The job of a youth mentor is multi-faceted, challenging, rewarding, and different daily.
I serve as a youth mentor through my church. I mentor approximately 40 children indirectly and have a close relationship with high school-aged four girls. I stepped into this role roughly three years ago. As a 23-year old, I was excited to be a cool, fun mentor who would walk alongside the girls through their high school years.
Of course, my expectations were blown away the moment I met the girls. They didn’t think I was cool, they didn’t laugh at my jokes and they certainly didn’t trust me. A relationship with these girls, I quickly realized, was one I was going to have to work on. Just because I placed myself in a mentorship role didn’t mean a relationship would magically manifest. Like any relationship, the aspects that truly make it rich must be built through hard work, experience and trust.
Instead of telling jokes and trying to be cool, I slowly earned respect from the girls by being available, interested in them, giving them my time and caring for them. Sure, I wanted to roll my eyes when they complained about homework, boys, drama with their friends, but I wasn’t there to be a judge or show them how immature they are. As their mentor, my job is to lead by example, provide loving advice and honesty.
As I approach my third year knowing these girls, our relationship has bloomed. For a long time it was one-sided. I called them, talked to them, expressed interest in their lives while they were unengaged, uninterested and distant. Slowly, they came around and now we have rich, fruitful relationships.
Being a youth mentor, it’s hard to remain confident when the teens don’t respond the way you want or expect them to. Mentorship creates a myriad of situations that cause you to question your decisions and leadership. For me, that comes in the form or disinterested youth and disobedience. When kids don’t respond to my efforts, or worse, disobey my rules, it has always caused me to question my relationship with them. Though this is a hard lesson, it’s always important to remember your role: mentor youth, not friend friend. Maintaining that role will propel your relationship in an appropriate way.
Mentoring girls has been an incredible experience, one that I want to continue for the rest of my life. It is enriching and challenging in a way that will grow and teach you.