The Magic of Mentoring

January, 20, 2015 -

Imagine if you will, how wonderful it would be to have the skills to improve a child or youth’s health, reduce obesity, improve academic performance and stabilize school behavior, improve self-confidence, build resiliency, reduce risk factors for engaging in violent or criminal behavior, improve future hopefulness and goal setting, build leadership skills and substantially improve their potential for success and achievement. Sound challenging? It’s not. Become a Mentor! You see, this list of positive changes in the lives of children and youth is the result of Mentoring demonstrated through multiple research initiatives over the years[1].

Mentoring is an Evidence-Based Practice (EBP). The real deal. Using evidence-based practices is very trendy. Over the past decade it’s kind of been the “EBP du jour”, with everybody jumping on one EBP bandwagon to another. From my vantage point, EBPs are mainly a money machine for psychologists, costly and difficult to manage, and not nearly as efficacious as applying the elements which produce positive results as demonstrated by Dr. Bruce Chorpita’s[2] research. But that’s for another discussion. The point here – Mentoring is very effective!

So, what else does the research tell us about Mentoring? A lot. It gives us a clear picture of how one becomes a very effective youth mentor. Basically there are 10 identified characteristics of an effective mentor, including:

  1. Be Genuine and Credible – share from your real life experience without being grandiose or bragging;
  2. Be a Positive Role Model – think of yourself as a book being seen and read by the mentee; they learn more by observing and emulating than being lectured to;
  3. Show Genuine Interest in the Mentee – effective mentoring is all about the strength of the relationship. Seek to understand the youth’s hopes, dreams, fears and challenges. Demonstrate that you are interested in helping them achieve their personal interest, not what you think they should be or do;
  4. Share your Story and experiences – choose experiences that are appropriate and relevant; include successes, failures and “lessons learned”;
  5. Ask Questions – this is an excellent way to show you’re personally interested, understand their values, aspirations, etc. These conversations also welcome you to share from your experiences when appropriate;
  6. Be a Good Sounding Board – effective Mentors are good listeners. Allow them to explore their thoughts and ideas openly with you, and learn “active listening” skills. This is a great way to build trust and respect;
  7. Be Willing to Provide a Different Perspective – it is very valuable for the Mentor to share a different, fresh point of view on an issue or subject. But, it is important not to be seen as being judgmental. Tying your discussion to your own personal experience is the best approach;
  8. Provide Helpful Feedback – it is important to ask permission to provide feedback or to share an alternative perspective. It is important to provide feedback and insight in a way that is helpful and beneficial to the mentee; avoid putting them on the defense;
  9. Acknowledge Achievements – everyone enjoys compliments and encouragement. Doing so with a mentee is a great way to build their self-confidence, self-respect and resiliency;
  10. Don’t Pontificate – it isn’t the Mentor’s role to lecture and jump in to give advice. The Mentor should not try to be an expert on everything. Rather, be a good listener, be respectful of the mentee’s values and culture, and only offer your wisdom and insights when it is asked for and be sure to give it appropriately;

Being an effective Mentor is not too complicated. Sure, it takes time and commitment, but what an amazing way to positively change the direction of a child’s or youth’s life. I recently heard the story of an individual who had a math mentor as a college student. This relationship not only changed the young man’s life, but has lasted decades as a profound friendship. This can happen to you. Please join the ranks of incredibly effective Mentors – you are almost guaranteed to have tremendous success!

[1]How Effective Are Mentoring Programs for Youth? A Systematic Assessment of the Evidence. David L. DuBois, Nelson Portillo, Jean E. Rhodes, Naida Silverthorn, and Jeffrey C. Valentine

[2] Designs for Instruction, Designs for Change: Distributing Knowledge of Evidence-Based Practice. Bruce F. Chorpita, Eric L. Daleiden and John A. Burns