My twin boys, who are mentors at their school, often come home bundles of different emotions. On the one hand, they are often sad and troubled by the circumstances of some of the children they mentor. On the other, they are often beaming with pride at their own ability to help these children and make a difference at their school. Both of these emotions help to increase their general sensitivity and wisdom, and any child who continues to build on junior mentoring experiences into their teens, I am quite confident will develop the types of skills in dealing with others that will translate to many other situations, and particularly those related to being a good manager in the workplace. My sons’ father, who was an older sibling of six and who also participated in these types of programs in his youth, is now a successful managing engineer at Intel, and I give much of the credit to the growing skill in dealing with people that these experiences taught him in his youth.
The children that are often assigned to mentoring programs are most likely members of a troubled group. They are the learning disabled, the socially awkward, the parentless. They will have many challenges to bring to the situation that your child will likely not know how to solve initially. But mentoring is a tremendous opportunity to do just that. Younger mentors are closely supervised teachers, parent volunteers and aides. They will learn to mimic the strategies that these more experienced people employ if situations should get difficult. Eventually as they get more confident they will develop their own coping mechanisms and find what works best with what kind of person. This is the kind of education that you can’t get in a class or in a book – you just have to try it to see what works and then practice until you get good results. In employment situations, managers particularly need just this type of ‘gut instinct’ to deal best with people in the various personnel pinches that companies often get into.
Particularly in dealing with special needs children, an aid or mentor will have to learn how to make quick decisions. My husband teaches a volunteer class with a severely autistic boy. He has to constantly searching the environment for ways to divert and entertain this child without severely distracting from the experience of the others. My children who also attend are also learning some of his strategies. They often give him a piece of chalk and tell him to draw a zebra (his favorite animal) for them at a crucial moment. They devised an idea to always have him hold the ‘sword of truth’ (cardboard, of course) during a moment when he tends to want to disruptively go play the piano during the activity. Being innovative and clever, and of course employing a good sense of humor and engagement for the rest of the people in the situation can be an immense gift. Anyone who deals with difficult people in difficult situations will benefit from it.
Making an impact
Children who are involved in mentoring situations often have a developing sophistication about how what they are doing for the child that they mentor fits into the larger picture. They become aware of how a disruptive child can negatively impact the class, the school, and the resources of the community. They will see the infinite ripples of what they are able to do come back to them as positive feedback as people as far removed as principals and administrators single them out for their good work. This can be very similar to a good manger in a company. They have long-range thinking in terms of the fact that if they help their underlings to succeed it benefits the whole company down the road. Good managers hone their efforts to the ones that they feel will make the biggest differences in their jobs, and perhaps even to society at large. The best managers, such as Lee Iacocca, have learned extremely valuable insights that translate to many other human endeavors for this very reason.
It is quite common wisdom that to better learn a skill it is very helpful to teach it. A teen who gives music lessons often becomes a better musician and one that tutors math will find that they are more able mathematicians. So it naturally follows that as teens teach others the kinds of things that will be important in the workplace, namely character assets like reliability and honesty as well as the ins and outs of their employer, they will become a better employee themselves. This is one of the hallmarks of good management, that the good employees will become better by helping others along the path.
My oldest son, now a teenager, has implemented his mentoring into his daily life and his outlook on his peers. He recently told me that every day at lunch he gathers a severely autistic boy that doesn’t even recognize him from day to day and insists that he eat lunch with his group of his friends. I asked him why he did this – surely it doesn’t help in the social arena to ‘look cool’ by befriending a child with disabilities? He told me that it gives him some amount of power over the guilt and sadness that he feels about others less fortunate than himself if he is able to do something to help. This amount of maturity and sensitivity would be hard to teach in any other way, and will surely fare any child or teen well in whatever endeavor they pursue in life.