Having been a mentor and coach to youth for over 25 years, many lessons have become clear in the limitations of dealing with kids.
Being a mentor or coach for youth means having to accept certain limitations in one’s influence. While it does not keep success from being possible, it is important for those working with youth to recognize these constraints in order to better direct their efforts.
In their development, youth have three different sets of foundations that affect their world view. The first set of foundations has to do with “needs”. The basic needs are food, clothing and shelter, and when met, cause kids to have a very different reaction to the world than if they are not provided consistently. Many times a mentor is limited if these things are not provided in the life of the youth he/she is coaching. Lack of these elements causes a “survival” instinct that often keep kids from valuing anything outside of the present.Getting kids to set goals or visualize their
The second set of foundations that influence the mentor-ship of youth deals with identity. These foundations are laid with the 3 elements of acceptance, belonging, and protection. Youth that have these needs met refrain from looking for them in inappropriate ways. If kids feel they are accepted and protected by their families, there is less chance of gang or drug involvement. In this way, mentors are limited because rarely can one person alone give a youth that full sense of protection and acceptance.
Finally, the last set of foundations affecting youth are those that influence behaviors directly. The elements to these foundations include school, home and community. The mentor/coach is limited in this arena due to the fact that 2/3 of these elements are outside of their control. A mentor can lay some great groundwork, only to have a dysfunctional family or poor community connections undermine their efforts. Teaming with these other entities can obviously enhance the influence a mentor can have, but still points to the limitations of a mentor when acting alone.
Mentors play a vital role in the lives of youth. They can often give kids that extra support that puts them on the right track to life lone success. Being a mentor however, requires learning what limitations exist in working with youth, so that adjustments and alternate solutions may be sought to counter these limitations. In NO way, should these limitations keep anyone from volunteering. It is the experience that has eternal rewards.