Mentoring, Teens & a reason to get up each morning
This comes from Don Miller’s Blog: he’s a much better writer than me, but he affirms, here, a focus of my life. It’s pragmatic and useful.
Mentoring: The Ancient Solution for Future Generations
The biggest threat to young people today is YOU. Rather, the absence of YOU. It’s not drugs or alcohol. It’s the lack of positive adult mentors in their life, and I see it with every at-risk teen I work with.
A teen with a mentor is 46% less likely than their peers to start using illegal drugs. I wholeheartedly believe every student is ONE mentor away from being a success story. This flip side, of course, is every mentor is ONE student away from being a success story. Mentors and students need each other. The student needs an example to follow. The mentor needs the motivation to be a good example. God designed it this way. Leadership is best applied in relationship.
People have always sought to learn from those who were more experienced or more knowledgeable. This relationship has taken on various forms throughout history, but relational leadership is the oldest form of education. Before mentorship, there was apprenticeship, a system of training a new generation of practitioners in a skill or trade. A young apprentice would build his career based on his master’s methods of doing business.
Before apprenticeship there was discipleship, like Socrates who taught Plato who taught Aristotle. This was a more intense process of living life with a master teacher. The master would show the student how to talk, walk, eat, and especially how to think. Before the Middle Ages, discipleship was considered the preferred track to rapid personal/spiritual growth. Being chosen to follow a master was an immense honor and would be equivalent to today’s full-ride scholarship to a university. If you were invited to be discipled by a master teacher, your entire family would adjust their lives around this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
People develop best with formal relational leadership. Consider this: personal life coaching is a $1.5 billion dollar a year industry, and it’s growing rapidly. Why? Because there is a lack of mentorship in our country, and people are so desperate for it they are willing to pay. I’ve hired life coaches myself, and can be effective for highly-targeted breakthroughs. The problem is, hired guns aren’t truly invested in my life. What life coaching is to mentoring, prostitution is to real love: a degrading substitute for the real thing.
So where have all the mentors gone? At the peak of the industrial revolution at the turn of the twentieth century, the U.S. Government made secondary education mandatory partly as a recourse to dangerous labor environments forced upon young workers. While mandatory formal schooling was instituted out of good intentions, it often fails to address character development. By segregating our youth from the adult population, we force fourteen year-olds to learn about life from sixteen year-olds. The secondary education path is fine for kids with strong family bonds, but those without strong leadership figures are often left behind. The result has been a perpetual “fatherless generation complex” growing more at-risk each year. Youth cannot reach their potential through the influence of peers. They best mature through the influence of older, wiser, and more experienced mentors. If generational segregation was the start of the moral downfall of youth culture, than re-connection through formal mentorship is the logical solution to empower youth against the curse of low expectations.
For the sake of our nation’s future, we have a collective responsibility to mentor young people. I have made mentoring a strategic tool I use when working with at-risk youth. I have found that helping a family create a “village of supporters” from members of their community is the surest way to see rapid transformation in a child. Here are the four structural components of a vibrant mentoring relationship you can use with a young person in your life:
1. Mentoring works best with formal structure. Truthfully, we adults can be flaky, forgetful and busy, but students can be especially undependable. That is why formal structure is a non-negotiable for me. I like to design a formal mentoring structure that promotes informal relationship. For example, every mentor and student I train writes out a simple one-page contract that lays out the expectations of the mentoring relationship. including meeting times, expectations, and specific goals that the student wants to attain. This extra step ensures a healthy start by providing specific direction and subconsciously raises the value of the relationship.
2. Mentoring works best when done weekly. The old adage that says, “you get out what you put in” rings true with mentoring. If you plan on mentoring a student once a month, you will get a quarter of the impact compared to a weekly meeting. Students need weekly interaction in order to keep you updated with their rapid-changing life. If you can’t do a face-to-face each week, make yourself available via phone or email for real-time conversation. The more at-risk the student is, the more interaction they need to stay accountable to making healthy choices. Daily accessibility helps you stay connected with the student during the fragile “in-between gaps” of the week.
3. Mentoring works best through activities. Students reject clinical environments. They are not interested in therapy sessions; they are interested in friendship. It’s in the best interest of the mentor to discover what the student loves to do and create activities with that in mind. Mentoring is a selfless task, much like parenting. You have to be willing to do activities you might not be fond of. Whatever the activity, be sure to choose ones that allow you to engage in conversation. Watching a movie or playing video games are not ideal. Playing ball, fishing, helping with homework, etc., are activities that provide moments of significant conversation. Be purposeful with every encounter by having at least one thought-evoking and one thought-provoking question that will encourage thinking. An evoking question is designed to draw something out, like, “What problem is in your life right now that you could use help solving?” A provoking question is designed to give a new idea, like, “Would your home-life be more peaceful if you spoke to your mother respectfully?”. Write these questions down in advance and show up prepared to mentor.
4. Mentoring works best with a goal. It is important that we teach young people how to set goals, work hard, and accomplish something. This skill alone could save their life in the near future. I always encourage the mentor to ask the student, “If I could help you accomplish something in the next three months, what would it be?” No matter how trivial the goal might seem, you have a huge opportunity to take them through the logical process of goal setting and planning. This positions you as their supporter and gives you both a project to work on together. The goal may be to get a bully to stop teasing, asking a girl to the school dance, or passing a math exam. Whatever seems important to them is what you should work on. Don’t try and give them a goal that they are not passionate about. The ultimate reason for teaching them to set goals is to help them transfer this skill into adulthood, where the stakes are higher. This is arguably the most important skill set they need to navigate the fragile years of adolescence. Help them figure out where they want to go and equip them with the skills to get there. This encourages leadership and cures chronic followship.
Towards the end of His life, Jesus commissioned His followers to “go and make disciples.” The Creator of mankind understood that the best way to help others grow is through the exchange of truth and life. His formal process included an initial call to follow, a clarification of expectations, and a commitment to finish whatever project is started. I am convinced that we MUST respond to His commissioning and follow His example. When we do, we discover what He was trying to teach His followers: more time with less people equals greater impact. I pray that you, too, will answer His call to invest in the next generation. Our future depends on it.