If you value teenagers then read this!

If you value teenagers then read this!

Do you have teenage children? Do you teach or coach teenagers? Do you work in any way with teenagers?

Earlier today I heard that a young man I mentored in the late 1980’s had passed away in 2017. I don’t know what happened and I am still saddened that Agrippa is no longer with us. He was a young man of courage and immense talent who came from a disadvantaged background, yet developed strengths that allowed him to fearlessly stand out from the crowd in an apartheid South Africa. He helped me develop non-racial symposia, had an amazing sense of humor, developed superb leadership skills and taught me so much about what a non-racial South Africa might look like. News of his death has brought so many memories flooding back.

This has led me to think about about the power of mentoring, though mostly in relation to other students who crossed my path over the years, and wondering what they are doing with their lives today, what ‘might have been’ had they had the opportunity to be mentored when they were 15 or 16 years of age? Unique gifts and talents to be nurtured and encouraged by a non-judgmental Cheerleader.

I was reminded of the positive results of an Online Student Performer that one of the early GR8 Mates student participants had completed at the end of their school-based mentoring program. The students had completed this task at the beginning of the mentoring journey and again, six months later, when the program officially concluded, though some  +10 years later, some of those adolescents, now adults, are probably still in touch with their mentors from that time, as often lifelong friendships are forged. 

Research clearly states – and it’s obvious why – that mentoring relationships that last for 12 months or more tend to have more positive outcomes than those lasting less than this time.

No-one can argue with that, though I have learnt over the years that, when a volunteer adult mentor and a teenage mentee connect for a season, even if that season is only 6 months in a school-based mentoring relationship, so much can be achieved.

Why successful mentoring relationships?

In addition to comments from the GR8 Mates Mentees and mentors, what emerged from a deeper analysis of the Online Student Performer were the following key points:

  • when mentors have attended a minimum of 16 hours of mentor training, prior to embarking on the mentoring journey, are aware of what is required of them and consistently turn up, week in and week out at school for a six month period, they can achieve a significant amount.
  • where the focus has been on encouraging these students to think about their careers and different career pathways, the program has been a resounding success, especially  when the students, with guidance from their mentor, set and achieve their own goals.
  • as the mentees started setting and achieving their goals, they came to appreciate that life is about the choices they make – a self-empowering life lesson! Although Agrippa was not part of a mentoring program, I mentored him and I think this was one of the life changing moment for him. he came to appreciate that, no matter how tough life might be, he chose how to respond.
  • Far more was achieved in six months than I could ever have hoped for. However, had we been able to start the program at the beginning of the school year, which we had been unable to do for a number of reasons, I believe these students would have made even more progress.
  • although there was a structure to the weekly meetings, mentors had the flexibility to choose what they wanted to do when they met with their mentees. Sometimes they chatted about issues the mentee was having to deal with at the time, sometimes they shared other experiences – the key was that there was positive communication occurring between a volunteer adult mentor and a vulnerable teenager, most of whom were lacking in self-confidence.
  • mentors felt supported throughout the mentoring journey. Time was set aside each week after the mentoring experience when, over a cup of tea or coffee and a light snack, mentors shared thoughts, ideas and experiences and program staff, as well as a teacher coordinator responded to questions, offered their thoughts and, most important, encouraged the mentors to keep on keeping on when mentees might be wobbling a little.

The ongoing lesson I have taken from youth mentoring programs and my own experiences is that mentoring relationships might only occur for a short season at a time in a young person’s life when they needed encouragement, support and guidance from a significant other in their life, excluding parents – yet they are potentially powerful, life-changing times in those young lives for any number of reasons.

We hope, even though it is not always the case, that the parents will always be a part of a young person’s life journey. Where there are absent parent or the family isn’t functioning too well, it is not too difficult to understand why mentoring research continually points to the importance of a young person having at least three significant adults in their lives during their journey through the confusing years of adolescence, while their brains are still developing, to becoming young adults.

Someone needs to be there for them during these formative years of their education.

The  importance of the development of meaningful relationships in the lives of our young people is even more important in the Digital Age in which we are living, when face to face relationships might be lacking the depth to make them more meaningful and young people need guidance with regard to understanding body language and how to verbalise their hopes and fears when they feel safe and secure in the presence of a non-judgmental Cheerleader.

Remember to speak to the potential you can see in any young person you are communicating with. You might just light a spark of hope that ignites slumbering dreams!

I recall asking Agrippa to share his story with students at the school where I was a School Principal. You could have heard a pin drop as Agrippa, who by this stage had completed his University degree and had entered the workforce, inspired students to grasp every moment of their education and never to accept a second-rate effort. Perhaps I’ll share the key points from his talk in a future blog. A great man sadly missed.

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.