There are all kinds of ways that a caring adult can make a difference in the life of a child. With a little bit of effort and patience, you too can mentor a young person.
Since the time of Homer and the Odyssey, the term mentor has been used to describe a trusted role model and guide. Many adults can point to numerous people who served as a natural mentor to them as they were coming of age – people like coaches, teachers, neighbors or bosses who went the extra mile to provide them with support, encouragement, and friendship. Today, many young people struggle to find these natural mentors. Coaches and teachers often have additional job duties or extremely large classes that keep them from forming significant relationships with as many students as they would like. In general, we are less likely to know our neighbors and more likely to work longer hours that keep us away from our homes. So, how can we provide youth with mentoring relationships that provide support as they develop? There are simple things you can do to become a mentor to a young person in your life.
First of all, think about someone who mentored you. What qualities did she have that drew you to her? Are these traits that you demonstrate in your current relationships with young people? Small changes in how you interact with young people can lead to stronger relationships. Mentors are usually empathetic, consistent, patient and take the time to really listen to their mentees. A good mentor works to understand the young person’s goals and helps him reach them. This is in sharp contrast to the adult who believes that he knows what is best for a young person and tries to use his influence to push the youth in a specific direction.
Mentors often make their mentees feel special and important. You can do this by asking a young person for their opinion and paying attention to the answer. It is also important to be generous with genuine compliments. Notice the things that make this young person special and point them out. These compliments should be specific and related to who the young person is rather than focusing on things likes appearance or possessions.
One of the more difficult things that a good mentor does is holding the young person accountable for her actions. It is easy to ignore a difficult situation, but a young person grows by processing positive and negative experiences and learning from them. Holding someone accountable can be as simple asking, “What happened?” You want to consistently let the young person know that you believe in him. Sometimes believing in someone means pointing out that they can do better the next time.
If you do not have young people in your life and would still like to make a difference, consider becoming a mentor in a formal mentoring program. Formal programs, like 4-H Youth Mentoring, match caring role models with youth with the purpose of forming a supportive relationship. There are many types of mentoring programs to meet the needs of a variety of youth and volunteers. You can learn more about becoming a mentor by reading the article Make a difference through youth mentoring.
This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu/newsletters. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).