Why your mentoring of teenagers is critically important

Why your mentoring of teenagers is critically important

Think back to your teenage years. Which adults had the most positive influence on your life? Why was this? What can you learn from that experience or those experiences and pass on to the next generation?

When I was a teenager there were no mobile phones, social media platforms or X-Box games and so on and even then it was challenging. I was confused, often frustrated, moved between having high-self-esteem and low self-esteem, had to work through challenging family times and experienced the normal mood swings of any teenager. Our teachers and other adults in our lives did not have the benefit of adolescent brain research that shapes so much of our thinking today.

Yet I sought out coaches, especially, who spoke to my potential I was not seeing, who listened to me and who empathically guided me through those challenging years.

Mentoring guru, Marc Freedman, wrote one of the greatest books I have read on youth mentoring, The Kindness of Strangers – Adult Mentors, Urban Youth and the New Voluntarism, in 1993. It is as valid today as it was back then. Freedman mentions what he refers to as “a set of timely and attractive properties” that helps explain the emergence of mentoring “as a means of achieving social linkage”.

6 properties to understand the power of mentoring

I am sharing these six properties and give all the credit to Marc Freedman for the content of the Blog, extracts being taken from pages 56 to 58 of his book.

  1. Mentoring is simple. The “one to one” concept takes an overwhelming set of social problems, such as those associated with poverty and makes them comprehensible by focusing on the needs of a single young person. One group states, “Maybe you can’t change the world, but you can make a difference in the future of at least one young person.” In this way, mentoring personalizes responsibility and allows the individual to act.
  2. Mentoring is direct. Mentoring simultaneously satisfies a sense of urgency and a desire to cut through red tape to help youth directly. It doesn’t require faith in intermediary institutions, but enables individuals to draw on their own resources.
  3. Mentoring is highly sympathetic. Being dubbed a mentor is neither neutral nor objective, like tutor or volunteer. It is an honour that flatters the volunteer.
  4. Mentoring is legitimate. It is a sanctioned role for unrelated adults to play in the lives of youth, as reflected by the many stories that help maintain its respected place in our culture. Freedman highlights the ground-breaking work undertaken by the Big Brothers/Big Sisters youth mentoring program which helped to give mentoring a role that could be engineered through social programs.
  5. Mentoring is bounded. One mentor states, “I have a strong interest in kids. But I am not interested in being a mother and I like the mentoring role because it allows me what I consider the appropriate amount of contact with children.” This is an example of bounded love. The concept of bounded love makes it easier for potential mentors to come forward without fear of being logistically and emotionally overwhelmed; it also makes it easier to involve unrelated adults without threatening parents.
  6. Mentoring is plastic, accommodating whatever attributes people want to give it. Nearly everyone can find something to like in mentoring.

When I was writing and recording the Mentoring Minutes podcasts I gained an even deeper understanding of what Marc Freedman was envisaging all those years ago and before we had so much research about the adolescent brain which just enhances the power of mentoring and the need for it, in my humble opinion.

My dream would be to see a global movement of school-based mentoring programs like the GR8 Mates program I was involved with, as I am sensing that young people need more of these wonderful, non-judgmental Cheerleaders in their lives to help them manage their time better, to set realistic, achievable and measurable goals, to live healthy, well-balanced lives and, most important, develop critical relationship-building skills.

And we have an increasing Army of Baby Boomers who could champion the youth mentoring crusade!

In addition, we need an army of school principals to champion Vertical Tutoring Systems Thinking. When implemented successfully in a secondary or high school, EVERY student is supported by a Tutor AND a Co-Tutor throughout these senior school years. They meet in a small Tutor group every day for 20 minutes before their morning break and the Tutor meets with the student and parents once a year for 30 – 40 minutes to develop strategies to ensure the student is striving to reach his or her potential. EVERY student feels a sense of belonging and connection to the school and communities are transformed as bullying and other anti-social behaviors decrease rapidly.

The Vertical Tutoring System  ultimately trains every students to become a mentor of younger students – an empowering journey.

Do you have any thoughts on the power of mentoring to share with others?

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 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.