The powerful image above has been shared a great deal on social media in recent days, as have the words of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

In the mid-1980s I was living and teaching history in South Africa. I believed that the oppressive apartheid policies would eventually crumble, though had no idea when this would occur. After consulting a few wise people, I decided to organise a youth symposium, facilitated by students of a variety of cultures, aimed at bringing teenagers of all races and cultures together for a weekend, during which they would listen to some keynote speakers, enjoy plenty of group discussions, use their creative gifts and talents in certain tasks, and have plenty of social time to chill out together. One symposium turned into about six or seven, and there were also one-day workshops. Over the next few years about 6000 teenagers from all over South Africa came together to break down the segregated boundaries that politicians had enforced on the people.

For the first hour or so at a symposium there was a visible state of uncertainty, as these young people wondered who they could trust, and had questions about the program on offer. The students were divided into groups prior to the symposium. 50 per cent of the group was male, and 50 per cent of each group was female. The group included a variety of cultures and ethnicities, and was representative of different areas of South Africa. Students met each other in their groups and played a simple ice breaker game I had developed, ‘Bridge Builder’. There was sharing of as much personal information as each student wanted to share. After the ice breaker the students went to dinner and remained in their groups. It was a moving scene to see how quickly barriers came down as students shared what was on their hearts, and enjoyed many humorous moments.

By the end of the weekend addresses and other personal details were being shared. When the students boarded the buses to return home, many tears were shed. I observed the relationship-building activities going on throughout the weekend, the serious discussions, much laughter, a significant amount of talent on display, and heard of a number of students who had chatted into the early hours of the final morning of the symposium – life-changing moments according to some feedback I received from the students and teachers during and after the symposium. These symposia gave me great hope for the future, and underlined what I thought could happen: bring youths together, and the barriers will come down if they can interact in a safe and secure environment.

There is no rocket science in this thinking, and yet day after day we observe our political leaders uttering bellicose statements and pushing different arenas closer and closer to war. The United Nations has no teeth, and is unlikely to succeed as long as five member states of the Security Council have a power of veto, as it is currently used, not in the interests of global peace, more in their self-interest. How wonderful it would be if over four billion people shared messages of peace on a social media platform calling on the United Nations to reimagine itself and become an authentic organisation promoting world peace, genuine democratic governance, and leading a significant drive to end global poverty because #Every Life Matters.

So, we pause and reflect on how many traumatised youths will need unconditional love and care in the decades to come, a space that wise guides can fill as they promote the spirit of mentoring. This is a topic I am promoting in my new book, due out in early 2024, MENTOR: Strategies to Inspire Youth – Support for Mentors, Educators, Parents, Youth Workers, and Coaches.

Here are some of the key points I develop in the book, sharing supportive strategies and offering true stories as examples of mentoring in action. Every mentor can become a peacemaker and an agent for change. Most of what follows can easily be adapted for mentoring relationships of any age, culture, or ethnicity.

What young people want

The brains of young people are only fully developed when they are in their mid-twenties, a point we must continually remind ourselves, especially when their behaviour and moods might be inconsistent, sometimes even antisocial and inappropriate. We can also continually remind ourselves that most young people want to feel

  • cared for (loved)
  • valued
  • that their lives have meaning and purpose

Seven ways to understand and encourage today’s adolescents

  1. Most of today’s children learn best by doing things, reflecting on the experience, and learning lessons from the activity which they can then apply to their daily lives. As adults we can help them make sense of a great deal of confused thinking which is common to the majority of adolescents on their journey to become young adults.
  2. Children value and appreciate recognition for their efforts, for example, a special meal, a positive text message, a congratulatory card, something special in their lunch packs, a surprise of some sort which does not have to cost a great deal of money – preferably none at all!
  3. Children enjoy hearing true stories to which they can relate, and which can motivate, inspire, reassure, and encourage them to reach their unique potential.
  4. Children value learning from older people they respect who are genuine and who walk the talk. Such people create an emotionally safe environment in which youths feel secure.
  5. Children enjoy diversity and change – how can we, as mentors, parents, teachers, and coaches, support and encourage them at such times?
  6. Children value consensus and collaboration, two key words in their world. They need role models to guide them to a deper understanding of these words.
  7. Children value clear and concise communication.

Ten supportive strategies for the effective mentoring, parenting, teaching, and coaching  of adolescents

  1. Listen! Listen! Listen!
  2. Love unconditionally and never quit.
  3. Apologise sincerely when in the wrong, and never publicly humiliate young people.
  4. Walk alongside them as they explore career options, always encouraging them to chase their dreams.
  5. Empathise and affirm.
  6. Negotiate boundaries and be consistent.
  7. Catch them doing good and celebrate!
  8. Journey with them through failure to make this a positive learning experience without trying to enforce your values on them, and focus more on their effort than performance.
  9. Support their idealism, and let them know you believe in them, and are their greatest cheerleaders.
  10. Keep envisioning the people they can become; never let go of that vision. Speak to the potential you can see and which youths often are unable to see for a variety of reasons.

Do you have a story to share about how you have positively nurtured a young person to become the best they can be?

Perhaps you would like some more information on specific topics linked to mentoring youths? Head to the short podcasts and, hopefully, you will find a topic that you are looking for in pursuit of promoting the spirit of mentoring.