Do You Have A Positive Adult Role Model?
By Paula C. Dirkes
Do you ever wonder why some adults don’t seem to be comfortable around young people? Have you ever asked? You might be surprised what you hear for an answer! My name is Paula Dirkes and I have written a couple books to help more adults feel comfortable spending time with young people. My goal is to get more adults to make time to be a mentor – or positive adult role model – to a young person. A mentor is also compared to an adult friend who looks out for you. Believe it or not, sometimes a man or a woman is not sure they have what it takes to hang out with a boy or a girl! An adult might look at you when meeting for the first time and think to themselves “I don’t remember what it’s like to be young. I don’t understand their music and I don’t know how to use a computer. What are we even going to talk about?” They might also think “I don’t think I should trust that girl (or boy) because they dress funny (talk differently etc.)” You might look at an adult and think “They must have life figured out better than me because they are a lot older and wiser.” Or you might say “That man (or woman) always looks so unhappy and angry. They don’t seem very friendly.”
The truth is adults are older than you, have more life experience to share and they may be unhappy on occasion. But they may or may not realize what they have to offer. All people don’t grow up being told good things about themselves, so sometimes they forget what they can contribute and get stuck in an unhappy place. (Maybe you feel the same way!) They are nervous about meeting you and you are probably nervous about meeting them too. There you both are – your wild imaginations running all over the place, and you haven’t even had your first conversation! Let’s focus on getting to know people first – before we make assumptions about who they are way too early. By the way – this goes both ways! Back in 2000 when I first was told about the opportunity to mentor a child, my first response was “I don’t have time.” But when I really started thinking about it some more, I realized what was really going on for me.
The truth was I was wondering “What do you have to offer a child Paula?” You see, I was the youngest of four kids in my family, my older sisters always got the babysitting jobs and I wasn’t married and I don’t have any kids of my own. I had worked as a teacher in front of a classroom of kids a long time ago, but I never had the experience of spending 1 on 1 time with a child on a regular basis. As I thought about being a youth mentor and the whole prospect of spending a weekly meeting with a girl I had never met before, it really freaked me out! I imagined that I would have to know all the answers, be a really successful business person and understand every single problem that came up while we were together. Not! That is not the role of a mentor. (Sounds like a super-hero instead!) Mentors don’t try to rescue, fix or change anybody or have to impress anybody with big houses, fancy offices or advanced college degrees. We are part of a young person’s support system, but we don’t take on every single part of the support system.
That would be crazy!
What mentors do every week – no matter what – is to show up when we say we will, listen carefully and respectfully as well as genuinely care about the young person with whom we are spending time. A mentor is a trustworthy, reliable support person that is always in your corner – through thick and thin. Plus adults and young people can teach each other – it’s a two-way street. When adults realize that the important ‘ingredients’ in a mentoring relationship are to show up, listen and care – it’s a big relief! Chances are, they can relax and just be themselves and so can you! If an adult has no ‘agenda’ or hidden expectation of who you should be – that would be kind of nice, wouldn’t it? By the way – when you meet an adult who you like, trust and respect (and they treat you the same way) – why not ask if they would be your mentor? Spending some quality time together to have good talks, to learn new ways of thinking, to learn about each other’s generation and to have some good laughs is a good thing. More good things make a much more enjoyable life – for both young people and adults. Mentoring means sharing your life with another person because they are worthy of trust. By the way – April 2012 marks the eleven year anniversary of my mentoring relationship with a girl named Chelsea that I met back in 2001. (She is 22 now!) At first I thought making a one-year commitment to meet with her was WAY too long. Now, I miss her after just a few days!