We become mentors for a variety of reasons, but at the core is the desire to reach out and connect with another human being, to provide support and give of self. Mentoring with authenticity means bringing ourselves to the mentoring relationship: our experiences, our culture, our education, our beliefs. In the same way, our mentees bring theirs, likely different from ours, as they are growing up in a different time with different experiences. For 99% of Seedling mentees, those experiences include all the realities and chronic stresses of generational poverty.
What does a child growing up in poverty need from a mentor?
Dr. Joyce Brothers has said, “You cannot consistently perform in a manner which is inconsistent with the way you see yourself.” The multiple risk factors our mentees face may result in cognitive lags, lack of emotional and social resources, and negative health effects of chronic stress. These conditions can show up as everything from school tardiness to a need for immediate gratification, even eventually to a shortened lifespan.
Two important protective factors that can change outcomes for these youngsters are education (facilitated by support systems at school), and relationships.
While remaining nonjudgmental of a student’s present, a mentor can support a child in setting realistic goals, introduce the child to different points of view and opportunities, and invite the youngster to consider a future full of possibilities. The mirror image of unconditional positive regard that a mentor offers weekly means that a child can begin to see worth, specialness, and potential in himself that alters his previous self-image and opens his eyes to choices he can make to influence his future.
Susan Pennock and Christopher Capel have compiled these powerful ideas:
Q. How can a mentor use this knowledge to support cognitive development?
A. We must try to build capacity and not just make students “smarter” by giving more information. Great examples are:
- Physical activity can increase production of new brain cells.
- Playing chess can increase reading and math by increasing motivation, attention, and processing skills.
- Music and theater increase memory.
- The arts improve attention, processing, and motivation.
Q. What do students from generational poverty need from a mentor?
A. The child needs, through the mentor’s gentle guidance and smiling face…
- empathy but not pity
- high expectations
- help to see a different world view, such as careers and education after high
- hope and a vision for the future
- consistency, honesty, advocacy
- academic support and direction
- help to realize they have a choice
- for us to keep reaching out even when it looks like it’s not working
- for us to allow them to test our sincerity by acting a bit worse in the short-term
All in all, the goal is to build resilience, the ability to cope with and bounce back in
the face of life’s challenges and demands. To review the “Six Steps to Building
Resilience” from the October, 2012 Seedling’s Mentor Minute, click here.
~Seedling Mentoring Program Staff