I would hate to be a teenager today. With the increased attention on bullying, negative activities on social networking sites, the failing economy, and crumbling education system, it seems that today’s adolescent is at a much higher risk for failure than many in my generation. Once upon a time, “at-risk-youth” meant trouble maker or juvenile delinquent. Today, even adolescents who come from stable homes can be at risk. Busy parents, increased activity on social networking sites coupled with the general meanness that comes with being a teenager can destroy even the best kid. Mentoring is one of the best ways that we can step in and help parents and schools bring positive guidance and positive role models to kids today. Here are 5 ways to inspire an adolescent.
This is the single most important thing any adult can do to create a strong relationship with a teenager. A good role model is a good listener. I find that by simply listening, the kids I’m involved with tell me more than I’d ever get from them if I was firing off a bunch of questions. Listening is about trust. Do it without judgment. It should be safe disclosure for the child. If the adolescent falls solidly into the at risk youth category, then it’s very important to assure the youth that you’ll only disclose what is said if you believe he/she is in danger.
2. Keep a Secret
This is the natural successor to good listening. Adolescents are huge gossips. It’s what leads to bullying and mean social networking activity. They love a scandal; real or not. The best way to guide and inspire a teenager to do the right thing is to do it yourself. If you’re told a secret, keep it. In fact, even non-secrets should be treated as secrets. This will open up the safe disclosure even more and set the mentor up to positively guide the teenager towards success.
3. Take on a challenge together
You may be the most righteous adult this adolescent knows. If the teenager sees you doing the right thing and pushing yourself to a higher standard, then that positive example will inspire the kid to do the same. Remember. A role model demonstrates a positive way to live. I mentor an at risk youth who had never kayaked before. The very concept of kayaking was cool to her, but it was the physical challenge that made a positive shift in her. She began to understand that the challenge was more valuable than sitting at home alone, playing video games. It gave me the perfect opportunity to direct her thinking to a future full of wonder and awe instead of mischief. And since I was taking on the challenge with her, she knew I wasn’t above a little hard work either. It was excellent quality time for both the at risk youth and the mentor.
4. Share your passion
Adolescents need something to be passionate about besides video games, computers and fashion trends. As a role model, your passions will likely be more substantial. As a mentor, you likely have a strong commitment to volunteering or other community activities. Include your teenager in those activities. This is a great time to demonstrate the meaning of living your values, and for an at risk youth, it’s a great time to demonstrate what proper values are in the first place.
5. Dress cool
I had a dear friend and retired teacher tell me that adolescents judge you first by how you look, so if you want to get some fast headway, dress cool. Ditch the business attire. You’re a mentor; not a principle. Be relaxed. Then the teenager can relax. Adolescent role models are not the President. They’re cool sports stars, actors and musicians. If an entertainer says it’s not cool to use drugs, it’s heard a lot faster than when a parent says it. So be the cool mentor. It will help you be the successful mentor because you will make an at risk youth trust you much faster.