Differences in Mentoring Adults and Youth

A mentor is an advisor or counselor who gives someone help over a period of time.  The help offered can be for almost anything: financial, spiritual, education.  A mentor should have expert knowledge and experience in the field that a person needs help in.  Sometimes an individual seeks out a mentor, other times they are assigned a mentor after contacting an agency or school about their need.

We think of going to a certain place to obtain information when we want to find out how to do something, or help in doing it.  That might entail making a call to customer service, looking it up in the Yellow Pages, reading through a magazine or book on the subject, or doing an internet search.  These all involve either short-term contacts, or self-teaching and researching.

There are differences between mentoring an adult and a child, as well as similarities.

*Establish Trust

The first thing a mentor must do when meeting their mentee (a person who is being mentored is to make them comfortable.  At the same time, they will be establishing trust.  The person they are helping must feel at ease around their mentor.  The first meeting is mainly getting to know each other.  Developing that feeling where there is a comfort level about how to relate, where to sit, how much can be confided, deciding whether there is going to be a relationship.

The reason for the mentoring has so much to do with whether trust will be established or not.  It could be for a legal reason: the mentor has been assigned to work with a youth who has come under the juvenile justice system.  The youth is likely to have a history of difficulty at school, and at home difficulties.  If from a broken family, or one where there is violence, perhaps a parent has inflicted violence on the youth.  In which case it may be a real challenge to establish a trusting relationship between mentor and the young person being mentored.

If the mentee is an adult, it might be the greatest challenge to establish trust because they may have had their hopes smashed many times in the past and lost hope in finding any real sympathy from another human being.

*Inspire Confidence in Your Expertise

Suppose an adult is seeking advice on how to get their finances back in order.  They might have financial problems due to their own bad handling of their assets, or have allowed others to contribute to their financial mess.  Why should they trust you?  You have to show them you have had experience and do possess knowledge that will help them gain control over the financial sector of their life.

A child or youth is less hard to convince. They are still at that stage of their life where everybody is older and therefore more knowledgeable and experienced.  With them the mentoring experience will be more emotional, developing a rapport with an older person whom they can confide in and feel free to ask for help without fear of ridicule.

*Transmitting the Knowledge

Mentors often act as tutors, offering help with understanding a subject and encouragement while doing assignments. The difference between tutoring an adult and a child is comparable to the difference between teaching an adult or a child.  It is said that a child has a faster learning ability than an adult, is able to absorb much more information.  It has recently been scientifically established that the reflex dexterity reaches its highest point at approximately age twenty-two.  An obvious example, the college kids would rather text than talk now on their cell phones.

We think adults are easier to teach because they already know more and we don’t have to explain as much as to the kindergartner.  But an adult goes through the same learning process as the child.  The hardest hurdle to surmount is attention span.  Children have a much shorter attention span than an adult.

So there is the difference between learning and the same is true for mentoring.  The younger the child the shorter the attention span.  If you reflect upon it, our way of teaching is based on ancient styles.  Nature is telling the child to squirm and wriggle because it is still growing.  It needs to flex its muscles, exercise, change its position because its bones are still forming and growing.  It is not good for it to sit in a cramped position for a long time.

An adult has grown used to sitting for long periods reading, using a computer or relaxint and watching television.  In fact, adults have generally become too used to sitting for prolonged periods and not exercising enough.  Tutoring an adult is easier than a child as far as the adult being able to spend longer periods of time reading with the tutor or listening to an explanation.  It is easier to hold a conversation with an adult.  Trying to converse with a child often is more one sided, with the adult asking the child questions and expecting an answer.

Children naturally are attracted to new things, bright things, moving things.  Mentoring and teaching don’t have to be periods of enforced isolation and motionlessness.  Mentoring is just repeating and reinforcing the lesson already taught the child.  It can be made fun just as learning can be fun.  Games and puzzles, writing, drawing, singing and reciting can all be part of the mentor’s mentoring bag.  If the bag is full of useful and interesting things to use when mentoring, the child will look forward to what is coming out of the bag next.

Mentoring often is done one on one when a child has a learning disability or needs special help after being out of school for a long period due to health issues or perhaps from changing schools and being exposed to a curriculum that is harder or different from the child’s previous school.

Adults, adolescents and teenagers can be successfully mentored in small groups of two or more.  When tutoring adults and youths that are learning a language that is new to them, such as English language learners, three or more is better because it provides more opportunity to converse.

Keep in mind that whether mentoring a youth or an adult, keeping them focused on what you are trying to help them with is your most difficult and important task.