Robin's Mentoring Matters Blog

Tips, ideas, thoughts and opinions to motivate and inspire all who guide young people as they journey through adolescence to adulthood.

The power of investing time with young people

How do we motivate and inspire the millions of young people who are drifting aimlessly to become the best they can be? How do we move alongside young people trying to find their way through the confusing adolescent years? How do we galvanize communities to develop a global youth mentoring crusade?These are some of the questions I am regularly asking myself, though I have no clear answers, other than knowing that something has to happen to create a global movement that sees the skills, knowledge and life experience of millions of potential volunteer adult mentors being shared with young people often desperate to have a significant adult in their lives to guide them, be a non-judgmental Cheerleader and encourager. Reflecting on mentoring programs I have been involved with, I recall conversations with mentors who had expressed disappointment that their mentees might not have completed a relatively easy task they agreed to see completed when they last met. During the training of volunteer adolescent mentors, which I link to my user-friendly book, The Spirit of Mentoring – A manual for adult volunteers,  which has hundreds of tips for mentors to consider during the mentoring journey, I suggest to mentors that they have no expectations of their mentees when they begin the mentoring journey. Then they will not be disappointed. Most young people entering a mentoring program are lacking self-confidence and genuinely believe they can’t achieve much with their lives. This might be because of the messages they might be receiving from parents, peers and teachers. Perhaps it is because they might have a sibling who appears to do well at school,...

Early lessons learnt or reinforced in setting up a youth mentoring program

Are you involved in setting up a youth mentoring program? Are there days you feel overwhelmed? I wrote down some thoughts when I was setting up from scratch the Gr8 Mates school-based youth mentoring program.There were ongoing lessons being learnt on the journey. What follows are some of the lessons I learnt: Make sure the program is internationally credible, which requires a Policies and Procedures Manual. There are some good examples of these on internationally credible youth mentoring websites. Develop a budget and have a plan as to how the program will roll out. Gr8 Mates had a possible 5 year budget plan which was continually being revised as the program was being developed. It added credibility to the program when approaching potential donors. Develop the program slowly. Don’t try to make it too big too fast. A quality program will take time to develop. I rewrote of the Policies and Procedures Manual within the first three to six months of launching the program. Think about evaluation all the time. I recorded ‘every’ inquiry about the program and also knew how most of the people contacting me had heard about the program. I evaluated the mentor training, the mentee training and the mentor/mentee matching session. Keep building partnerships and networks within the local and wider community eg, businesses; University of the 3rd Age; faith institutions; Sport Clubs and so on.. Make the training free wherever possible – after all, the mentors are volunteering their time. The host school contributed a small amount for each participating student and this covered most of the mentor’s training accreditation fee. We covered the...

6 aspects of youth mentoring that make it so needed in our global community

Do you believe that young people benefit from having non-judgmental Cheerleaders in their adolescent lives? Can you remember having any significant, non-parent, people guiding you through those challenging and confusing teenage 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”. 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. 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. 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. 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. Mentoring is legitimate. It...

How will Artificial Intelligence impact young lives?

How do you think Artificial Intelligence will impact your life? How do you think Artificial Intelligence will impact your relationships? These are interesting questions to discuss with an adolescent mentee, especially at a time when we are continually being told that the digital age will see many current jobs becoming obsolete during the next few years. A significant contribution a volunteer adult mentor can make to the life of an adolescent mentee is to build a web of protective factors or characteristics around the young person that will reduce the negative impact of stressful situations and problems, thus fostering resiliency.Some ways a mentor can do this would include the following six strategies which, when combined, are likely to see the development of positive self-concepts, connection to school, improved academic results, respect for authority and a more resilient young person. I can vouch for this from my mentoring, teaching and coaching experiences. Provide unconditional caring, support and encouragement. Let mentees hear the message “You matter!” Catch them being good and acknowledge their efforts. Increase bonding. Strengthen the connections between mentees and pos­itive adults and peers; and between mentees and any positive social activity (eg, sports, art, music, writing, dance, community service, reading or learn­ing). Mentees with strong, positive bonds are less likely to be involved in high risk behaviours than those without such bonds. Set clear, consistent boundaries. Mentees need clear and consistent rules or boundaries (eg, family rules and norms, school policies and procedures, communi­ty laws and norms) within which they are encouraged to become the best they can be. These must be clearly spelt out and consistent­ly enforced....

