When asked about their successes, most individuals will talk about one or more people who mentored them along the way. Were all of these people enrolled in youth mentoring programs? Of course not. Many of them found natural mentors who provided support, guidance and friendship. A natural mentor is someone who a young person identifies as a mentor rather than someone they are formally matched with through a youth mentoring program. How can you go from being the teacher, coach, club leader or neighbor to being someone that a young person considers to be a mentor?
Many adults young people encounter are authority figures. There is a power dynamic that can preclude mentoring. To move past this, adults can make an effort to build a relationship beyond what is expected. For instance, a coach who gets to know the players and makes time to talk outside of practice is more likely to be considered a mentor to players than one who only focuses on the game. Building a relationship requires communication, healthy boundaries and opportunities to build trust. Just as a solid friendship isn’t formed overnight, mentoring relationships develop over time.
Here are some tips from Michigan State University Extension to become a natural mentor to young people you already know.
- Be a consistent presence. A relationship requires regular contact.
- Ask questions. Young people are often told what to do or how to think. You will stand out if you ask a young person what they think and really listen to the answer.
- Honor confidentiality. The quickest way to damage a relationship is to break a confidence. If a young person tells you something that you need to tell someone else—like an intention to hurt themselves or someone else—let them know immediately that you can’t keep the secret and offer to help.
- Be an unconditional fan. Mentors are people who believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself, and they do not give up on you when you make a mistake.
- Be an advocate. Mentors can help remove barriers that are preventing a young person from meeting a goal.
Some young people are mentor magnets—they reach out to adults for support and are easy to mentor. Consider focusing some attention on the young person who is often left out or is more reserved. These are the youth who can benefit the most from finding a mentor.
This article was published by Michigan State University Extension. For more information, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu. To have a digest of information delivered straight to your email inbox, visit http://www.msue.msu.edu/newsletters. To contact an expert in your area, visit http://expert.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).