How can we mentor young people to set them up for a life of maturity? Brian D. Molitor shares key lessons about lifelong mentoring.
Children need countless elements for optimum maturity, but two that are indispensable are rites of passage and lifelong mentoring. As important as a rite of passage is, it is not an isolated event that magically produces mature young adults. A rite of passage celebration is not an end in itself.
You can read my thoughts about rites of passage here.
The rite of passage simply marks the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. For maximum influence on a young person’s life, the rite of passage celebration needs to be preceded by mentoring.
Additional mentoring, blessing, and support certainly follows the rite of passage and ideally continues in various forms throughout an individual’s life.
That’s why we need this idea of lifelong mentoring.
Mentoring is a much-discussed concept today; however, it’s certainly not new. In recent years, many local and national programs promoting mentoring have been initiated, and they all share one common goal.
They seek to place young people with trusted counselors, supporters, and instructors who will help with the transition from childhood into a productive adulthood. In other words, these programs and initiatives promote mentoring.
Mentoring, teaching, and training by a trusted adult are vital for a young person’s successful development.
Each child comes into the world very ignorant of the dangers around them and oblivious of their own abilities and options.
Now, some early experiences with pain and pleasure provide a framework for survival but do little to help the child reach their full potential. Rather, the quality and amount of instruction and support or mentoring from others largely determines the child’s eventual maturity and success.
Lifelong mentoring is exactly what it sounds like. We don’t stop mentoring our children when they become adults. Rather, we hope to foster the kind of relationship with our children where we can offer advice in the years ahead.
Fostering this type of future relationship begins by being a consistent mentor through our children’s development.
The Need for Lifelong Mentoring
In the absence of positive adult role models, young people will find their own role models or mentors. A primary example of this occurs when boys join gangs despite knowing that their new mentors participate in illegal and dangerous activities.
The desire to be under the care of someone stronger and wiser is extremely powerful.
And you know what? It should be.
God put that desire in our very being as a means to draw us to our own fathers and mothers and other trusted mentors. For this reason, the absence of positive role models creates such a void—a void that is quickly filled by someone less qualified.
Predictably, young boys are often attracted to external and false signs of maturity: wild parties, drugs, violence, lawlessness, sexual encounters, expensive cars.
Such reckless behavior tempts boys to attach themselves to clueless leaders headed for destruction. These false mentors teach young disciples a host of concepts about life, maturity, and manhood from a twisted perspective.
Young men who grew up with these negative role models need much support to break free and move back into the light. Ideally, that support comes from a father, mother, or other trusted adult willing to take time to serve the young person as a coach, teacher, disciplinarian, loving confidant, and advocate—in short, as a mentor.
Learn at a more in-depth level how to walk alongside a young person and mentor them in Brain D. Molitor’s book Mentoring Moments.
History and the First Mentor
Let’s look at the origins of the word “mentor.” The word originates from the actions and name of a character in the ancient Greek classic The Odyssey.
Mentor is a friend of Odysseus, who was the king of the small island Ithaca. More importantly, Mentor is a trusted tutor of Odysseus’s son.
In the story, Odysseus reluctantly departs from his family to go and fight another war, and rather than leaving his son solely in the care of his mother, Odysseus chooses Mentor to be the boy’s guide, teacher, and protector.
Over the next twenty years, Mentor remains faithful to his task and even risks his life to protect Telemachus during his father’s long absence.
After many years away, Odysseus attempts to return home to his family with treasures from all his exploits. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned, and this absentee father once again gets swept away.
Odysseus eventually returns, having lost all his worldly treasures, and he finds his home in chaos.
Why is that not surprising?
This ancient tale contains amazing parallels to what is happening in the lives of our young people today. However, as Mentor in The Odyssey, many adults today have the courage and wisdom to stay and serve the new generation.
Who Can Be a Mentor?
Lifelong mentors come in many shapes, sizes, and colors—and are called by many different names. First and foremost, they’re called dads and moms, and despite some reports to the contrary, our world still has fathers and mothers who are deeply dedicated to the development of their children.
Other titles of mentors today include:
- Youth pastor
- Older brother
- Foster parent
- Adoptive parents
- Scout leader
The function of a lifelong mentor is a little different than the function of a role model; therefore, mentors for our children can also be a mom, grandmother, aunt, and foster mother.
You can be a lifelong mentor.
We must understand that both males and females can mentor the next generation, whether they be sons or daughters. Across the world, countless single moms raise sons who can certainly turn out well if a plan of mentoring and rites of passage is successfully carried out.
Of course, in a nuclear home where both parents spend time mentoring, teaching, and disciplining their children, great things can happen.
For example, my wife does an outstanding job of teaching our children life lessons during trips to town, at bedtime, or at the dinner table. Without question, mothers can be excellent mentors and teachers for their sons.
Mentoring relationships between adults and children only develop when time is spent together. If that was not the case, parents could simply provide their children with exhaustive lists of dos and don’ts.