The impact of family on an adolescent

What hope do I have in all reality working with Jason (not his real name) when he comes from such a dysfunctional family? I know I cannot be a saviour nor a rescuer. I have found over the years that working with adolescent mentees is considerably more challenging when the family is not functioning well. I have seen what I call ‘drone parents’ getting in the way, protecting their children because they have their own agendas for their children, thus contributing to the emergence of a ‘powderpuff’ generation of young people who will struggle in an increasingly entrepreneurial, innovative world where one might have to risk failure to achieve dreams. I have seen parents with their own mental health issues becoming a mixture of drone or helicopter parents. They hover and interfere and much depends on their own mood swings with regard to how they react to situations involving their children. Wearing my education and mentoring hats, as well as reflecting on years of experience working with young people, I can see the potential damage the parent’s suffocating love will cause, but I have to pull back, as I am unable to save a child or rescue a family. So, all I do is try and sow lots of positive seeds of HOPE, trusting that one day the young person will remember the discussions, find another mentor and start actioning some of their own ideas without fearing failure or perfection. Often I have seen how absent or inadequate or incompetent parenting has resulted in the mentee’s antisocial behaviour escalating and brain research tells us that this can ultimately lead...

Adolescents share truths about the impact mentors had on their lives

I often ask the question: when you were a teenager, who, other than your parents and friends, had a significant influence on your life? Sometimes, sadly, people were living in homes that were not functioning too well for a variety of reasons, so positive parental influence might have been lacking. No matter what the situation, so many young people will talk about a teacher or a Coach, a person who cared about them and believed in them. The world mourns the death of so many innocent lives and the injuries others have sustained as a result of bomb blasts and shootings in different parts of the world in recent times, though we must never forget the tens of thousands, maybe millions of young people living in poverty or traumatized by war or some other traumatic event in their lives.  It has spurred me to action.For many years I have been thinking of a way to inspire young people to become the best they can be, the quiet ones who retreat into their shell, who perhaps lack confidence, who need to be reminded that they can take charge of their lives and being shown how to do this. I am working on developing an App, which will have to be free, with an inspiring word each day, not a well known quote, but something more personal which I have written from my experiences working with young people for over 40 years – can’t hide my age! I actually began this project about 15 years ago! I have written the 365 messages to inspire and am now on a journey to...

3 Meaningful ways to calm the developing teenage brain

How do you respond to a teenager on an emotional rollercoaster ride? This is an interesting question, though, to put us at ease, the teenage emotional rollercoaster ride is normal while the brain is still developing. Within the limbic system of an adolescent, the Amygdala, which prioritizes and learns our human survival and emotional messages (Desautels, 2016) is in full flow while the brain is developing. This area, which is involved in instinctive, impulsive, emotional and aggressive reactions (Karen Young) needs to be quieted, so that the developing Prefrontal Cortex, the area above our eyes and behind the forehead, which plays a key role in impulse control, decision-making and future planning, can come more and more into play and help us make good decisions while it is being structured and wired up as a result of our learning and experiences.  The Prefrontal Cortex will only be fully developed when we are in our mid-20s. I am going to deliberately digress, as it’s important we try and understand the global community in which our young people are developing and this, for example, has been an interesting week thus far. Events taking place will be impacting the young lives in different ways. What’s been going on?Some of the topics that have attracted my attention have included: North Korea launching a missile through Japanese air space and watching Kim Jung-In laughing and cheering this provocative event, while so many of his people live in poverty and suffer ignorant of what a holistic education journey might do to release their unique gifts and talents. The awful images of the devastating impact Hurricane Harvey...

