Mentoring has gotten a bad wrap. When people hear the word mentor, they think book study, weekly meetings, old people, etc. The older generations may be thinking that sounds great, but to the Millennials, nothing could sound worse. They don’t want a regular meeting, more homework or a relationship with a time limit on it. Don’t tie them down, man! As a member of Generation Y, I’d have to agree with them on all points. So let me set the record straight right now: we don’t have regular meeting times, we don’t go through a book study and I don’t do this through an organization.
It’s totally organic. It’s a real life friendship. Things have changed a bit since five of my six are now in college, but for the most part, I do see them once a week. Not because we have a set meeting time, but because we like hanging out together.
In Deuteronomy, Moses tells parents to impress the truths of God upon their children when they sit at home and when they walk along the road. I believe this natural sort of talking and learning can and should be applied to mentoring as well. Teenagers and college students don’t need (or want) another thing to do, but they love to connect. When we make our lives available to them we allow that chance to connect. And you aren’t there to preach; you are there to walk along the road with them. It will require a certain vulnerability, because it will mean sharing the mistakes you’ve made. When you are willing to be open and honest with them (to the level that is appropriate for the situation), you will gain their trust. You will be a person they can count on.
To narrow it down a little bit, I believe there are two main jobs of a mentor for the Millennial generation:
- To interpret. These people definitely do not need any more information. They have information coming at them from all directions at all times of day. If they want an answer, they can find an answer. They don’t need you for the information. What they need are trusted adults to help them interpret the information that they are receiving. When I was living in El Salvador, one of my girls texted me and asked, “Kelly why is God allowing all of this bad stuff to happen?” I didn’t know it at the time I received her text, but the Boston Marathon bombing had just taken place and she was receiving all of that information from all around her. She was looking for an interpreter and I had the enormous privilege of being that for her. You won’t have all the answers. But when you make yourself available, you can help them to interpret..
- To provide perspective. You are in the unique position to provide the perspective that only you can give. You have walked ahead of them and now you are walking alongside them. What are you seeing that they can’t see? What have you learned that they haven’t learned yet? You get to help them see a situation from a different angle.
So what do we do? Whatever we feel like, basically. I look at my calendar each week (I work retail so my schedule is random) and figure out when there are times that I could realistically give, and I start texting out invitations. Sometimes they take me up on it and sometimes they don’t. It could be anything from coffee, to breakfast/lunch/dinner, to concerts or sporting events. If they are doing something that I can go cheer for, I go and cheer them on. If it is in my power to be there, I am there. I help with homework, I edit papers, we have long text conversations, I take calls in the middle of the night, we take road trips, and we have game nights. We just live life together, like normal friends.
Yes, it requires some sacrifice, but it is so very worth it. Bob Goff, in his book Love Does, says, “But the kind of love that God created and demonstrated is a costly one because it involves sacrifice and presence. It’s a love that operates more like a sign language than being spoken outright.” Nothing is more loving than the gift of your time.
I do not take this lightly. Knowing that these young hearts trust me makes me dive further into the Bible. I have nothing to offer them if my tank is empty or if I am not rooted in the truths of God. My words could potentially change the course of their lives and that is something that I take very seriously. You better believe I pray before each interaction.
I am so much better for having these girls in my life. It is not one sided. I am so very blessed by them every time I see them. They help me see the world differently and my ability to love has increased because of them. So when people ask me why I hang out with teenagers, my normal answer is, “Why don’t you?”