Here’s a little secret: when you mentor a teenager, you’ll benefit too.
My husband and I have been mentors in our Y-ministry for many years. We’ve learned that a great teacher, a caring coach or a positive friend at the right moment can make all the difference in a teenager’s life. We all benefit from mentors in our careers, in our hobbies and in our relationships. In the same way, teenagers greatly benefit from mentors who sincerely love and care about them.
One of the things that makes our Y-ministry unique is the devotion of volunteer mentors who help middle schoolers and teenagers navigate these often-tumultuous years successfully. At our middle school and teen camp in the summer, volunteer mentors make lasting impact on teenagers through heart-to-heart conversations and quality time.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen many college students and young adults pass up on the opportunity to give their free time to a teenager, and I think it’s a mistake. Not only for the teen, but for you. What I’ve found when I’ve mentored teens is that I’ve actually benefited a lot myself. So, in that vein, here are 5 (somewhat selfish) reasons you should make sure to mentor a teen.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
Proverbs 17:17 NIV
Teens need a friend who will love them at all times. As a mentor you can provide this. Show love, care and concern when their parents are disappointed in them, when their peer friends are mad at them, when their siblings hate them, when they’ve been socially outcasted or when they seriously compromise to fit in.
This is a unique friendship that has a lot of influence, and your influence will be long remembered by this teenager. Yes, you will have to put up with some bad attitudes, many frustrating one-word answers, and long pauses as if they are waiting for you to leave them alone. But if you stick in there with them and pass their tests to prove that you care, then they will become your friend and surprise you when they give back.
I remember the moment when one teen I mentored for several years showed up as a mutual friend. I spent countless hours at her house, walking through a park talking and praying, helping her with homework, hearing about all the drama at school and at home and having dinner with her family. For a long time it was a friendship where I gave a lot and got nothing back other than the joy of seeing the teen grow and get to know the Bible better.
Then one day, we were in the car with my husband and I was having a bad attitude. Instead of quietly sitting in the back seat, my mentee piped up to ask me questions and draw me out. She referenced different prayers we had together and that I needed a heart change just like those past times. She even showed me a Scripture I must have shown her a hundred times. I felt half embarrassed and half grateful. It was then that I realized all the time spent together was more than worth it. We had actually developed a two-way friendship. She added value to my life as much as I added to hers.
If you hold back your time, you could be missing out on a friendship that will add a lot to your own life. Give your time, and you’ll find yourself with more friends who will be there for you when you need them.
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.
Proverbs 9:9 NIV
Mentoring a teen makes you wiser in many ways. While it’s easy to accept that teenagers have a lot to learn, we don’t always like to admit how much we still have to learn from them.
Teens have a unique perspective that as we age we tend to lose; they believe life should be fun! I’ve learned lots of new things from teens. I’ve learned all about different bands, board games, card games, hairstyles, sports and entertainment. Letting a teenager teach me about the things they are passionate about it helps me get closer to them and also broadens my perspective about life. They remind me to enjoy life and pursue the things I’m passionate about.
Through mentoring teens I also learned many things about myself. Helping teenagers deal with their hearts, emotions, relationships and sins has led to significant growth in my own emotional IQ, empathy and ability to love.
When I was in high school, I was not a very loyal friend. I was very into my own life and would disappear when a friend was going through a hard time and come back when they were better. I also ran away from relationships when I was having a hard time and came back when I was better. I often abandoned people in their time of need and I did not know how to attach in my own time of need. This lead to crummy friendships in high school.
Mentoring teenagers is like getting a fresh start. Mentoring teens has taught me how to attach when someone goes through a hard time.
It has also provided many opportunities for me to let down and let them see me in my bad moments. Teens don’t need perfect mentors, they just need honest mentors.
Another thing I have learned from my mentees is humility. Recently a young women whom I had mentored over 5 years ago called me in tears about a difficult life choice she had to make. Picking up the phone in her time of need, listening and then praying together gave her the courage to make a tough decision. It was refreshing to see her humility to ask for help and advice.