About three pages of “thou shalt” and “thou shalt nots” would do it, but it doesn’t work like that, does it? If time is not intentionally set aside for interaction, recreation, and shared observation of life, then the relationship between a young person and their mentor will likely remain shallow.
Some of the best teachable moments happen during times of informal sharing rather than during more structured instruction. Think of the example of Jesus, who taught his disciples experientially rather than in a classroom setting.
He brought forth profound life lessons from a wide variety of things, including rocks, trees, and clouds. The key to his successful mentoring was that he took time to walk and talk with his disciples.
And the same pattern can be easily followed between mentors and young people today.
Having a deliberate plan for mentoring and a few key life lessons ensures that our children mature by design, not by default. That’s why I wrote Mentoring Moments—to give parents a guidebook for what to teach when they mentor.
Young people need to learn from role models who are positive but not perfect.
This means we can use our own failures as teaching points alongside those things that we happen to do well. Moments where I’ve lost my temper and said hurtful things have been turned into life lessons where I swallowed my pride, apologized, and then explained to my children what I did wrong.
Don’t be afraid to share your struggles and your failings with the young people around you.
An Example of Lifelong Mentoring
Successful lifelong mentoring occurs when close relationships, combined with well-conceived lessons, are lived out in time spent together.
One of the basic life skills I wanted each of my children to learn was how to enter a store, interact with clerks, and make purchases. Simple stuff, but essential to success as an adult.
So when they were younger, I had my children accompany me into stores simply to observe the process of buying goods. While on our way back home, I explained why I smiled and why I called the clerk by name.
In addition, I explained why I chose one brand of product over another and the payment options.
Once they understood these basics, they could move to the next step in the mentoring process.
I started out with a plan, a life lesson I wanted to impart to my children. Then I geared my interaction with my children, my lifelong mentoring, if you will—my teaching and training—to ensure that the quality or life lesson was instilled.
When my children got a little older, I had them go back to the store with me. I told them what I wanted to buy, and then I had them analyze the products and the prices to see which we should choose.
Finally, I gave them enough money to cover the cost of the products and pay the clerk. In the beginning, this was scary stuff for eight-year-olds who could barely see over the counter.
However, after a few initial tongue-tied attempts, each of them developed confidence and learned vital lessons about treating others with respect, the value of money, the importance of comparative shopping, and many other life principles.
Tips for Lifelong Mentoring Success
Life lessons learned from trusted mentors stick with our young people. Life lessons learned over time change lives.
Mentoring moments can happen at any time for the simple reason that life lessons are everywhere.
The key to success is consistent communication and strong healthy relationships between mentors and the young people under their care, regardless of which life lessons we hope to teach.
The process is always the same. The mentor watches for the appropriate teaching opportunities to arise and then shares in a manner that best communicates the truth.
A mentor should never nag or use lessons to embarrass a child in front of others—to do so would decrease the level of trust between the mentor and the young person and potentially shut down the willingness for future lessons.
Now, the onus is on the parents and other mentors to establish both the relationship and the plan for ongoing interaction with young people. Over time, the relationship will likely be overwhelmingly positive, especially if parents start young.
Today’s youth have questions about life and relationships, love, finance, nature, and a host of other subjects. They just need someone around them willing to explore the answers with them.
Always give youth the space and time they need for themselves. But watch for crucial openings and teachable moments.
Remember mentors don’t force. They lovingly guide.
Those of us who have raised young children remember their endless stream of “Why?” questions that diminished as they grew older. At one point I assumed the rate of questioning slowed because the young ones had received most of the answers they were looking for.
Sadly, I now realize that children stop asking questions for one simple reason: In our own busyness we stop answering.
A Call to Be a Lifelong Mentor
Many of us can relate to the story of Odysseus and Telemachus, the son he left behind. Too many parents today have left home literally, or they remain present but let their hearts drift far away.
Instead of raising and mentoring children, parents are off fighting battles of their own choosing.
And like Odysseus, many parents depart to fight someone else’s battles, while allowing their homes to fall into disrepair in the meantime. One more business deal, a bigger paycheck, that elusive promotion, these pursuits seem worth it for a little while.
Of course, parents have to work to put food on the table. And ministers of all sorts must pursue God’s divine callings upon their lives as this world continues its downward spiral into chaos. However:
As parents, we must be certain that our work, our ministry, and our life are in balance.
Countless fall for this siren song every year only to learn too late that they have crashed their family ship on the rocks of excess. Fortunately, a clear balance can be found by every parent and mentor willing to stop long enough to listen to God’s call.
As parents and mentors, we can allow God to speak through us and provide those answers to the young ones under our care. What an incredible honor and responsibility we’ve been given to mentor these young people throughout their whole lives.
We have an opportunity and an obligation to teach the foundations of life to this next generation. If we’ll simply create a plan and set aside time for interaction, our words and insights will prepare our sons and daughters for the rest of their lives.
Take a look at Mentoring Moments by Brian D. Molitor to learn more about how to guide young people in their faith journey.
This post was adapted from an audio transcript provided by Brian D. Molitor. Used with permission.