Children today are bombarded by a barrage of stresses and pressures that, a generation ago, didn’t even exist. Traditionally, the family provided a solid support system for kids to process through these challenges. But, in so many cases, the foundation of the family has crumbled, leavings children to figure out things on their own, without adult guidance and reassurance.
Enter the mentor. Whether a mentor comes from a school source, a religious source, or a community organization (like the Boys and Girls Club), a mentor can make key differences in a young person’s life. But what are the key characteristics that makes a mentor effective in impacting a child’s life?
According to Webster’s dictionary, a mentor is a “wise and faithful counselor.” By definition, then, one of the first things an effective mentor must be is in consistent relationships with the child. So much is fluid in the lives of young people today. An adult that is consistent, faithful, and wise – that can be depended upon – is crucial to establish a successful mentoring environment.
Another key component is the adult’s ability to listen without judgment or criticism. While a mentor provides wisdom when it comes to questions and concerns of their young charge, a good mentor does not simply tell them what is right, wrong, or what to do. Mentors have a responsibility to join in the process of their student “becoming” the person he or she will be. The most effective way to do that is to be prepared to ask a lot of questions that help the student find direction and understanding in their own way and time. A good mentor listens, asks questions, listens more, and helps the student process their answers. When a student “owns” their decisions throughout their journey, they will be more likely to continue down a path of good choices toward positive outcomes.
Mentors also hold the responsibility to challenge their student. Many kids today are unfocused and unchallenged simply because no one has taken the time to hold out expectations for them to achieve. A mentor can help a student establish goals, and then walk beside them as they strive and achieve things that they may have never dreamed possible. As goals are reached, bigger and more challenging goals can be set. As the student progresses, a mentor can be there to cheer them on to bigger and better things.
This process, in turn, helps the young person gain much-needed self confidence. Sometimes, all a student needs is the encouragement and expectancy of a trusted adult to help them reach their dreams. A mentor has a unique opportunity to build into the life of a student simply by challenging, coaching, cheering and believing in the young person.
Another key a good mentor holds is that of role model and example. Regardless of where a mentor has come from, they are viewed by their student as someone who has “made” it. By sharing their own personal experience, a mentor provides a living, breathing example of what the student, too, can achieve with hard work and perseverance. A mentor should be honest and open with their student about their lives. A mentor’s life and personal experience can take the information shared with the student from the “theory” stage to the application stage, making what the student perceives as unattainable somehow within their reach.
As the economic and relational environment of our society continues to deteriorate, mentoring relationships will play an even more important role in the lives of our young people. Becoming a mentor gives an adult an opportunity to give back, and a young person an opportunity to get a step up toward becoming the person they dream of becoming.