“You are too much of a clown to go to college.” ~my high school guidance counselor
“I am calling to check in on you. I heard you were in the hospital.” ~my high school principal after I graduated and was admitted for my eating disorder.
“You will never start for me. You are not a team player.” ~high school coach
“I know you need a chance. I know you need an opportunity to grow.” ~my dance instructor offering me a job to teach dance.
“You are crazy. Who do you think you are?” ~my mother
“I am not sure why you are in this group (talented and gifted). You do not follow directions, talk constantly and are a nuisance.” ~Mrs. Bowers, my 4th-grade teacher.
“I do not understand this but you are welcome in my home as long as you need.” ~my best friend’s mom when my mom kicked me out of the house at 19.
If you are an adult and you work with students. You are a mentor. Your actions and words impact students. In the above quotes, I remember exactly what my teacher, coach, parent, or principal said to me. I remember their body language. I remember their tone. I remember their influence. Each mentor had an opportunity to impact me as a young person. Each mentor had an opportunity to encourage, grow and nurture my younger self. Some of the comments were not kind or positive but the negative words were also used to fuel and grow me, too.
Lately, I have been helping my daughters navigate life from a distance. They spend more time away from me than they do with me because they are growing up and becoming young women. As this transition happens, I depend more on the people in their lives outside of my home. I depend on the teachers they are with daily, their coaches, other parents and even their choices in friends but mainly I depend on other adults in their lives.
My mother in law recently asked me what I do now where I have such flexibility. In the simplest terms, even though my title is an educational consultant, I mentor people. I have grown into what I needed the most when I was younger. I spend most of my time in work mode mentoring others to become better at their jobs and build relationships with their students. I also spend a tremendous amount of time sitting back and observing people. My one daughter tells me it is my superpower.
I do not claim to be the mentor of the year. If you spend any time with me, you know that I learn from mistakes. It is my number one learning strategy. Also, just like above, not every mentee relationship I have had has been positive. In those situations, it is okay to say you are wrong. Being wrong helps everyone to grow. I have learned much and if you have any contact with children, you may want to ponder some of these ideas.
Buddy or Boss?
Most adults approach teens with two different mentalities.
Mentors may approach their mentee wanting to be their friend and have the teen think that they are cool. I call this the “Buddy Zone”. This zone will only tap the superficiality of a relationship. The point of a mentor is to be able to build a deep relationship where vulnerability leads to growth. In this approach, it is hard to have these conversations because then the student will not think you are cool. The relationship will be mainly about doing “fun” things and not getting to the heart of character growth.
A completely different approach is the boss mentality. The boss is similar to a boss in an employment atmosphere where they expect a product. Adults use this approach with individuals as they seek a project. “I am going to fix this person.” I have seen adults use this technique to manipulate a teen to do something that will benefit the adult more than the teen, for example, come to church, join a team, or provide a service. The goal isn’t the growth of the child, the goal is to profit the adult in another way and the adult uses their influence in a negative way.
You do not have to be cool to mentor someone. You do not have to have all the answers. You have to be willing to grow a relationship to promote the growth of your mentee.
Slower and Smaller is Better
In a world of quick fixes, 1,000 “friends” on Facebook, and Snapchat “streaks”, our teens need deeper and meaningful relationships. In a Review of Educational Psychology, titled, “Interpersonal Relationships, Motivation, Engagement, and Achievement: Yields for Theory, Current Issues, and Educational Practices” the following insights were found:
- Students that believed their teacher cared for them believed they learned more.
- Teachers’ interpersonal relationship skills were significantly associated with students’ achievement, motivation, and self-esteem.
- Mentoring increased teachers’ sensitivity to at-risk children and to children as individuals, and it improved the teachers’ ability to cope with difficult situations.
Our children need life on life mentoring. They do not need meaningless award ceremonies celebrating their character. They need strong adults that will cultivate real relationships based on trust, honesty, realistic expectations, nurturing and intention. We often think mass production when it comes to students but in reality, they need smaller interpersonal relationships that develop and grow over time.
Seek to Understand
When I listen to parents over the age of 35 that have kids, I may judge a little when they say, “I do not do all that technology stuff. I can’t understand it.”
As my youngest daughter says, “That is so 1900’s”
If we are to lead, grow, and influence the next generation, it is not going to be done by staying in the past. We cannot invite them back to the 80’s. They are wearing our decade as Halloween costumes! We have to reach into their world and meet them where they are right now. This isn’t us trying to be their “buddy”. This is us trying to see the world through their eyes so we can help them see the larger picture that is necessary when growing up.
I like to remain teachable. I like to seek to understand a student, ask questions, and listen. It is that simple. My goal in the upcoming year is to talk less and listen more. I can’t listen when I am talking.
Just like anything, there are good mentors and bad mentors. Each person has an opportunity to grow their mentoring skills when working with students. I have found that authenticity rules. Kids know if you care about them. Kids know if you like them. Kids know if you are to be taken seriously or not. Even if you do not feel that your mentoring muscles are ready, if you have kids in your life, you are mentoring. Start where you are and be willing to learn. That is always the best place to begin.