Many would contend that, whether or not you are officially a “mentor,” you are a role model in the lives of young people whom you encounter, just by the way you acknowledge them (or don’t), show support and caring for others (or don’t), and prioritize what really matters in your life. The question then really is, what kind of role model are you going to be? Since you have chosen to be a mentor, we can assume the answer to that question is that you want to be the best role model you can be.
Modeling admirable behavior does not mean you have to be a perfect human being who never makes mistakes and is a superhero in the eyes of your mentee. Instead, it means being intentional about letting your mentee see your positive behaviors toward others and the values you hold that drive you to behave the way you do. How do you treat the person taking your order at a fast-food restaurant? Why do you treat the person the way you do? How do you react when you have made a mistake that may have a negative effect on others (and may affect the way others perceive you as well)? As you already know, a lecture on how to be a good person probably isn’t an effective strategy for teaching positive behavior. Little and big encounters during your time together will all be teachable moments where your mentee has the opportunity to see proper behavior in action.
• Take turns telling each other about a family member who made a difference in your life and why. Make thank-you card together so you can each that that person for making a difference.
• If your program staff thinks it is appropriate, invite your mentee to visit your neighborhood. Introduce your mentee to the caring people who live there, or discuss ways you’d like to make your neighborhood a more positive environment.
• If your mentee is allowed to spend time around your family, engage in a healthy, supportive conversation with a family member in the presence of your mentee.
• Take your mentee to a location where youth are given useful roles. For example, visit a park where teens are coaching younger children in sports.
• Invite your mentee to join you as you do volunteer work for a community organization.
• Ask your mentee to help you type up a list of emergency contact numbers. Talk about how the fire department or a poison control center can help people feel safe.
Modeling Boundaries and Expectations
• Talk about rules you had in your family growing up and what may have been good and bad about them. If you have children, talk about boundaries and expectations you have for them and why.
• Ask your mentee for advice on how you can support a friend or family member who is going through a rough time.
• Always refer to your mentee’s future in terms of the possibilities and goals she can achieve, not in terms of limits or obstacles she needs to overcome.
Modeling Constructive Use of Time
• Invite your mentee to join you in a variety of activities, like creating artwork, listening to different types of music, or running in a race for charity.
• Challenge each other to spend less time in front of “screens” (TV, video games, and computers) during your free time. Make it a friendly competition.
• Schedule your time together to include a balance of learning, working, talking, and fun activities.
Modeling Positive Values
• Demonstrate the “Golden Rule” in action – whether ordering from a server at a restaurant or saying hello to young people in the mall, treat others the way you want to be treated.
• Admit when you are wrong. Apologize sincerely and talk about what you learned from the experience.
• Invite your mentee to get involved with you in causes that matter to both of you.
Modeling Social Competencies
• Invite your mentee to attend events in places where people of different cultural/racial/ethnic background are a majority.
• When one of you loses your temper, step back and talk about other ways that your frustration could have been communicated.
Modeling Positive Identity
• When talking about someone, emphasize the strengths that person has.
• Help your mentee learn about college options. Work on applications together or visit campuses if possible.
• Does your mentee have career ideas? Jointly look into them. Find people already engaged in those careers to learn what it takes to be successful.
Reprinted with permission from Search Institute®. From Mentoring for Meaningful Results: Asset-Building Tips, Tools, and Activities for Youth and Adults. Copyright © 2008 Search Institute, Minneapolis, MN; 800-888-7828; www.search-institute.org. All rights reserved