Do you feel that you are struggling to connect with a teenager in a mentoring relationship? Can you recall how the mentors in your teenage life connected with you? Think about the adults in your teenage life who might have inspired you – why was this? How important are meaningful relationships in your life?
Questions, questions and more questions with no straightforward answers as we each bring our back story into our relationships with others.
The adults who impacted my teenage life showed a genuine interest in me, encouraged me, listened to my ramblings, mutterings, emotional outbursts, complaints, spoke to the potential I could not see at the time, taught me how to laugh at myself and to have fun in a positive, responsible way and so much more. They were authentic wise guides on the side to whom I shall always be indebted for their many and varied contributions during my confusing adolescent journey.
10 positive ways to connect with a teenager
Perhaps you have joined a mentoring program and are wondering how you are going to develop a meaningful relationship with your mentee after the training is over. Hopefully, you will receive many tips on how to do this.
Here are 10 positive ways to connect with your teenage mentee, a collation of the most common tips I have gathered over many years researching youth mentoring and adolescent development. All the tips might not apply to your situation, so simply focus on what might be relevant.
1. Meet on ‘neutral turf’ in public places as often as you can in the early months, for safety and security reasons. Meet at the same time and the same place for the first few meetings to establish the rapport.
2. Keep the focus on your mentee. Encourage mentees to talk about their lives, their interests, their things. Talk as little as possible about yourself and, when you do so, it’s good to obtain their permission first.
3. Do things that your mentee wants to do whenever possible. Refer to any training resources or other resources you might have for ideas. ‘The Spirit of Mentoring – a manual for adult volunteers’ is loaded with many, many ideas and tips on how to have fun and develop a positive and meaningful mentoring relationship with a young person.
4. Remember the importance of empathy. Try to gain some understanding of where your mentee is coming from. Don’t go into the relationship with any great ‘rescuing’ or ‘saving’ ideas or your relationship will be doomed from the start.
5. Keep focusing on the fun element. You can have great conversations in your car, going for a walk and as you do things together.
6. Be patient! It takes time for two strangers to connect. Don’t begin the relationship with unrealistic expectations. Remember, too, that there is a six to eight week ‘probationary’ period, during which time you and the mentee can decide whether or not you want to continue meeting (where applicable).
7. If your mentee seems to be uncomfortable with you, as the adult don’t take this personally. Maybe the young person will be prepared to persevere and get to know you better. Maybe not! Program staff will communicate with both parties to work out a positive way forward.
8. If your mentee is not in a good space, which can literally happen overnight, try to understand that this is why many of these young people are participating in a youth mentoring program. Great mentors persevere, hang in there, are patient, wait until the young person is ready to re-engage and let the Program staff take the lead. There is a chance that the mentoring relationship might fold. Again, don’t take it personally.
9. Make sure you set negotiated boundaries at the outset. Don’t get too intense, trying to contact your mentee too often during the early weeks of the relationship, as you might frighten the mentee away.
10. Contact the Program staff if you are concerned about anything to do with your mentoring relationship, no matter how trivial something might seem to you. Program staff are there to support and guide you as best as they possibly can.
For a period of time, you could make a significant and positive impact on a young person’s life. Never quit on him or her. When you might be feeling frustrated or wondering if you are achieving anything, reflect back on your own teenage years to remind yourself of your own roller-coaster emotional journey – this will keep you grounded, perhaps inspired to keep on keeping on.
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 Matters daily podcasts (each podcast between 1.5 and 3 minutes), containing hundreds of tips for anyone working with young people, are available here.