Why a mentor can make a difference

2015-08-20 16:05
A mentor is not a disciplinarian or decision maker for a child. Instead, a mentor echoes the positive values and cultural heritage parents and guardians are teaching. A mentor is part of a team of caring adults.

A mentor is not a disciplinarian or decision maker for a child. Instead, a mentor echoes the positive values and cultural heritage parents and guardians are teaching. A mentor is part of a team of caring adults. (Supplied)

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WHEN I cast my mind back to my teenage years, I realise that one of the missing ingredients in my development was the presence of a mentor.

I did not have an exceptionally traumatic childhood, but it certainly wasn’t without issues. Among other things, growing up in a divorced home affected me, but who doesn’t have some form of family problems these days? It’s no excuse for the bad choices I made regarding the abuse of alcohol and drugs. But it did affect my values and beliefs which, in part, contributed to some of my behavioural manifestations.

If, however, I had a mentor to talk to, I believe that many of my choices would have been different. The effect was that I carried unresolved emotional issues into my adulthood and more specifically that I wasn’t made aware, corrected or redirected, when I started repeating unhealthy choices. This all happened sub-consciously of course. The sub-conscious mind controls 97% of our perceptions. It is also the domain of emotions but more importantly, repressed memories and unresolved negative emotions. It will present these emotions for resolution and continue to do so until the issue is dealt with.

If teenagers do not deal with emotions in a healthy way, such as talking through and facing their problems, the sub-conscious “store house” fills up with unfinished business, so to speak. Drug and alcohol use numbs those sub-conscious issues. Medicating emotional stress is great at first. I loved not having to face my past. The sad result was that I grew in age through time but not in emotional or spiritual maturity.

The question is, who does a teen talk to about issues? Parents? Teachers? Peers? Siblings? Parents obviously play a massive role.

I spoke at length about their influence in my previous article. A recent American study of 3 000 high school pupils by Teens Today had these responses to questions about parenting.

• Almost all (91%) teens say their parents are good role models.

• Most teens say their relationships with their parents make them feel good about themselves (82%), their parents respect them (68%), and they feel close to their parents (60%).

• Almost half of young people (47%) cite parents as most influential in encouraging them to challenge themselves positively.

• Approximately one-third of teens (32%) say they don’t spend as much time as they want or need to with their parents.

• Parents are teens’ number-one influence against making poor choices when it comes to drinking, drug use and sexual behaviour.

Stats like these are interesting, but often difficult to relate to, considering the different environments that exist across the Atlantic Ocean between ourselves and Americans. What it does show, though, is that parents play a vital role in mentorship. However, from my experience there are some things that children won’t talk to their parents about. These issues are probably of an embarrassing or covert nature, and unless the family is very liberal or open, they may never talk about certain subjects, such as sex, drugs and relationships.

As for other “natural” mentors, teachers possess an incredible capacity to inspire children and, thereby, to shape their future. And, along the way, many of them provide the very type of mentoring most beneficial to young people in search of themselves. As with most questions involving subjective measurement, figuring out exactly what makes a great teacher is a tough task. Yet one thing is certain in my mind: in our rush to build better teachers, bolster maths and science scores, and improve our pupils’ rank in the global community, we are well-served to remember that great teachers transcend report-card results alone.

I just don’t see that they have enough time though. Their amazing efforts are already spread thin across dozens of children every day. Peers and siblings don’t have the experience and are often part of the problem. In the case of drug and alcohol experimentation, peer pressure accounts for a large contributing factor — up to 60%.

According to the same Teens Today study, 35% of teens with no mentor have a low sense of self (versus 12% of mentored teens). The research identifies sense of self as teens’ self-evaluation on their progress in three key developmental areas: identity formation, independence and peer relationships. Teens with a high sense of self feel more positive about their own identity, growing independence and relationships with peers than do teens with a low sense of self. They are also more likely to avoid alcohol and drug use.

Teens struggling with those developmental areas, on the other hand, are more likely to drink, use drugs such as ecstasy, cocaine and cannabis, and cite boredom and depression as reasons to have sex or delve in pornographic behaviours. They also note a greater susceptibility to peer pressure when making choices.

Let’s discuss what mentoring is.

