Formal youth mentoring is the process of matching mentors with young people who need or want a caring and responsible adult in their lives.
Also known as professional mentoring, this practice of connecting well-intentioned adults who are looking to pass on a bit of knowledge is not a new practice, despite its rising popularity. No, mentoring has been around since the beginning of time. Well, actually since 1194- 1184 BC. Now I won’t bore you with the details. But before mentoring had an official name, adults had been guiding and looking after younger members of their family and other kids from their community.
Mentoring Goes Way Back
- You didn’t need a title to make sure your neighbors children had clean clothes.
- When you would take an extra plate of food down to your neighbor’s house because you knew it was a little tight for them this week.
- When you would sit on the porch for hours with your grandmother shelling beans talking about life past and present.
It wasn’t considering mentoring back then, it was called doing what was right and taking care of the community. The community outside your front doorstep was all you had then. With the emergence of social media and the need to show and prove not only your good deeds but also your impact, mentoring and its true benefits have been watered down. I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, but somewhere within the last 10-15 mentoring became profitable. It has become a catchphrase, a buzzword, a joke.
Mentoring today is primarily focused on fostering the individual growth of a mentee through the interaction of a positive adult.
The mentoring relationship begins with James coming to the school to sit with Robert during his lunch period to talk about school, grades, where Robert wants to go to college, you know the basics. If the relationship meshes well, the topic of girls might come up but nothing too heavy because after all, we are at lunch. I often wonder if that is it? Is that all we believe mentoring is capable of? Has the true power of intentional mentoring been reduced to a lunchtime conversation about grades? I truly hope not.
But there is hope. I believe there is a segment of the population that still believes in the true transforming power of mentoring in all its glorious forms.
Whether the coach who sees Robert after practice engages him in a discussion about teamwork, or the corner store clerk patiently explains why Robert should count his money back to make sure he has enough or that he should fold his small bills around his larger bills to fool any would-be robbers into thinking he had nothing worth taking. These are the life lessons that won’t show up on an impact report. However, helping Robert navigate a world he may not understand in hopes that he will care enough to change what he doesn’t like about it, is the goal or at least should be one goal.
Mentoring was never about one singular subject, and giving youth access to a caring positive adult has never been the sole purpose of a mentoring program. That is the job of the whole community.
I do believe we owe a debt of gratitude for the work of after-school programs, lunch buddy sessions and summer camps but the question I pose to all of you is, can we be more?
Can we be intentional about our mentoring the next generation of leaders?
Are we able to convince those in positions of power that mentoring is a viable option that can help solve more complex problems? Given the ability and the proven effectiveness of mentoring, should we hold ourselves and the organizations who claim to enrich the lives of young people to a higher standard.
Our youth contend with many issues that even as adults, we have difficulty processing. If we really want to change the world we live in we have to start with being intentional about the way we show up for our youth. Mentoring isn’t a catchphrase, it isn’t a buzzword, as practitioners we can be more. Mentoring programs it is time to be more.