During my doctoral studies, I led drug and alcohol groups for a predominantly Hispanic high school. During my first week, I asked around seventy teenagers what they wanted to do past graduation. Sadly, only seven students reported that they wanted to pursue college. Throughout the school year, I became very close these kids as we laughed and cried together. On my last day, I again asked what they wanted to do after graduation. To my surprise, out of seventy kids, thirty-five now wanted to attend college to pursue a degree in counseling! Mentors can have an impact which lasts for a lifetime.
In order for teenagers to turn beliefs into their own convictions, they must go through an important process. First, your son or daughter will passively adopt your values, beliefs and convictions. But then there comes a point in time where a teenager needs to struggle with those passive convictions in order to assume ownership. As your teens begin questioning or struggling with their convictions, this allows them to choose ownership and not simply because it’s your belief. Personal ownership of a conviction allows your teenager to say, “These are now my beliefs and I want to hold on to them. Not because my parents say so but because I say so!”
Exposing Teens to People outside the Family
One of the best ways for parents to help in this process is to encourage their teenagers to get involved with “mentors.” Dr. Howard Hendricks, in the book Seven Promises Of A Promise Keeper, defines mentoring as a process involving people. “Sometimes it’s a whole series of individuals that God brings into your teen’s life at various stages and for various purposes. In every case, these people are committed to helping [your teen] grow and perpetuate the learning process.” (p. 51). One reason mentors can be a powerful force as teens develop convictions is because teenagers seem more motivated to listen to those outside the family. Teens have a tremendous need to separate and individuate from the family. Parents have given their teenagers a wonderful foundation. But now is the time for the teen to take what’s been given to the next level. Teenagers need to question their convictions without getting the answers from their parents. A mentor is the perfect person to enter into their lives and help them discover their own values and beliefs.
Exposing Teens to Experiences outside the Family
In addition to getting other people involved with your teenager, another form of mentoring is exposing your teen to “outside experiences.” The value of outside experiences is when someone takes advantage of a teachable moment. Any situation can be used to teach or strengthen a value or belief. The trick is recognizing the opportunity. After your teenagers return from their experience, sometimes it’s better to wait a week or two before asking about what they might have learned. There needs to be enough time for emotions to settle and any negative feelings to be dealt with. At a later time, however, reinforce the value of the experience. Allow God to work through these outside experiences to teach our teens about His will.
In sum, a mentor can be a person who helps your teenager maintain their newly developed convictions. A mentor is a person that God brings into your teen’s life at various stages and for various purposes. In every case, this person is committed to helping your teen grow and continue the learning process. A mentor can be another person as well as outside the family experiences.
Eight ways to get a mentor involved with teens:
1. Begin asking god to bring someone into your teenager’s life.
2. Model the importance of learning from another person by being open to your teenager’s teachings.
3. Understand which character qualities are important for a mentor to possess.
4. Become aware of the places where mentors can be located.
5. Make contact with the person.
6. Set up a meeting in order for your son or daughter to bond with this person.
7. Teach your teen to ask questions.
8. Keep a watchful eye–but don’t intrude.
“Outside Experiences” your teenagers could be involved in include:
″after school activities like choir, clubs, cheer-leading, sports, etc.
″boy and girl scouts
″boys and girls clubs, YMCA & YWCA, parks and recreation
″big brothers & big sisters
″any kind of volunteer services
Taken with permission from Greg Smalley Psy.D. Greg Smalley, Psy.D. is director of Marriage Ministries for the Center for Relationship Enrichment on the campus of John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Greg is the author or co-author of eight books concerning marriages and families. Visit Greg at www.liferelationships.com.