Mentoring relationships between adults and young people can be life-changing.
For as long as humans have existed, older individuals have taught and guided younger ones in academics, science, trades, and the arts.
What does it mean to be a mentor? How can adults do a better job of forming relationships with young people that help them grow and learn to be their best selves?
The first use of the term “mentor” comes from Homer’s epic Odyssey. When Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, left to fight the Trojan War, he left his son, Telemachus, in the care of his friend, Mentor.
Mentor was certainly not the first mentor, and we know he wasn’t the last. Mentors are changing lives and perspectives every day.
A review of literature concerning mentorship identified several commonalities among the various definitions of the term.
A key element of every mentoring relationship is the sense of trust that develops between young people and mentors. Gail Manza and Susan K. Patrick, authors of The Mentor’s Field Guide: Answers You Need to Help Kids Succeed, write that trust is not something that is instantly created. Building trust takes time. “In reality, trust emerges slowly and tentatively from experiences that create the conditions for it,” they write.
What are the conditions that allow trust to flourish?
The Mentor’s Field Guide outlines six stages that most mentoring relationships pass through. Like all relationships, the particulars vary according to individuals, but it’s helpful to recognize some common themes. The stages include the following:
Effective mentors are flexible and understand that it takes time to establish trust and build solid developmental relationships. The following tips are aligned with Search Institute’s Developmental Relationships Framework, which identifies five elements that help young people learn, grow, and thrive.
Mentors are an important strand in the web of relationships that are necessary for young people as they face challenges, develop resilience, and grow up thriving.
Research shows that developmental relationships help young people discover who they are, cultivate the abilities that they need to shape their own lives, and learn how to engage with and contribute to the world around them.
When mentors take the time to build trust and form these critical relationships with young people, our communities are stronger, more resilient, and healthier.