I realized as I talked to her that when I’m faced with difficult life choices I don’t often respond with such humility. I’m often proud and want to believe I can do it on my own. In that 20 minute phone call, I learned a better way to respond to growing pains: with humility and honesty. After she called me, I learned from her example and I called my mentor to ask for help in my life.
I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
Philemon 1:6-7 NIV
When you give to a teen, you will get gratitude for your own life and you will also experience a lot of gratitude from their family.
It greatly encourages their parents to see a young adult love and care about their teenager. As result many naturally give back to you. My husband and I often have dinner with the families of teens we’ve mentored. Always grateful for a free yummy home cooked meal! But many times the parents would help us with our marriage, our finances, our company, our health and other life decisions. I’m very grateful for the help and love that comes with being in partnership with the parents for the best interest of their teenager.
In addition to these great side benefits of mentoring a teen, just the act of mentoring alone leads to gratitude. Talking with a teen and listening to them helps me experience gratitude for my life and experiences. Hearing their worries put my worries into perspective as well. Mentoring a teen allows you to deepen your understanding of every good thing you have and this leads to developing gratitude.
Are you a grateful person? Do you tend to have a grateful attitude about your life? Mentoring a teen will help you develop this on a regular basis.
A generous person will prosper…
Proverbs 11:25a NIV
Prosperity is something we all desire. According to dictionary.com prosper means “to be successful or fortunate, especially in financial respects; thrive; flourish.”
Successful, thrive, flourish these are words that I want to describe my live. I often strive to achieve prosperity through selfish means and allow my selfish ambition to go unchecked in pursuit of success.
But on the contrary, this Scripture teaches that it is through generosity that we experience prosperity. It is the opposite of what the world teaches us, but I’ve seen this Scripture come true over and over.
I’ve seen several friends develop thriving dating relationships and get married while generously giving to teens year after year. During those years they generously had double dates with teens and shared their lives during the ups and downs. It is very inspiring to see the mentee teenager as a bridesmaid in the wedding of the mentor – it shows the success of the mutual friendship that has flourished because of generosity.
More recently, one of my friends who currently volunteers to mentor teens just got a significant job promotion and this is with leaving work on time to meet up with teenagers instead of spend extra hours at work. Mentoring a teen is an act of generosity; you give your time, your energy, your money and your heart. Oh yes, mentoring teens will cost some money – gas, treats when out, birthday gifts, meeting needs that you see the parents can’t – it is all part of being generous. But I believe God gives us all of that back and more when we are generous. If you are NOT willing to generously mentor a teen, then you won’t experience the prosperity that comes from generosity.
… whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
Proverbs 11:25b NIV
How often do you come home from a long day at work and think “I need ‘me time’ to get refreshed”? Maybe you desire a pedicure or massage, or some time at the gym or video games. While there’s nothing wrong with these things, I’ve found that alone time for me can never refresh us the way giving to someone else can refresh us.
It is SO refreshing to see a teen you’ve mentored graduate high school, make good choices while they are in college, become leaders and watch them invest into others the way you invested in them.
Over the years I’ve watched several women who were once teenagers that I mentored go off to college and transition into the professional world. It is so rewarding to know I was part of the process of making them into whom they are now. In many respects teens I have mentored have surpassed me. It is intimidating but oh so refreshing to see your mentee surpass you in different areas.
Mentoring a teen is not just about them; you grow in the process too. Choose to mentor a teen and let yourself grow. It is not as hard as you may think because we have a great example to follow. Jesus was the ultimate mentor.
[Jesus said] “Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.”
Jesus invested in people and taught them what he learned from God. You can invest in a teenager the same way, make them your friend and teach them everything you’ve learned in your spiritual journey. The more we live our lives to be like Jesus the more we have to give back to others and teach them what we learn from God and the Bible.
Pick a teenager and choose to build a mentoring relationship with them. Stick in there past all their test and you will experience the rewards discussed in this article.
If you’re interested in volunteering in our Y ministry or at teen or middle school camp, contact the camp coordinators at your local BACC service. It’s an experience you won’t regret!