spontaneous and natural when relating with your mentee.
  8. Have fun and take pleasure in each other’s company.

Sometimes the relationship building can be hard work, though I always try and keep the fun element, possibly because I know that a sense of humor is one of my resilient qualities.

Then, out of the blue, I receive a thank you card from Nick about two months before he finished his schooling:

“No words can express my gratitude towards you and all your help this year. I honestly don’t think I could have done it without you. Here’s to the final stretch.”

What did I do? I sat down with a young man trying to find his way, became a Cheerleader, helped him set and achieve some realistic goals, allowed him to dictate the pace of building this relationship and we had a few laughs.  When Nick wanted to speak to me, I made myself available and, from time to time, always with his permission, we had some tough chats about what it means to step up and work hard towards fulfilling one’s potential and the choices we make along the way.

Also, with Nick’s permission, I networked with his mum, thus ensuring that Nick was receiving consistent messages from some of the adults in his life. A partnership between parent, student, educator (mentor) is incredibly powerful in a teenager’s life journey.

Building meaningful relationships lies at the heart of mentoring young people.

Who did you build a meaningful relationship with as a teenager? Did you have someone special who encouraged you to chase your dreams? If so, you have an important story to share with teenagers.

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 New Zealand 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 Minutes daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.