Surfing through life as a Mentor?!

“How can I help you?” That’s probably the question I ask more than any other when someone approaches me for a chat. It leads to great discussions which are followed by a look at prioritizing which inevitably takes us to goal setting. And, if this involves mentoring an adolescent, I am quick to share the three key points to move them towards a balanced and healthy lifestyle: “How many hours sleep a night are you having?” (Should be 9 hours every night) “How many hours of exercise each week are you having?” (Should be a minimum of 2.5 to 3 hours) “Are you eating a healthy breakfast?” (If not, early academic time will be a waste of energy, as the brain will not be functioning at full throttle!) These are well researched facts now and, while there will always be exceptions to the rule, when mentees are able to tick these three boxes, they will automatically notice the difference in their lives. I was thinking a short while ago, while I was writing my Mentoring Minutes 2 minutes a day Podcasts, of the conversation I had with Rachel (not her real name) when she asked if she could have a chat with me. “How can I help you?” I asked. “I want you to mentor me. I need help with my planning and organization. Last year I lived on five hours sleep a night, I pushed myself so hard to achieve my academic goals and make my parents happy. I achieved them all but I don’t want to live like this anymore. In fact, I’m not going to live...

Drone parents or empowering Mentors for our adolescents?

Thinking again about how different life is today from when I was a child. What can you remember about your childhood? I remember we climbed trees, created our own games indoors and outdoors, rode our bicycles, without helmets, to the local Park where we played on the variety of playground equipment available – Jungle Jims, seesaws, swings, roundabouts – caught tadpoles in the stream running through the Park, all without any adult supervision. We walked or rode to school without adult supervision and caught public transport, even in the evenings, without adult supervision. We jumped into a teacher’s car or another parent’s car if we were going to a sports match without any need of permission slips signed by our parents; we listened to the Top 20 hits of the week on a Sunday night from Radio Lourenco Marques (I was raised in Cape Town); we watched the international sports folk practising and mingled with them after and before matches, with no security guards evident; we listened to the radio, as we did not have Television – Kit Grayson Rides the Range or something like that; Squad Cars; Pick-a-Box, a Quiz Show; Squad Cars, a Detective program; Mark Saxon and Sir Gay Gromuko or something similar …….  yes, those were the days and how different from life today. The rare Computers were massive machines in large office areas with punch cards …. and so I could go on. These thoughts occurred after I read an interesting Blog by Occupational Therapist, Victoria Prooday, The silent tragedy affecting today’s children, which has been read by over 10 million people during the...

How peer pressure changes lives

“All successful people have a goal. No-one can get anywhere unless he knows where he wants to go and what he wants to be or do.”  (Norman Vincent Peale (1898 – 1993)) Over the years I have done a lot of work in High or Secondary Schools, attended by 13 to 19-year old students. One of the greatest issues I confront each time is the effect of peer pressure on the lives of these students. It’s seen in the negative attitude to ‘anything’ that is said. It’s seen in the way students, who want to ask questions, who want to get involved in an activity, who want to answer questions etc., remain silent for fear of what their peers might say. It’s supposedly not ‘cool’ to try too hard. Sometimes there are deeper reasons that complicate things even more, as will be evident in the four stories I’ll share in this Blog. I heard the story about Rachel (not her real name), who did really well at Primary School. However, when she moved to High or Senior School she only just passed her exams – 50%, 51%, those types of marks. When challenged, she admitted that she did not want to lose her friends, so she was just doing enough to get through. And, having been an enthusiastic class participant, she also retreated into herself so she did not stand out amongst her peers. Rachel’s story will be familiar to most readers, I am sure. In Letter 2 a Teen, which I wrote as a genuine letter to any teenager trying to find their way during one of the most...