[important]This blog post is a guest post from Kate Wallis. Kate is the youth minister at St Paul’s Church, Leamington Spa. She co-leads the Growing Leaders youth course that we have now run 4 times in the local area. Kate is also one of the local leaders who I mentor regularly. She is passionate about seeing young people grow into all that God wants them to be and longs for the Church to be all it should be. She is a talented leader with a wonderful heart for Christ. [/important]
Mentoring young people, sharing in the highs and lows of their lives, drinking coffee or eating cake together can be a real joy and a privilege. But lets be honest, it can also be tough! Trying to engage a young person in conversation is not always the easiest thing to do. Many times have I found myself seeking the next question to ask and looking around the room for inspiration but drawing a blank.
It is my hope that this post will encourage, equip and prepare you for the moments when you are struggling to find the right words and when conversation is just not flowing. I cannot take credit for all of these ideas myself, and I also cannot tell you exactly where I got the ideas from – some are experience, some through conversation, some through books. However, it is with a heart that is constantly learning how to be a better mentor that I speak. I hope that the following advice is helpful in some way to encourage openness and honesty in the conversation you have with your mentee.
Before your meeting, ask God to put something encouraging on your heart – a verse, a picture – for the young person. This puts you in the right place from the start of the meeting, with God at the centre. You can also share any thoughts with them if the appropriate moment arises. This lets the young person know that you care about them and that they are in your prayers away from your mentor meetings.
Also, ask someone to pray for you as you meet with your mentee.
2. Ask the right questions
Try not to fire questions at the mentee or use questions with a simple yes or no answer. Starting a question with “What do you think God would say is going well/not well…” is a good place to start. Try not to guide discussions so that you are in control. Tell your mentee that you don’t just want to hear the “nice” things about their life.
3. True Listening
Be totally present for your mentee during the time that you meet. For example, where and how you sit can have a huge impact on how much the young person may feel really listened to. I usually have mentor meetings in coffee shops but I have a tendency to get distracted by things around me, I don’t mean to, it just happens! With this in mind, I always try to sit away from a window and from other people if I can, then the mentee has my full attention.
Furthermore, put your own worries aside during the time that you meet. This is often easier said than done, but those issues to be resolved will still be there when you leave. Make sure that your mentee knows that you have time for them and that you want to be there.
True listening is also about really listening to what the young person is saying – report back what they say, or what you think you have heard, at appropriate times so that they can gather their thoughts. Try not to interrupt them or finish their sentences (a habit I am trying to break!).
Ask your mentee if they are happy with where you meet. Obviously where you meet has to be in line with your church’s child protection policy. It may be that being in a place filled with other people and things going on (a coffee shop) helps the young person to think and they are at ease. However, if they are an activist, then why not go for a walk together. Sometimes direct eye contact can really put a young person off being open and honest, so sitting side by side may help too.
Remind your mentee that the conversation you have is private and that you will not be passing on what they say to their parents. This can be a real worry for young people, I think. Especially if you know their parents well, there is a sense of not wanting to let you down by what they say and a fear that parents may find out what is going on in their lives before they are ready to talk to them about it. Again, it is really important that the young person knows that legally there are some things you have to share with others.
If you feel happy to, please also reassure your mentee that the confidentiality of what you talk about applies at all times and that they can talk to you away from your meetings about things too.
Be honest in your feedback. If your mentee says something which you can see might not be the best for them, then do challenge them on it – in love. This is not a case of making a young person see things the way that you do, it is about making sure that the young person can see all the options that are available to them. It may be that your mentee has never spoken to anyone other than their friends about an issue, and hearing a different perspective may help them see things more clearly.
7. Be accepting
Love and acceptance are hugely important to young people. They live in a world that is constantly telling them to be better, look different and try harder. As a mentor, you are a tool that God is using to encourage them.
If your mentee shares something difficult with you then do thank them for it and reassure them and tell them that nothing they tell you will change your opinion of them or make you think less of them.
8. Three questions
Set a list of three questions that you are going to talk about during your meeting. These could be the same three questions each time, or you could decide them at the end of each meeting. Remind your mentee of these questions before your meeting so that they can think about a response before you meet. For those young people who don’t like to think on the spot, this strategy can help to put them at ease.
9. Limit advice
Your job is to encourage your mentee to seek alternative, new ways of doing things. For example, use questions such as “What do you think is the best thing for you to do next?” or “If your friend was in this situation what advice would you give them?”
Make a note of what you talk about, and the actions that that the young person is going to take following your conversation. Agree that you will ask them how they have got on and will be praying for them.
It is my prayer that our mentor sessions are God-centred and directed. I hope that these ten ideas help you to develop you mentor sessions and encourage open and honesty as you meet with young people.
Why not pick one of the ten ideas to focus on this month?