High School Mentors, are you thinking about the holidays?
At this time of year, mentors often have questions about giving gifts. The short and simple guidance is that you are not obligated to give a gift at this season, and that if you want to do so, we ask that you keep in mind that Seedling recommends a small token, costing no more than ten dollars. The holidays can provide other kinds of opportunities to enrich your relationship as well. Please enjoy the article below, excerpted from the November, 2012 newsletter of Friends for Youth’s Mentoring Institute Connections.
Many researchers are now finding positive psychology a legitimate field that, by focusing on strengths instead of deficits, can improve a person’s life considerably. Cultivating gratitude, a practice that falls under this umbrella, reduces the effect of some of the stressors associated with the holidays, or life in general, for youth as well as for adults.
Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center found that youth who engage in gratitude practices experience gratefulness more overall, have higher grades, are more satisfied with their lives and more integrated socially. These teens also show fewer signs of depression, feel less entitlement, and are more motivated to help others.
At this stage in their development, independence and mastery are important for adolescents, so they may not take advice from adults about social connections and why building relationships, a gratitude practice, is beneficial. However, because belonging and generosity are also important, by role modeling gratitude, mentors can help their mentees recognize their own wisdom and, as a result, experience the benefits of practicing gratitude.
Some gratitude practices that are especially appealing to youth include:
- Fostering altruism rather than gratitude because helping others evokes feelings of gratitude
- Letting youth lead, particularly in designing their own traditions, rituals, and practices
- Allowing a level of sarcasm and humor
- Using gratitude to promote a growth mindset; for example, you might say in response to a situation that may have a mostly negative outcome, “I’m glad that this situation has happened in order to give you this opportunity.”
As the mentor, it’s important to remember to be persistent to help build habits for the mentee. It is in their job description to be resistant, after all. Understand that youth will need to struggle with feelings of entitlement and dependence, like all feelings. And lastly, and most importantly, focus on helping them become experts on themselves.
If you’re considering an actual physical gift, take care. Situations involving gift giving in mentoring relationships can become complex and cause misunderstandings, so it’s important to recognize that there are different guidelines for mentoring relationships than those for other personal relationships.
The holiday times can be stressful, as usual demands upon time, unfulfilled expectations from either’s family, and a push to spend lots of money becomes overwhelming.
Expectations for having a loving family, receiving lavish and personal gifts, and being able to be generous to others may not be met for a family that is struggling financially, emotionally, and dynamically. The messages about gifts from the media and friends may not be realistic for many, and this impact can be greater for children and youth. Feelings of disappointment and hurt are possible, no matter what situation a family is currently in. Finding ways to prevent stress and keep the relationship positive are crucial.
Your time is the greatest gift you can give – though we know that to a young person excited about receiving presents, this may not be true! Think something small, inexpensive, and meaningful, if you decide to give an actual present. One of the best gifts to give is an experience:
- Making artwork (that perhaps you take and glaze or frame)
- Making cards or other art pieces for each other
- Bringing in a kit or supplies for something your mentee can continue working on at
- Putting together an iTunes playlist and burning a CD are all activities that continue to build your friendship while also being a little more special
Remember that a gift is a gift
If you give a gift; your mentee gets to choose what to do with it. Some mentors become disappointed or resentful if their mentee doesn’t use the gift as intended or if the gift becomes lost or damaged. If you let negative feelings about the gift enter your relationship, that thinking can damage other parts of the mentoring experience.
For suggestions about what to do if you notice your mentee and family are in financial straits, click here.
Enjoy the holidays, and always remember, if you are a Seedling Mentor, the answer to your questions about mentoring are only an email or phone call away!
~ Seedling’s Mentor Program Staff