4 Steps to Inspire Youth to Look Up to You

As a response to our new 2011 Summer Mentoring Challenge, I thought I would add a few words on how to be a great role model if you aren't able to join us as a mentor in our program here in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties.

1. Know Youth
According to Positive Youth Development theory, young people need to be seen as resources instead of the problem for their ongoing development into healthy, happy, and productive young adults. Practically, this means turning to them to help solve issues and listening - REALLY listening - to their solutions. For many adults who were raised in the deficit model, it can be a challenge to reframe our own thoughts about "kids today." A teenager who may have been labeled BOSSY can also be thought of as a LEADER. Someone who is SHY or QUIET can also be identified as INNER DIRECTED or THOUGHTFUL. Starting with this way of thinking and interpreting young people is most helpful in the third step of building the relationship in order to have positive impacts.

2. Get Involved There are many ways to get to know children and youth today. Formal programs offer the most structure and support, as well as more assurance that your efforts are both safe and effective. For a directory of mentoring programs in the San Francisco Bay Area, check out Bay Area Mentoring. For a directory of mentoring programs across the country, check out MENTOR's listings. When you are working with a program, make sure that they have all the necessary steps in place to screen and assess both you as a volunteer as well as the youth served.

3. Build the Relationship
Consistency, consistency, consistency is key to developing a connection with any youth. Don't make promises you can't keep - in fact, it's easiest if you just don't make promises. Many young people in programs are there partially because they've experienced many previous failed relationships with other adults who've made promises that weren't kept. Instead, remember that you're the adult and that you can inspire trust by saying what you mean and meaning what you say through your actions more than your words.

4. Encourage Sparks!
Our June webinar focused on Sparks, the new theory from the great folks at the Search Institute. Sparks is the idea of a special quality, skill or interests that lights us up from the inside; a source of passion that when expressed, gives us joy and energy; our very essence, the thing about us that is "good and beautiful, and useful to the world." Helping a youth identify his or her own spark is a gift and can make a positive impact for many years to come. Remember that a spark doesn't necessarily turn into a career choice - many adults still love to sing, but prefer to stay in the shower instead of up on stage!

However you decide to inspire a young person to look up to you, please take action now! There are many opportunities to connect, no matter where you live, and many more youth who are waiting for a positive adult role model to inspire them. Make this summer count - become a mentor!


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