Connecting with a Mentee aged 11 - 14

No matter how much training mentors are given before they embark on the mentoring journey, most mentors, understandably, will feel some anxiety when they meet their mentees for the first time.

The mentees might also test the commitment of the mentors during the early stages of the mentoring relationship, especially if the young person has had experiences of being let down by other adults in his or her life.

The key is for mentors to be non-judgmental and to enter the relationship with no expectations and no specific agenda. It’s best for the mentors to place themselves in their mentees’ shoes and try to understand the world of these young people, allowing them to dictate the pace of the mentoring journey. The mentors, as adults, will need to drive the early stages of the relationship until it becomes clear that the mentee might want to suggest activities etc. Be patient and let the relationship develop over a period of time. Some relationships will have a quick connection, while others, often where teenage boys are involved, could take longer. While most girls will be happy to chat, boys prefer doing things, the communication occurring during activities.

Remember at all times that each mentee is unique and his or her story will be different from everyone else. Thus it’s important for a mentor never to compare their mentoring relationship with those of other mentors.

As the mentees go through puberty, one needs to remember that this is a precocious and unstable time, also a time of rapid physical growth and human development changes. Emotional maturity tends to lag behind physical development, which is why some adolescents seem very childish at times.

Physical changes can lead to storm and stress, inexplicable mood swings (one or more mood swing cycles a day, eg, anger, apathy, boredom, sadness, guilt, fear and anxiety, stress, joy and elation, love, experimentation with new behaviours, egocentric self-focus, idealism, movement away from parents and authority figures, movement towards peers), an identity crisis, expanded cognition and moral reasoning and belief in their own indestructibility. It is a time of excitement, often associated with the pleasure of developing new abilities and talents.

Adolescents have a growing interest (often secretive) in the opposite sex and in sexuality in general. Their interest in same-sex peer groups decreases, while their focus on building friendships and dating relationships with members of the opposite sex grows.

Early teenage years are a mixture of wanting freedom and wanting structure and protection.

Many researchers will also point to the fact that between the ages of about 11 and 14 young people are at their creative best, so mentors should look for ways to encourage the use of these wonderfully creative spirits!

Once a mentor has connected with their mentee, see if you can gently introduce them to the simple goal-getting journey. Encourage your mentee to set achievable seven day goals and you do likewise. Some healthy competition could emerge and this could be the making of the mentoring relationship, as long as mentors keep the fun element at all times. Once young people learn how to set and achieve specific, realistic, measurable and achievable goals their lives are transformed.

Further encouragement for the mentoring journey is the research which suggests that these young people want adults to listen to them and to take them seriously; to be available; to be non-judgmental, to have non-directive attitudes and consult more; to have a sense of humour; to be straight talking so that young people know where they stand and to be trusting, always observing confidentiality within the parameters laid down by the program’s policies and procedures.

To summarise – effective mentors are sincere, respectful and empathetic. Their mentees feel safe and secure in the company of their mentors and want to have plenty of fun. Let the mentee dictate the pace of the relationship and be encouraged in the knowledge that most mentees genuinely desire to have a meaningful relationship with at least one significant adult, in addition to their parents, as they journey through adolescence to adulthood. Never enter a mentoring relationship to ‘fix’ or ‘save’ your mentee. A mentor should be both a friend and a role model to the mentee at a time in the mentee’s life when the influence of peers is of the utmost importance or when the mentee feels devoid of friends or adult support and is living in a high-risk environment.

Final words from the mentees themselves. Many, many times I have heard young people say, in response to a question asked by mentors about to embark on the mentoring journey concerning the best advice a young person can give new mentors: “Be yourself.” “Never quit on us.”

Enjoy the mentoring journey – it’s potentially a life-changing experience.