Mentoring: a skill that provides benefits to everyone involved
Our Marketing Executive Diane Stickland reflects on her experience of mentoring a local high-school student.
Mentoring young people is not new by any means.
It is something that more and more people are investing time in. Particularly as mental health is an issue that we’re all talking about, and which concerns our psychological and social wellbeing.
Like many people, I have always believed in the importance of supporting the next generation, in terms of their development and inspiring them to be the very best they can be. Having teenagers of my own, I strive to encourage them to pursue their dreams, whether it’s a hobby, a passion, or a career.
I have tried to instil in them the importance of working hard to achieve the things they desire, and to work hard in school to obtain the qualifications they require to allow them to follow whatever path they choose in life. Often it will go in one ear and out the other, but at the very least, they know they have support and can ask for advice when required.
Sadly, this is not the case for all young adults, and often they find themselves in a situation where they don’t know where to turn to. They perhaps don’t have someone who they can confide in, or even seek advice on the things the rest of us take for granted. This is why mentoring was introduced and it is paramount to giving them the same chance as everyone else, which is to ask questions and share ideas, in total confidence.
Life without guidance can lead to negative paths
To put it simply, life without any guidance and regular interaction can mean the difference for a child between dropping out of school and potentially falling into drugs/poverty or being encouraged to believe in their ability and going on to further education and having increased job prospects.
Mentoring is not only about education and career advice. It is also about having someone to talk to who can provide a friendship to a young person that doesn’t have anyone else to talk to. They could be going through a challenging time in their lives. They may have experienced bereavement, suffering abuse or are simply lonely, and would benefit from discussing their concerns with a role model who can reassure them and advise them on how to cope with the issues they’re experiencing.
Working with a young person
For almost a year, I have mentored a young person from a local school who, when we were first introduced, desperately wanted to leave school, and was spending more days at home than in classes. For various reasons, this young lady felt she had no one to talk to about her thoughts but she knew that she did not want to end up on government benefits and instead aspired to have a job that would allow her to own a flat, drive a nice car and afford holidays.
Whether she felt she would be ridiculed for these ideas or that her friends would mock her for having delusions of grandeur, she clearly felt she had no one to discuss her aspirations with, and when she was offered the chance of mentoring, she seized the opportunity.
From the outset, I understood that school was an issue for her, or I should rephrase that ‘lack of school’ was the issue. Most days were spent at home thinking about what the next excuse for not attending her classes would be. Her mother didn’t seem to push it too much and was perhaps exhausted with her lack of commitment and just turned a blind eye.
I didn’t push the subject, but over time, I tried to promote the positive aspects of going to school, sitting exams and leaving with qualifications “in your back pocket, where no one can ever take them away from you” - a phrase I’d often used with my own children.
Giving a small amount of personal time has significant benefits
Investing a small amount of time each week will unquestionably have a positive impact on a young person, but it will also provide a sense of accomplishment for the mentor. Even if just one positive thing arises from your discussions, you will instantly be reminded why you became a mentor in the first place. It will hopefully inspire you to continue for as long as there is a person out there who will benefit from having you in their lives, regardless for how long or short that may be.
It is not only rewarding for both parties but also empowering for the mentor to witness the massive impact it is having on the young person, particularly with their confidence and career. There are also significant benefits for the mentor, who will undoubtedly be learning during the process too, and by sharing their knowledge, experience, and skills with their mentee, will in turn provide insights that the mentor can learn from also.
Fast forward nine months from the day I first met her, and those exams became a reality for my mentee. We don’t know the outcome yet, but I know she wants to continue in high school/college education for at least another year and leave with some qualifications to secure a place on a further education course of her choice.
She also seems brighter and more confident in her ability and understands there is a possibility, if she works hard, to achieve her goals. I believe she has come a long way since we first met, and I can’t take credit for that, but I will continue to visit her once a week to remind her why she’s there and what she can achieve with hard work.
Has it been worthwhile?
I recently asked my mentee why she had chosen for a mentor to visit her at the school, and what had made her reach out and invite, effectively, a stranger into her life? Her reply was simple: 'there was no one else to talk to.'
Friends her age were having babies or going to parties and enjoying life, but with no real prospects to sustain this lifestyle going forward, she knew it wasn’t for her. I asked if our sessions have been useful, and hoped the reply would be yes - but there were times when she didn’t turn up, or made an excuse to leave early, so I wasn’t sure what her answer would be.
Her response was simple:
"I’m here and I go to school now, and I have a part-time place at college after the summer. I’m 15 and I know I if I keep doing what I’m doing now, I will earn my own money to have nice holidays and rely only on myself and no one else."
So, I think it is safe to say, yes the past nine months have been worth it!