Can you remember a moment when an adult invested time in your teenage life and made a positive and significant impact? How did your non-judgmental cheerleader encourage you? What three positive qualities can you remember about them? How did they guide you to be yourself and not bow to negative peer pressure?
Time and time again I hear stories of the way mentors, often teachers, have impacted the lives of teenagers. In so many cases the adult had no idea they were having such a positive influence.
My non-judgmental cheerleaders over the years had some similar qualities – all spoke to the potential in me that I could not see; all had a great sense of humour; all showed empathy towards me, quietly moved alongside me and encouraged me; all would never accept a half-hearted effort from me and taught me to strive to be the best person I could be – all developed meaningful relationships with me and there was always mutual respect when we interacted. Without even realizing it, some of these people became significant mentors during my life journey.
Pass on the legacy
And those qualities these teachers and coaches expressed towards me are those I have worked hard to develop when working with teenagers over the years.
So often we forget the power of the smile, one encouraging phrase shared at an important moment in a vulnerable teenager’s life, a friendly wave from a distance or an encouraging SMS simply because we think it might be appreciated. It is in these small, seemingly insignificant moments that we can actually be life changers in the lives of young people.
I am still working at patience – so important when journeying with teenagers – though I know I have become a better listener over the years, guiding teenagers to make their own choices, valuing and respecting their ideas and opinions and telling them that I care about their wellbeing when they cannot understand why I would be interested in their futures.
I was reminded of some mentoring experiences a few years ago and how significant these volunteer adults were in the lives of teenagers who were wobbling a little, perhaps not having much self-confidence and, in some cases, showing the early signs of antisocial behaviour – fringe bullying incidents; inconsistent attendance at school and falling behind with academic studies, as examples.
In one particular school-based mentoring program I was coordinating, the mentors were assisting their mentees to seek some work experience. This was part of the goal setting journey the mentees undertook to help them find greater meaning and purpose in their lives.
One of the challenges many adolescents have to deal with is fear ie, fear about making that phone call to the person they want to speak to about a possible work experience opportunity; fear because they might be rejected by an employer and so much more. So a mentor sat with her mentee as the latter confirmed her work experience opportunity. The mentee phoned the company and first had to deal with someone who knew nothing about this. The mentee was passed on to two other people before she finally got things sorted. She was so happy after completing this process and acknowledged that she had, indeed, overcome that fear and how much easier it was having her mentor there to encourage her. The mentee was also becoming highly motivated about the possibility of teaching as a career thanks to the work she and the mentor were doing together. Both the mentor and the mentee were bubbling with enthusiasm about their plans for the weeks ahead.
Another mentor was really struggling with her mentee. She felt that they were not connecting. And then there was a life-changing moment, I am sure! The mentee, who had been very much one of those ‘it’s too hard!’ youngsters, announced that he had organised his work experience since seeing his mentor the previous week; he personally went to sort out some other arrangements with the Careers Adviser at the school with no help from his mentor and he shared some other information with his mentor about personal changes in his life. I observed a young life quietly crossing the bridge to great progress thanks to the persistence of his mentor believing in him. At a later date he would thank his mentor for guiding him and making a significant difference to how he lived his life, set goals and so on. The mentoring relationship had motivated him to strive to reach higher standards he was setting for himself.
And then there was the young lad who was heading off to work experience the following week. He was so pumped and ready to go and also told his mentor that he would like to stay in touch when the mentoring program officially came to an end. His mentor also discovered quite by chance, as she was doing some work at her local church, that her mentee attended the youth group there, something he had never mentioned. They later chatted about that and had a good laugh! It was reassuring to know that the mentee was attending the youth group as he was mixing with more positive role models, as well as positive peers.
As I have shared on many occasions, one of the key challenges for mentors is NEVER to quit on their mentee. I mentored a teenager for a year some time ago. She was a wonderful young woman who had been struggling through some personal issues. A few days ago she contacted me to tell me she had made a significant life changing decision which had been influenced by some conversations we had had during the mentoring relationship. NEVER stop sowing positive seeds of HOPE!
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 on Facebook 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.