Just yesterday I was contacted by an ex-student.
She has a 2 year old son and wanted me to be a referee for her. To be honest, her time at school was a challenging one. She was a pretty girl with a cheerful, cheeky personality but faced a myriad of social distractions. Her family life was not a healthy one - her father took his own life a month after she brought her son into the world... :(
She rang me - first to ask about the reference - but also to say sorry for not appreciating the guidance that I was offering her at the time. She said she could appreciate it so much more now.
It got me thinking. I thought about all the other young people I've mentored over the years and what their experience of life has been like and what it would have been like if I was not there as a mentor for them. I know many parents who are fully present and committed to giving their kids the best life possible and yet still, kids yearn for more. The NEED at least one positive mentor in their life.
Bringing up 5 of our own kids plus mentoring hundreds of other young people over the last 18 years, I feel that I've got a handle on some of the principles that help to shape a young persons future.
It's a tough realisation to come to. That little human-being who for many years has been completely dependant on you for survival, is now looking outside the nest. Wanting to explore. Wanting to push the limits of what's possible.
The reality is, this stretching and exploring has always been happening. That's how they learned to walk, to talk, to ride a bike, to read... it's just that, now, it's stretching YOUR comfort zone as well!
The irony is, the more you care, the harder it hits. For a long time you have been 'everything' in their world and this new development will challenge that underlying question of inadequacy that ALL parents face: "Have I done enough?"
I want to reassure you, that its very, very natural. It's part of growing up.
It's also a place where parents can make some big mistakes that hinders the normal, healthy development of their children. (I know because I've made most of them!)
Too sheltered - the child doesn't get to learn, experience and find out who they really are - this can lead to rebellious attitudes and behaviours, blowing out and creating situations that were worse then they needed to be.
Too unbridled - children need the context of family and the structure and limitations that it provides to interpret their identity. Without this they search for leaders among their peer groups. Without wisdom to guide them they tend to make poor choices, following dominant, self-seeking peers and follow their example.
So what to do? It seems like a no-win situation?
Mentors Matter: Facilitating mentor relationships with your child and an adult whom they look up to can change your child's life.
A good mentor is engaging and fun and offers the mentee a unique learning experience outside the normal family experience - but at the same time aligns these experiences with family values so that the mentee doesn't feel internal conflict - in fact, this gives the mentee a sense of alignment and reaffirming of their purpose and value.
A good mentor challenges the mentee to do hard things. They won't settle for mediocre and their position outside the family frees them to demand a higher level of excellence. They are also supportive - balancing the level of mastery with the level of challenge to create a personalised learning experience.
A good mentor is focused on growth. Outcomes matter, but growth is the key. Training young minds to focus on growth is the coaching equivalent of "teach a man to fish..." Teaching a growth mindset sets your child up to persevere and eventually succeed, even in the face of terrible adversity and challenges.
A good mentor breed more good mentors. The experience of being mentored by positive role models stay with us for life. It is one of the most beautiful gifts you can give your child. And more likely than not, the lessons they have learned from mentors and of course parents will be passed onto future generations.
Where can you find a good mentor?
There's no right or wrong way to find a mentor but my first advice is to think about:
What delights your child? What makes them come alive?
Now can you think of an expert or leader in this area who has a positive character and values similar to your own?
Brainstorming these possibilities often turns up a good match.
Then its just a matter of asking the question!
Sometimes paying a youth mentor is a really good option.