Mentoring is a development strategy for a youth’s successful path to adulthood. In a structured mentoring programme, a supportive individual works with a youth to build a relationship by offering guidance, support and encouragement to cultivate the youth’s positive and healthy development. Often, mentoring programmes are designed around specific goals, such as academic achievement, career preparation and behaviour modification.

Mentors should understand they are not meant to replace a parent, guardian or teacher. A mentor is not a disciplinarian or decision maker for a child. Instead, a mentor echoes the positive values and cultural heritage parents and guardians are teaching. A mentor is part of a team of caring adults.

A mentor’s main purpose is to help a young person define individual goals and find ways to achieve them. Since the expectations of each child vary, the mentor’s job is to encourage the development of a flexible relationship that responds to the mentor’s and the young person’s needs.

By sharing fun activities and exposing a child to new experiences, a mentor encourages positive choices, promotes high self-esteem, supports academic achievement and introduces the young person to new ideas.

A mentor may help a young person set career goals and start taking steps to realise them. The mentor will guide in making healthy choices about day-to-day life, from food to exercise and beyond. A mentor can also help the child think through a problem at home or school.

Now let’s look at how a mentor can structure a relationship according to the following four guidelines.

• Create a path

Teenagers are constantly being shaped into what they are supposed to do. However, rarely are they asked: “Who do you want to be?”

This is probably the most important question you can ask teens. And it should be the first question you ask when mentoring them. This question sets a direction and casts a vision. It helps you know where to go with them.

• Give them application

It’s easy to fill someone’s head with knowledge but how much they retain can be a mystery. The more application for your information, the more likely the teen you mentor will remember.

When you mentor someone, it’s important to incorporate tangible habits that will lead to personal growth.

• Meet consistently

The best way to build a habit is to maintain a sense of consistency. If there is too much time between each meeting or communication, you can’t expect to see exponential growth. An effective mentoring programme is not just a one-time deal or something that meets quarterly.

If you want to walk with someone through life, you need to make sure that you are meeting consistently on a weekly to monthly basis while communicating by e-mail or text in-between.

The more they are reminded that you are near, the more they are reminded of what needs to be accomplished.

• Sit in their messes

If you really get to know people, sooner or later you are going to witness a disorientation that they are facing. Mentoring isn’t about fixing someone’s problems or messes, it’s about walking with him or her through the darkness. You are not going to have all the answers, and that’s okay. What you can provide for the teen is solidarity, and sometimes that goes further than the wisdom you might dump on them.

Our children need heroes they can count on and are more likely to cite as heroes those they actually know, rather than those they only know about.

Adolescents need, and very much want, consistent exposure to caring, supportive adults who serve as their mentors.

The characteristics young people ascribe to them include trustworthy, caring, understanding, respectful, helpful, dependable, fun, compassionate, and responsible.

Being a good listener and offering good advice are also seen as key skills of successful mentors.

Being a mentor to someone does not mean you always have to know the right answer, just that you are always there when they need someone to lean on.

I firmly believe that we have to look at implementing or formalising effective mentoring programmes that speak directly to teenagers during the period of their life where peer pressure, experimentation and self-discovery are already in process. Men mentoring boys, and woman mentoring girls.

Those of us with street smarts, a passion for youth and the experience to do so need to stand up and avail ourselves as mentors. I’m currently working with a number of teenagers in a mentoring relationship and it so beautiful to see the spark of ambition and the courage they have to talk about some really deep issues they are facing.

In her essay “The Power of Presence”, which appears in This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women, psychologist Debbie Hall writes: “Presence is a noun, not a verb; it is a state of being, not doing. States of being are not highly valued in a culture which places a high priority on doing.

“Yet, true presence or ‘being with’ another person carries with it a silent power — to bear witness to a passage, to help carry an emotional burden or to begin a healing process.”

• Jarrod Cronje is an addiction recovery coach at Harmony Retreat, Greytown. He is passionate about treatment in the addicted community as well as the development of preventative education among youth. Feel free to contact him at Harmony at 073 989 9803 or 033 417 2227 or e-mail him at jarrod.cronje@gmail.com Client confidentiality applies.

The following article contains vital information on drug and alcohol abuse. It takes courage to confront these issues, so I encourage you to take the time to read through this series carefully. What questions do you have? What problems are you facing? Are you a concerned parent? Do you need mentorship? Are you a school in need of a drug prevention strategy? Do you need help? Break the denial and make contact with me

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